Nearly 75 years ago, in 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published his concept of a “Hierarchy of Needs,” a set of categories encompassing the things human beings need to not only survive but thrive. Toward the foot of the pyramid are the most basic needs – the physiological requirements (like food, water, and sleep) and the necessities of safety (like money and a job). As these requirements are satisfied in a person’s life, he or she looks to fulfill the more abstract and emotional needs ascending the pyramid: love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. That is, #menswear.
Some menswear purchases—a shirt and trousers, an overcoat, an umbrella maybe—can fulfill the basic physiological and safety needs of staying warm and dry, but one doesn’t need a Casentino overcoat, a bespoke button down or a Talarico umbrella to do this. Clearly, these fulfill higher-order requirements beyond clothing oneself.
It’s undeniable, for instance, that quality menswear enhances self-esteem. Those who have just discovered tailored clothing frequently comment on how confident they feel wearing it; science has proven that the brain of the suited man engages in more abstract processing, enabling him to handle criticism without a blow to his ego, among other mental benefits. These powers require more than mere brand name, for rare is the observer who can recognize a shirt by Camoshita or a Sartoria Formosa jacket on sight. Self-esteem comes instead from being recognized as a man who knows quality and style. And perhaps a sense of pride from supporting artisanal brands or in continuing the sartorial tradition itself.
Ultimately, though, self-actualization—the fulfillment of one’s greatest potential—the peak of Maslow’s pyramid, is where menswear plays its loftiest role. The essence of self-actualization is setting a goal for personal perfection and achieving it, whether in business, athletics, art or Big Mac consumption. The body is another sort of potentiality, and how a man decides to clothe himself is an opportunity for self-actualization. Each next purchase can be the one to complete (for now) a collection of summer ties, of wool pocket squares, or of odd jackets, and these all afford some satisfaction until another lack is perceived. That moment of successfully matching a secondary color in a pocket square with the primary color in a tie, whose pattern repeats in larger scale on a shirt, - that moment is a sort of summit reached. For those who have learned the art of dressing, successful coordination becomes the pleasure of completing a painting. In this way, menswear offers a venue where one can obtain a feeling of aesthetic accomplishment. Self-actualization embodies the idea that "what a man can be, he must be." And he must be well-dressed.