Friday, August 5

A Short History of Men's Fashion 1840-1940

War, world events and eventually the younger generation all impacted the men's world of fashion. Here is a brief timeline of men's styles from the early twentieth century, when clothing was smart and simple, to the new millennium, a melting pot of previous fads that are all meshed together.

During the 1840's men wore trousers that were tight fitting, calf length frock coats and a waistcoat or vest. The vests were single- or triple -breasted, with shawl or notched collars, and might be finished in double points at the lowered waist. For more formal occasions, a cutaway morning coat was worn with light trousers during the daytime, and a dark tail coat and trousers was worn in the evening. The shirts were made of linen or cotton with low collars, occasionally turned down, and were worn with wide cravats or neck ties. Trousers had fly fronts, and breeches were used for formal functions and when horseback riding. Men wore top hats, with wide brims in sunny weather.

During the 1850s, men started wearing shirts with high upstanding or turnover collars and four-in-hand neckties tied in a bow, or tied in a knot with the pointed ends sticking out like "wings". The upper-class continued to wear top hats, and bowler hats were worn by the working class.

In the 1860s, men started wearing wider neckties that were tied in a bow or looped into a loose knot and fastened with a stickpin. Frock coats were shortened to knee-length and were worn for business, while the mid-thigh length sack coat slowly displaced the frock coat for less-formal occasions. Top hats briefly became the very tall "stovepipe" shape, but a variety of other hat shapes were popular.

During the 1870s, three-piece suits grew in popularity along with patterned fabrics for shirts. Neckties were the four-in-hand and, later, the Ascot ties. A narrow ribbon tie was an alternative for tropical climates, especially in the Americas. Both frock coats and sack coats became shorter. Flat straw boaters were worn when boating.

During the 1880s, formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers with a dark waistcoat, a white bow tie, and a shirt with a winged collar. In mid-decade, the dinner jacket or tuxedo, was used in more relaxed formal occasions. The Norfolk jacket and tweed or woolen breeches were used for rugged outdoor pursuits such as shooting. Knee-length topcoats, often with contrasting velvet or fur collars, and calf-length overcoats were worn in winter. Men's shoes had higher heels and a narrow toe.

During the 1890s, the blazer was introduced, and was worn for sports, sailing, and other casual activities. Hair was generally worn short, sometimes with a pointed beard and generous mustache.

1920s: It was a time when men still wore distinguishable "daytime" and "evening" attire. Sacque suits were worn with shirts in mellow shades of putty, peach and cedar. The "always-suave" tailcoat, with perfectly starched white shirt underneath, was regularly accompanied by a top hat and black patent leather shoes, and comprised formal evening wear. In 1925, baggy pants were first introduced, and flannel became the fabric of the era. Knickers were also the latest in casual wear for the well-dressed gentleman, and are still worn occasionally today.

1930s: On October 24, 1929, the economic world, including the fashion industry and, for that matter, most industries, were turned completely upside-down. It was the infamous day of the great Wall Street crash, which resulted in cutbacks on the way clothes were both manufactured and purchased. Men's suits were restructured in the hopes of creating the image of a wider torso, and shoulders were squared-off by wadding or pads. The double-breasted suit was steadily growing in popularity, and was often designed in colors that are still considered fashionable today: charcoal, steel, slate, navy, and midnight blue. And blazers were hot in the summertime, especially in unique colors like bottle green and tobacco brown .

1940s: The zoot suit was one of the few exceptions to the strict rationing of that time. Men's style after the war preferred a new look: long, full-cut clothing. The "casual shirt," which was first sported on the beaches along the east and west coasts ~ especially Florida and California ~ was seen on the backs of men everywhere. And for the first time, young people were setting the fashion trends while the older people followed.

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