We’ve said it time and time again, menswear is ruled by history and tradition. Every person in menswear (designer, stylist, editor, etc) has taken inspiration from the past at one time or another. And no era has been overlooked.
Therefore, as we continue to explore the foundations of personal style via our Menswear 101 articles, I thought we’d take a quick look back at the last hundred-or-so years in men’s fashion. Perhaps this will provide a little insight or context as to how menswear shifts, and more importantly, how we can make informed decisions when it comes to buying clothing and developing personal style.
LATE 1800'S: LAST OF THE VICTORIANS
As the nineteenth century came to an end men were slowly shaking-off the Victorian influence which still had them wearing top hats, frock coats, and pocket watches while carrying walking sticks.
This may seem like an elaborate and restrictive way to dress, but it was a big step in the right direction considering the Georgian period that proceeded it had men wearing feathers, panty hose, and high heels. And you thought you were a “dandy”.
1900'S: TALL, LONG & LEAN
As we moved into the 1900s men’s clothing was predominantly utilitarian and rather unimaginative. The long, lean, and athletic silhouette of the late 1890s persisted, and tall, stiff collars characterize the period.
Three-piece suits consisting of a sack coat with matching waistcoat and trousers were worn, as were matching coat and waistcoat with contrasting trousers, or matching coat and trousers with contrasting waistcoat. Sounds familiar, right? Trousers were shorter than before, often had “turn-ups” or “cuffs“, and were creased front and back using the newly-invented trouser press.
1920'S – BROADENING HORIZONS
After the war (which introduced numerous classic menswear designs which are still used today, like trench coats and cargos), business started to pick-up and Americans had more money. More money allowed them to travel more and broaden their horizons culturally and aesthetically. Many crossed the Atlantic to England and France. Naturally they returned with suitcases full of the latest fashions being worn overseas.
Of all the countries, England had the most influence on American menswear. In the 1920's American college students began putting their own spin on pieces being worn at the legendary Oxford University, including button-down shirts, natural-shouldered jackets, regimental ties, and colorful argyle socks. Furthermore, the Prince of Wales, who later became the Duke of Windsor, was the world’s most important and influential menswear figure. Through newsreels, newspapers, and magazines the elegant Prince became the first international “style icon” and became widely known and renowned for his impeccable taste in clothing. He was a legitimate trendsetter for every day people and it was the first time in history that clothing advertisers would use a celebrity face to sell clothing, shamelessly plugging their items “as worn by the Prince”.