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Menswear Over The Last 200 Years

We’ve stated repeatedly Menswear is ruled by tradition and history. Every man (designer or stylist, editor and more) has drawn an influence from past fashions at one point or some other time. No time period has been left unnoticed.

So, as we continue to study the underlying principles of individual style I’m thinking we should take a look at the past hundred years of fashion for men. Perhaps this can provide some insight or context on how menswear changes and, more importantly, how to make informed choices regarding buying clothes and developing our your own personal fashion.


In the 19th century, as it came to an end, men were beginning to shed the Victorian influence that included tophats, frock coats and pocket watches, while also wearing walking sticks. This might seem like an extravagant and restricting way to dress but it was actually huge move in the right direction when you consider how the Georgian period that followed included men sporting feathers, pantyhose and high-heeled shoes. You thought you were an “dandy”.


As we entered the 1900s, men’s clothes were largely functional and insignificant. The lean, long and athletic style of the late 1890s was still in fashion as did the high stiff collars are typical of the time. Three-piece suits that included a sack coat that was paired with a trousers and waistcoat were worn with a matching coat and waistcoat with contrast pants, or a matching pants and coat with contrasting waistcoats. Sounds familiar, right? Trousers were longer than they were the previous versions, and often featured “turn-ups” as well as “cuffs” and were creased both front and back using the new trouser press.

Following the end of World War II (which brought in a variety of classic designs for men’s clothing that continue to be worn today, including cargos and trench coats) the business industry began to expand and Americans were able to spend more. This allowed people to travel further and expand their horizons in terms of culture and visually. Many of them crossed over the Atlantic across the Atlantic to England as well as France. Naturally, they returned with bags full of the latest fashions that were being seen in other countries.

Of all the nations, England had the most influence on American males’ clothing. In the 1920s, American college students began to put an individual spin to items that were worn at the renowned Oxford University, including button-down jackets, natural shoulder shirts, regimental ties and bright socks made of argyle. In addition Prince of Wales was Prince of Wales who was later The Duke of Windsor was the most well-known and influential figure in men’s clothing. Through newsreels, newspapers and magazines, the stylish Prince was the first to be a global “style icons” and became well-known and respected for his exquisite fashion sense in clothes. He was a true trend-setter for everyday people, and for the first time in the history of clothing advertising that they employed a celebrity to market their products, while shamelessly marketing their merchandise “as as worn to by Prince”.

1930S The height of ELEGANCE

The beginning of the 1930s witnessed the economic crisis of 1929. While the average person couldn’t afford to indulge in the world of fashion, they would enjoy watching the style options of people who had the money. Hollywood films from the Silver Screen became a beacon of hope for the middle class man of this time. Women and men alike watched with admiration and desire to the elegantly dressed stars such as Fred Astaire, Clark Gabel, Cary Grant, and Gary Cooper.

In the 1930s, the American fashion sense was at its highest and was comparable to that of any European nation. It was a time in which American men were proud of the clothes they wore and the image they displayed. This was the time when men wore certain rules of conduct and manners. It was during this time that the “menswear rules” that we frequently use to refer to, were written in this time.

“For the first time, American men recognized that clothes shouldn’t be used to hide the natural contours that define the human body. It is rather, to make them conform to the natural lines of their bodies, thus enhancing his male body. However clothing should not appear too apparent. They should instead blend into the man who was wearing the clothes. The goal of clothes was not to mark the individual from the crowd (as was the norm throughout the centuries, as noblemen and kings wore primarily to achieve this) but rather to permit the individual to stand out in a crowd of people. …. Americans were finally able to realize that the aim of good clothes was to impress rather than appear glamorous.” Alan Flusser


At the conclusion the war in World War II, American men were a bit more swayed from the strict standards and fundamental principles of dress code that were established in the 1930s. One reason for this was the shifts in the workplace as well as the decrease of formality in daily life. In the face of lower demand, the cost of tailoring services was increased and allowed the mass production of men’s fashion to become as the norm for everyday wear. The period also was the time when mass produced ready-to wear clothing in America by a few brands that still sell us clothes today.

There were benefits and drawbacks with these new methods for mass-production. On one hand, basic clothing was more affordable and easier to access than ever before. However there was less choice in the fashions available. Even more importantly, the major clothing companies recognized (just as the auto makers) it was possible to increase sales by offering different fashions every season, and even each season. This triggered an era known as “trend pattern” in retail. It was created by the clothing industry to increase profits and was later was propagated by the magazine industry in order to earn more money.

In the end, this marketing strategy drove consumers more away from “ideals of classic fashion” that were popular in the 1930s. These focused on picking long-term pieces that enhance the appearance of the. Instead , the aim of dressers were to make it difficult for consumers to “re-invent him” by buying “new designs” that were “in trend”. Increased sales regardless of the long-term viability or style.

1950S The Age of Conformity

The 1950s were an Age of Conformity. The young men who had returned from the military were eager to blend in with the society. Being accepted and “looking like the professionals” required a slick Ivy League look, which was the most popular style for menswear. Style and individuality was not a priority. The idea was to appear “part of the group” wearing the boxy sack suit the oxford shirt and loafers, and rep tie. This was another major increase for the mass Ready-to-Wear companies who were happy to sell the same poorly-fitting tweed jackets for any young man looking to appear competent and workable.

Additionally in the 1950s, we saw the advent of man-made materials such as nylon and rayon. This added another benefit to the bottom line of the clothing makers who were able to save a significant amount on the price of cloth, while also creating clothes that were thought to be “more durable and easier to clean”. It turns out that synthetic fabric is a disaster for clothing for men, especially suits. Nature-based fibers will always be the best.

Aesthetically , the period was dominated by classic grey suits and minimal accessories (hat pockets, hats, martini, and cigarettes) for almost every person.


In the 1960s, there was a period of protest and rebellion against the establishment and conservatism that was loved during the 50s. Fashions reflected this new mindset particularly with young people who were more interested in the individuality and self-expression than traditional dress according to traditional “rulebook”. The fashion industry adapted to this trend with young people and provided many designs. The stores had more options than they had ever. The time was nabbing an “anything can be done” period, in which the thing that mattered most was not the clothes was on your body, but rather what you didn’t wear.

It began to be the time fathers started asking their sons for guidance. The first time in the history of mankind that mature men were looking younger and relaxed. This, of course was a step away from the standards of style and elegance, which were established in the 1930s.


The 1970s of the early era were a continuation of the late 1960s hippie rebel style. For males, this was a particular reference to bell bottom jeans and tie dye shirts and military surplus clothes. The most sought-after accessories of the 1970s for men were made by hand including headbands, necklaces and bracelets made out of all-natural substances like hemp, wood and leather.

Men began to wear chic three-piece suits (which were available in a myriad of shades) that were distinguished by broad lapels, wide-legged pants, or flared ones as well as waistcoats with high-rise. The neckties were widened and bolder and collars on shirts were tall and pointed when the “disco Funk” was the fashion of the day.

1980s: Power Dressing

In the 1980s, things became more serious with wide shoulders that framed power ties and suspenders. Graphic patterns and bold colors created a sense of confidence in the nation and businessmen began dress, with a focus on high-end clothing and extravagant accessories.


It’s possible that this was the most sexy decade of all. The style of the 1990s was the catalyst for radical changes across the globe and the initial acceptance of body piercings and tattoos. The result was the return of the casual attitude towards fashion, which was anti-conformist which led to the emergence in the informal chic style which included T-shirts, distressed jeans, huge jackets and trainers. “Business Casual” is also being used because corporate offices tend to be less formal, causing the outfit to grow bigger and more ugly than it ever was.


The fashion of men’s clothing in the 2000s was heavily influenced by hip-hop culture for youngsters, as well as European “slim cut” tailoring for older gentlemen. The suits began to slim in the midst of the time that”slim fit” or “European cut” was a popular choice in America and to the point that it became difficult to find shops that didn’t offer “slim cut”. The internet helped males to gain knowledge about menswear and to share their thoughts with other style-lovers. We witnessed the birth of the first blog for men and this one was launched in the year 2009.

2010S The evolution of style ONLINE

The decade 2010 brought the rise of the “fashion superstar”. Fashion bloggers have become the norm. On one side, fashion has become accessible to public, and bloggers are producing a wider range of fashions, reviews, and views than before. However, the ones who are watched are naturally urged to work harder and struggle to make a mark in the crowd. “Peacocking” was a popular menswear term in the beginning of the decade, referring to “trying too difficult” but males have generally become at ease with subtle, refined style.

This time also saw the wide acceptance of shopping online. Fashion lovers across the globe are now able to access the largest selection of brands at the comfort of their own homes. The internet also has enabled more new brands to be launched than ever and was promoted through social media, and funded by online sources like kick-starter. In a sense we’re seeing the return of small brands that is fueled by the web’s power and the desire of consumers to own something exclusive and unique. The great thing is, middlemen are being cut out each day. Department stores, whose business is marking up goods that were marked up by wholesalers and are losing their grip on the market , as designers have a more scalable way to market their goods directly to consumers.

My hope in the near future for menswear style is to revisit the ideals of classic clothing developed in the 1930s and then gradually incorporate personal styles from there. It starts by understanding that there’s a style that is appropriate to each of us…our bodies, our lives and personalities, etc. There’s many variations within this one fashion, but it shouldn’t have to mean that you buy a new wardrobe every season, but instead creating an ongoing collection of stunning pieces that accurately reflect and reflect the wearer.