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What Have Been The Menswear Trends Since The Late 19th Century? Here’s is The Answer
Menswear is ruled by history and tradition, as Teeanime has repeatedly stated. Every person in menswear (designer, stylist, editor, etc.) has drawn inspiration from the past at some point. And no epoch has been neglected.
Thus, as we continue to examine the fundamentals of personal style, I thought we’d briefly review men’s fashion during the past century. This may help us understand how menswear changes and how to choose clothes and style.
LATE 1800S: LAST OF THE VICTORIANS
As the nineteenth century came to a close, men were gradually shaking off the Victorian influence that had them wearing tophats, frock coats, pocket watches, and walking sticks. This may appear to be an ornate and restricting manner of dressing, but it was a significant step forward when compared to the Georgian period, which saw males wearing feathers, panty hose, and high heels. And you thought you were “dandy”?
1900S: TALL, LONG & LEAN
Men’s attire throughout the 1900s was practical and uninspiring. Tall, stiff collars and a slender, athletic physique characterized the late 1890s. Three-piece suits with sack coats, waistcoats, and pants were worn. Familiar? The new trouser press wrinkled front and back on shorter trousers with “turn-ups” or “cuffs.”
Business improved and Americans had more money after the war, which introduced trench coats and cargos. They may travel more and expand culturally and artistically with more money. Many crossed the Atlantic to England and France. Naturally, they brought back foreign fashions.
American clothing was largely influenced by England. In the 1920s, American college students adopted Oxford University’s button-down shirts, natural-shouldered coats, regimental ties, and argyle socks. The Prince of Wales, subsequently the Duke of Windsor, was the most influential menswear personality in the world. The Prince became the first international “style icon” through newsreels, newspapers, and magazines. He set trends for everyday people, and for the first time, clothes advertisers blatantly promoted their products “as worn by the Prince”.
1930S: THE HEIGHT OF ELEGANCE
The great depression began in the early 1930s. Although the common man could not afford to participate in the world of fashion, many liked admiring the fashion choices of those who could. Hollywood films on the silver screen became a beacon of hope for the working class guy living in this age. Men and women alike admired and aspired to finely dressed entertainers such as Fred Astaire, Clark Gabel, Cary Grant, and Gary Cooper.
In the 1930s, American taste rivaled that of any European country. It was a time when American men took pride in the clothes they wore and the image they portrayed. It was a time when men dressed according to particular norms of conduct and etiquette. The “menswear norms,” to which we frequently allude, were written during this time period.
“For the first time American men learned that clothing should not be worn to disguise the natural lines of the body, but, rather, to adhere to them, thereby accentuating he male physique. At the same time, clothing should not be too conspicuous. Instead, they had to become a part of the man who wore them. The goal of clothing was not to distinguish the man (as had been the case for ages, when monarchs and noblemen dressed largely to do so), but to allow him to be an individual among individuals…. Americans had now realized that the purpose of decent attire was to flatter rather than to draw attention.” – Alan Flusser
1940S: THE BIRTH OF READY-TO-WEAR
American men’s fine dress standards dropped after World War II. Workplace changes and a decline in formality contributed to this. With decreasing demand, custom tailoring prices rose, allowing mass-produced clothing to become the standard. Some firms that now offer us clothing introduced mass-produced ready-to-wear in America during this time.
New mass production methods had pros and cons. Basic apparel was cheaper and more available. However, there was less variation in fashions, and worse, these huge clothes manufacturers recognized (like the vehicle manufacturers) that changing styles every year or season might boost sales. This started the retail “trend cycle,” generated by clothes manufacturers for profit and promoted by magazines for profit.
This marketing tactic drove consumers farther from the 1930s “ideals of classical dress,” which were about choosing long-term pieces that flatter the figure. Instead, retailers confused and pressured consumers to “re-invent himself” by buying “new fashions” that were “in fashion”. Sales regardless of style or durability.
1950S: THE AGE OF CONFORMITY
The 1950s were known as the Age of Conformity. Young men returning from the military were eager to integrate into society. Fitting in and “looking the part” required adopting the Ivy League appearance, which dominated menswear at the time. Individuality in clothing style was an afterthought. The idea was to appear “club-like” in a boxy sack suit, oxford shirt, rep tie, and shoes. This was yet another boon for mass-produced Ready-to-Wear makers, who happily marketed the identical ill-fitting tweed coats to any young man seeking to look sophisticated and employable.
Furthermore, man-made materials such as rayon and nylon were introduced in the 1950s. This was another boost to the bottom line for the clothing makers who could now save greatly on the cost of fabric, while producing a garment that was supposed to be “more durable and simplest to wash”. As it turns out, synthetic fabric makes poor menswear clothes, particularly suiting. Natural fibers are always preferable.
Aesthetically, conservative grey suits and minimalist accoutrements (hat, pocket square, cigarette, and martini) dominated the period.
1960S: REBELLION & INDIVIDUALITY
The 1960s were a decade of turmoil and rebellion against the establishment and the conservatism of the 1950s. Clothing reflected this new mentality, particularly among the youth, who were more interested with self-expression and originality than with traditional “rulebook” wearing. The apparel industry recognized this new trend among youth and responded with a profusion of styles. The selection in stores was greater than ever before. It was nearing a “anything goes” era, when the most important thing was often not what you wore, but what you didn’t wear.
It was also the first time that fathers sought guidance from their sons. For the first time in history, grown men desired to appear youthful and carefree. Of course, this trend simply drove us further away from the 1930s’ principles of grace.
1970S: DISCO FUNK
The early 1970s were a continuation of late 1960s hippie rebel fashion. For men this particularly meant bell bottom jeans, tie dye shirts, and military surplus clothing. The most popular accessories of the early 1970s for men were homemade, with necklaces, headbands, and bracelets being made from all-natural materials such as wood, hemp, and leather.
Men began to wear stylish three-piece suits (which became available in a bewildering variety of colors) which were characterized by wide lapels, wide legged or flared trousers, and high-rise waistcoats. Neckties became wider and bolder, and shirt collars became long and pointed as the “disco funk” was all the rage.
1980S: POWER DRESSING
Things became a touch more serious in the 1980s, with broad shoulders framing power ties and suspenders. Bold colors and graphic patterns communicated a new sense of national pride, and businesspeople adopted power dressing, emphasizing expensive apparel and ostentatious accessories.
1990S: BAGGY BUSINESS CASUAL
This decade may be the worst-dressed of all time. The 1990s fashion saw the beginning of a sweeping movement in the western world: the acceptance of tattoos and body piercings. This revived the anti-conformist, apathetic approach to fashion, resulting in the popularization of the casual chic look, which included T-shirts, distressed jeans, oversized sweatshirts, and sneakers. “Business Casual” enters the language as corporate offices become less formal, causing the suit to become larger and uglier than ever.
2000S: HIP-HOP & EUROPEAN TAILORING
Menswear in the new millennium was predominantly influenced by hip-hop culture for the younger generation and European “slim fit” tailoring for the elder gentlemen. The suit finally started to shrink down, as the “European cut” became much sought after in America, to the point where eventually it became hard to locate places that didn’t stock “slim fit”. The internet also made it easier for guys to learn about menswear and share their thoughts with other fashionistas. The first menswear blogs appeared, with this one debuting in 2009.
2010S: THE EVOLUTION OF STYLE ONLINE
“Fashion stars” evolved in the 2010s. Fashion blogs are mainstream. On one hand, the public now controls fashion, resulting in more styles, evaluations, and opinions than ever before. However, being watched motivates people to work harder to stand out. Early in the decade, “peacocking” was a menswear phrase for “pushing too hard,” but men have gotten more comfortable with subtle, sophisticated design.
Online shopping became popular during this time. Fashionistas worldwide may now shop more brands at home. Social networking and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter enabled more start-up brands. The internet and consumers’ desire for limited and exclusive brands are reviving tiny brands. Middlemen being eliminated daily, which is great. Designers now have a scalable way to offer their items directly to consumers, threatening department stores’ market dominance.
I wish menswear can return to 1930s classic attire and add own touches from there. Understanding that there is one style that suits each of us—our bodies, lifestyles, personalities, etc.—is the first step. There is lots of variation within that one style, but it shouldn’t necessitate buying a new wardrobe every season, but rather adding well-made items to a lifelong collection of beautiful pieces that accurately represent the individual. Articles of Style promotes quality above quantity and deliberate purchasing to develop a timeless wardrobe.
Thanks, as always, for reading.