Why are men intimidated by fashion?

Men of means are generally happy to pay for quality when making key additions to their wardrobe. But as accommodating as their wallet may be, setting foot in a high-end fashion store can still be seriously intimidating.

The internal dialogue before crossing the threshold into the world of upmarket style might be, "what if I'll be pressured into dropping a motza on something I don't really want?", or perhaps "they won't take me seriously and I don't want to feel judged".

We work really hard to get across to our customers that they don't have to buy anything from us.

Scott Lewis

The intimidation factor

Julian Burak, co-owner of fashion consultancy A Good Man and by most measures a man of style, says even he has at times been racked with trepidation and self-doubt.

"I remember when I first walked into [high-end men's department store] Harrolds, I was intimidated. I went for a walk, and then the second time I went in, I started asking questions," Burak says. "They were more than happy to answer them."

The fear of being dismissed as a 'tyre-kicker' means many men will pass up the opportunity to browse at high-end stores. But you don't have to get out your credit card to simply look and admire.

"It's like walking into a Ferrari dealership; not everybody that walks in there is going to be able to buy a Ferrari, but it's still OK to go in there and admire what they have," Burak says.

"That's the same as high-end stores. It's not like every high-end store you go into you're going to buy a $4000 leather jacket, but it's still nice to admire the design."

Help or hindrance?

Another hurdle to overcome for those with the means and the will to purchase is a generalisation – usually based on past experience – that they'll be assailed by poorly trained, unhelpful retail staff keen to say whatever guarantees them a sale and a commission.

Scott Lewis of high-end Melbourne men's shoe store Beggar Man Thief says some people interpret all service, no matter how good, as simply being 'sold to'.

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"Having stood on the floor for the last few years, you get this unique perspective and understanding of the psychology of people, and what you get to see is that there is this really quite deep distrust of retail," he says.

"At Beggar Man Thief we work really hard to get across to our customers that they don't have to buy anything from us. We love having conversations about brands we don't carry: Churches, Crockett and Jones, John Lobb.

"Guys come in and if they're really knowledgeable it's wonderful conversation – doesn't matter that we don't stock them, we just love talking about good shoes."

To bolster his store's customer service, Lewis sends his staff overseas to witness the production at many of Britain's famed shoe manufacturers.

"Once a year one or two of our guys will go the UK and spend a week or two in the factories of Northamptonshire at Loake, Grenson, Churches," he says.

"Some of the other guys will go up into the design rooms at Lacoste and Pointer just to understand what they're doing, how they are making things and just to make sure we're on our game so we know what we're talking about."

Heart and sole

It's a similar story for Anthony Barbieri and Neville Colaianni of Melbourne's 124 Shoes. The pair regularly travel to Italy's Montegrano region to visit the artisan shoemakers they purchase from. The result is there is little they can't tell you about the shoes they sell.

However, Barbieri explains, few customers ever ask. "About one per cent," he says regretfully. "I wish they would, because I know exactly how the shoe is made, who's designed it, where they got the leathers from, the type of construction, how many stages it's gone through ... it's only by asking that you really know the difference and learn and educate yourself about the type of product that is available."

It is an experience shared by Beggar Man Thief's Lewis: "We're standing there with so much information to be able to give people; some people want it and get it and other people just assume it's not there and miss it all."

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