REVIEW: Buttoned-Up by Fantastic Man

In brief: A look at men wearing buttoned-up shirts – interviews, pictures and why it seems to be an east London thing.

The good: Loved the magazine style.

The not-so-good: Finished it before the end of my train journey.

Why I chose it: Working my way through the Penguin Lines series celebrating 150 years of the Underground.

Year: 2013

Pages: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Setting: The East London Line

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I’m getting towards the end of my reading of the Penguin Lines series but there are still surprises in store for me. Buttoned-Up is the story of the East London line and takes a completely different focus to the other books I’ve read so far. This is the story of the buttoned-up shirt that is so commonly seen worn on young men in the East End. Think of a collared shirt, buttoned up to the very top but with no tie. Through essays, interviews and photography, the team from Fantastic Man (a men’s fashion magazine) probe into the reasons why a shirt is worn this way. It’s a unique angle for a book and one that I quite enjoyed because of its difference to the standard novella format.

Tube purists won’t enjoy this book as the closest you will get are six junctions of east London, photographed moodily in black and white in day and night. There are also other portraits of rather handsome men wearing buttoned-up shirts, some famous, from the 1960s to the modern era. In between these pictures, there are various short forms about the buttoned-up shirt. The history, what it represents and how it distinguishes the man and what he stands for. There is also an interview with Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys, who reveals a keen eye for fashion (I wouldn’t mind going through his basement). The buttoned-up shirt throughout music is also explored, with many great bands mentioned. (It got me thinking about the bands I like and their taste for buttoned-up shirts or fashion in general).

It’s a quirky, short read that is genuinely interesting. The photography is stunning – this is what black and white portraits should be like. Moody and capturing the essence of the subject and their life. I loved the style captured and the structure of the book. Recommended if you want something short and different.

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