It’s wise to know the background/origin of anything, so if your favorite subject in school was history, then relax, read and follow our subsequent epistles we promise not to lecture you with dates and what people wore back in the day…wait, no…that’s exactly what we’re going to do! To move forward in fashion, we can draw inspiration from what people used to wear in the past and build or revamp it to something even greater. We thankfully don’t have any boring slideshows or textbook readings. Instead we will be demonstrating an exhibition on men’s fashion through the years and how society’s changes have impacted the transition of the way gentlemen dress. Join us as we travel back in time to take a look into fashion at the turn of the 20th century. Considering this is a view into every decade of fashion, we have split up the lesson into separate articles. Fasten your seat belt as we take a ride down memory lane…
We begin our adventure at the dawn of the 1900s, where men’s fashion at the time can only be seen today in musicals about that time period. Everybody wore suits, usually in the double-breasted style with peak lapels. Almost all were patterned as well, from big checks to pinstripes and everything in between. The feature of the 1910 outfits was the Newsboy cap, the one that Oliver Twist and his gang always wear. Initially associated with the working class, they were adopted by the upper class for leisure activities, as were most working class styles. Full legged pants and round derby shoes were also part of the trend to give the wearer a big appearance, a stark contrast to today’s slim fashion. Bowties were favored to add a bit of fun to the look as well as circular Harry Potter glasses. Top hats and walking sticks were the regular dress of the high class.
Three-button suits, three piece and single-breasted suits start entering the fashion arena in the 1920s. The economic boom after World War I gave men’s fashion connoisseurs the freedom to dabble in exploratory fashion and try on new styles. More and more people could afford luxuries such as pocket watches and top hats because of their increased income, which was also spent on wardrobe expansion. Walking sticks as well, in fact just anything that would help you resemble the Monopoly Man. Curly-ended moustaches were grown for style, not just for the Movember competitions you see these days. Full pants were still cool during this time, for some reason. Probably comfort and roominess, though an updraft coming through the bottom cuff would be unpleasant. Oh, and bowties are still cool, but that’s understandable. Bowties are always cool.
Walking down a street in the 1930s, you would witness men dressed as what you would see in a traditional gangster films. Think Al Capone, with a double breasted suit, pinstripes and pocket square puffing out. Fedoras are making their way into men’s fashion wardrobes as a staple in headwear and because they’re just so cool. Full pants are still in style but altered with a higher crop to show the socks, sometimes even hanging above the ankles. Neckties are now more commonly used, though only the knot and top portion are shown due to the high break at where the cloth in the double-breasted suit overlaps. The big fit is still in, though it’s excessive that it looks like a kid wearing his dad’s suit. Interestingly enough, the big fit probably came in handy when hiding flasks during the Prohibition era.
The dawn of World War II meant restrictions on resources, which regretfully included wool, and thus single breasted blazers and cuff-free pants became the norm out of necessity. This began the appearance of some trimmer fitted suits in public, although not slim cut. Fashion was not as much a priority during these times as much as staying alive. Most men in the streets were wearing some form of military uniform instead of a suit. However, the dress shirt-suspenders with fedora look became a popular sight and was initially an odd occurrence as suspends were never supposed to be worn openly in public. But hey, during war times, anything goes. A sweater vest or a sweater would occasionally be substituted for a blazer and layered underneath as well, again hinting towards a more laid-back style of dress.
Truly trim tailoring begins, a revolution that has recently come to full force but originating from the mid 1950s. Bear in mind not everyone wanted to dress in slim suits as men’s fashion was still rooted in fuller suits, but the odd slim cut suit would be seen in public and not be gawked at. The use of pocket squares is gaining popularity as they used to be tucked away inside the blazer and are now being used for aesthetic purposes in the outside left breast pocket. Fedoras rise to their peak popularity and are used by men of all professions, from white collar to blue collar. However, the Greaser counterculture begins and with it the continued transition downwards towards more casual styles of dress. Casual suits and sport coats are now being swapped for leather jackets and acid wash jeans. This casual style was only brought up by the younger generations, up to late teens, as young adults would still be in formal attire.