Grayman techwear employs the strategy of clean looks and invisible performance. Chameshi Nampa, Shoebertt and Corbin Coffey share their thoughts on the most subtle of techwear styles.
“Human encryption” – that is whistleblower Edward Snowden’s name for the practice within the intelligence community of training employees to blend into the background. In his biography, Permanent Record, Snowden writes:
“You train yourself to be inconspicuous, to look and sound like others. You live in the most ordinary house, you drive the most ordinary car, you wear the same ordinary clothes as everyone else. The difference is, you do it on purpose: normalcy, the ordinary, is your cover.”
In the intelligence community and security business, this approach is often referred to as “gray man theory”. It is the art of concealing your true capabilities, to gain an extra edge over your opponents. Among others, the strategy has fascinated cyberpunk writer and fashion muse William Gibson. In an interview with Heddels he shares his understanding of how people in the security business are taught to dress unobtrusively:
“Chinos instead of combat pants, and if you really need the extra pockets, a better design conceals them. They assume, actually, that the bad guys will shoot all the guys wearing combat pants first, just to be sure.”
Gibson goes on to elaborate on the fashion aspect of the gray man: “There’s something appealingly ‘low-drag’ about gray man theory: reduced friction with one’s environment. Arc’teryx Veilance had a lot of that in its original DNA, and I also find it, though probably for different reasons, in Outlier. Nothing worse than clothing that gets in its wearer’s way.”
In a recent conversation with Veilance’s creative director Taka Kasuga, Acronym’s co-founder Errolson Hugh, who (along with William Gibson) was involved in the inception of Veilance, confirms that the very name of the brand is rooted in the concepts of “veiling, covering, surveillance”.
If Instagram #techwear is costume for kids dressing up as cyberpunk ninjas, then the grayman style is clothing for wannabe secret agents – or you might call it techwear for adults. The keys to this style are muted power, concealed performance, invisible functionality and, let’s be honest, mindnumbingly expensive clothes that look sort of… plain.
For tactical purposes, the perfect grayman outfit would make you indistinguishable from the crowd. It would be non-descript, mediocre and slightly oversized while providing freedom of movement, high-performing materials and pockets for concealing weapons and gadgets. For fashion purposes, however, “medicore” is not a desirable look. In techwear the grayman style is about looking sharp and modern, able to function in a range of environments and social scenes. It is a look that requires fingerspitzengefühl to calibrate correctly.
When I first got involved in the techwear community, and immersed myself in the flow of fit pics, one poster in particular stood out with his on-point fashion sense and unflinching consistency. He was gazing out from picture after picture, posing the same way against the same backdrop, speaking in a firm, patient voice through the subtle variation in his outfits. They are mostly monochrome, shades of black and gray, with the occasional hint of color. Always sharp. Always logo-less. Always low-key. Always high quality.
Judging by his looks he could be an art director. A Silicon Valley executive. A hitman. He actually works in marketing, and online he goes by the handle Chameshi Nampa. He shares his outfits on Instagram and Reddit (where he also moderates the Techwear Clothing community). I have since found grayman inspiration in fits from other people, like Corbin Coffey, Shoebertt and This is Antwon (who also made a great video on the subject), but Chameshi has a keener grasp of the grayman aesthetic than anyone I have come across. So I asked him how he puts together his outfits.
“What works for me,” he wrote over chat, “is keeping my lifestyle in mind and basing my fits off that. The majority of my time away from home is spent at work, so I try to dress appropriately for my company’s dress code which, thankfully, is relaxed. With work in mind, I think about looks I’ve seen in sci-fi/cyberpunk/techwear media that could be incorporated into an outfit. Before doing all this though, it helps to be familiar with dressing well in general.”
It is arguably possible to go from zero fashion sense straight into full Acronym uniforms or techwear ninja outfits, since these styles are self-contained, removed from the fashion mainstream. The grayman aesthetic on the other hand constantly plays on the traditional well-dressed-man look, and requires intimate knowledge of this style.
Chameshi Nampa’s fashion journey began a few years ago, when he became interested in dressing more fashionably and did what any person with a new interest does: trawled the internet. He found a plethora of fashion blogs, Youtube videos and men’s magazines, and eventually he stumbled upon the Reddit community Male Fashion Advice (MFA).
The Male Fashion Advice subreddit has over two million subscribers and is, by any measure, a force to be reckoned with in men’s fashion. The community has developed a “Basic Bastard” outfit, which serves as a simple, iconic guide for those who would like to dress safe and stylish. As Chameshi absorbed the basic lessons and the more subtle nuances of dressing nice in the traditional sense, he experimented with workwear and streetwear before he found his way to techwear.
“MFA was a great resource for learning the basics, but it is important to be discerning and not take all the information at face value. The tastes of the internet fashion community may not align with your real world context. I think it helps to consider if you are dressing for the internet community, for your real world social circle, or to bring enjoyment to yourself.”
Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, Chameshi Nampa read and reread the Shadowrun RPG source books and loved movies like Tron, Akira, Robocop, Total Recall and The Terminator, along with anime shows like Psycho-Pass and Serial Experiments Lain. Thus, the cyberpunk aesthetic and themes were imprinted in him at an early age. As he learned more about fashion – now an adult – he found ways of incorporating this sensibility into his style.
“In a sense, techwear is one method of further interacting with those genres. Techwear allows me to dress in what I perceive to be a style that would work in a cyberpunk setting, but also appropriate for a real world context and real life social situations, with the benefit of having enhanced utility and functionality beyond pure aesthetics.”
Many brands for performance clothing have their origins in frigid places, where harsh weather forces you to be serious about protecting your body. Chameshi, however, lives in a tropical climate, and what he considers the cold period is when you need to wear something over your t-shirt to keep comfortable. His functional needs primarily revolve around comfortable cuts, breathability, water repellency, and providing enough warmth to endure an overzealous AC. The rest comes down to style.
“The grayman style offers a clean, minimalist aesthetic; I think that look evokes one modern notion of what near futuristic fashion would look like: no overt branding, clean lines, minimalism. I have always been a fan of black, along with shades of gray and a monochromatic color palette. I’m attracted to the feelings and moods that are often associated with black, and I find it a both a simple and sophisticated color. In fact, techwear’s love of black was another reason I wanted to get into the style.”
The hardest part, when you are dealing with minimalist garments primarily in black, is making sure there is still enough interesting things going on in your outfits that you do not simply look boring. Variations in shades and textures make black outfits less one-dimensional, and carefully chosen accessories like a watch, a tie, headphones or a pair of glasses can elevate an outfit. Generally speaking, getting cuts and fit just right is even more important when going the minimalist route.
Chameshi Nampa underscores the importance of balancing functionality and aesthetics, and making the most of seemingly small details.
“The techwear style is a modern and contemporary aesthetic, verging on near futuristic, that incorporates functionality, utility, and/or enhancements beyond the norm. One tip for achieving a style that blends in but is aesthetically modern and fits the techwear label, would be to take a typical piece of clothing and then consider the subtle details of the piece, such as a placket that hides the buttons for a sleek, modern look to a button-up shirt, hidden zippers for the pockets, and the cut of the clothing.”
For funcionality Chameshi looks for features like technical fabrics and construction that offers greater utility and enhancements compared to ordinary garments. Quick-drying fabrics, DWR, taped seams, gussets and articulation for improved freedom of movement are some examples he mentions.
“I like to take a fashionable work outfit and try to see if there are technical garments that would work for that fit. The garments would ideally look similar to normal clothing but with subtle details that give them a more modern, futuristic look, along with some technical enhancements. For example, one of my favorite pairs of pants are Outlier Futureworks. At first glance, they look like a regular pair of slim-fitting chinos. However, the fabric has DWR, it is breathable, quick-drying, abrasion resistant and lightweight. They have a gusseted crotch and stretch for enhanced movement and comfort. I have two pairs, one in black and one in gray. The colors and the minimalist look of the pants suit a techwear aesthetic nicely.”
Below you will find a list of Chameshi Nampa’s four favorite grayman brands. You should also check out the outfits by Shoebertt and Corbin Coffey above, and if If you want to go deeper into the fashion side of human encryption, go ahead and explore the Techwear Clothing subreddit and see which outfits speak to you. There, you can also post your own fits and ask for critique and advice. Other good resources are the Male Fashion Advice subreddit as well as Corbin Coffey’s and This is Antwon’s Youtube channels.
There is no end point to the study of fashion. Even Chameshi Nampa still feels like he is far from done:
“I’m still learning a lot when it comes to techwear and my own personal style. But I think the journey is part of the fun and enjoyment.”
Chameshi Nampa’s favorite grayman brands
Uniqlo: Just a great brand overall in my opinion, that offers excellent value and quality. Their techwear offerings are very affordable compared to higher end brands associated with techwear.
Veilance: The opposite end of the price spectrum, in relation to Uniqlo. I love the minimalist aesthetic that offers subtle details that lends the brand to the futuristic techwear look, while still incorporating enhanced utility and functionality.
Arc’teryx: The parent company of Veilance, with more affordable options (compared to Veilance, still expensive compared to many other brands). Another great brand for techwear, if you can get past the “dead bird” logo or find pieces where the logo is not in a contrasting color.
Outlier: They make my favorite pair of pants, Futureworks. A very generous return policy, so I feel comfortable recommending them to anyone interested in trying them out. Like most other brands associated with techwear, the prices can be high.