Suits, Hats and Jeans- The Evolution of Men's Fashion
Updated: May 21, 2020
It would be suitable to say that men's fashion can simply be described as classic. It never seemed to stray away from the basics unlike women's fashion that was constantly undergoing alterations. Sometimes I have wondered if it endured any alterations at all as I would have found deciding whether a suit was from the 20's or 50's difficult- perhaps it could have been that women were more pressured to take influence from pop culture than men as a 'real man' from the past was told to do as he likes. But it's important to realise that men's and women's fashions are parallel and constantly take influence from each other therefore although there might have been few changes in men's fashion it's still notable that they exist.
At the turn of the century in the 1900's, the affluent styles of the 1800's gave way to the English 'middle-class man's suit' which consisted of trousers, a vest and a jacket. Men would change a couple of times throughout the day due to propriety which saw the birth of the morning coat which consisted of a jacket with an asymmetrical tailcoat from front to back that was often paired with matching or striped trousers whereas the evening suit was usually of a darker colour and made out of a richer fabric. The 1910's favoured lighter fabrics and simpler suits.
The 1920's were very glamorous and fun as they took influence from jazz music and the rise of Hollywood. This decade favoured bow ties, fedoras, simple and slimmer bright suits and tight fit jackets. Shoulder pads disappeared and colours began to appear more in men's fashion. The exciting economic growth in the 20's resulted in cars being a major part of culture at the time which caused specific attire to gain momentum such us white silk scarves, leather jackets and flat driving caps.
Things took a dark turn in the 1930's which resulted in the downfall of the previously fun fashion industry and the comeback of simplicity due to financial struggles. A new silhouette gained popularity, dubbed the 'Superman' style which put an emphasis on masculinity as broad shoulders achieved through padding were popular. Suit jackets got a makeover as the lapels were now wide, elongated and pointed. Thin waists were favoured to conserve fabric. Bright garments were considered distasteful due to The Great Depression. Trousers took the shape of long and straight columns and became high-waisted, resting about 3 inches above the navel. The youth favoured polo shirts and the zoot suits gained popularity.
The 1940's still carried the struggles from the previous decade therefore fashion did not change much. Due to the war, there were strict fabric restrictions and men began to demand practicality over style. The extravaganza disappeared- wearing something flashy was considered disrespectful towards patriotism. Suits in this decade ditched vests, pocket flaps and trouser cuffs. The zoot suits were condemned but were still worn to a lesser degree. Colourful ties were worn for self-expression in the otherwise bleak world.
The 1950's began with simplicity as businessmen favoured dark flannel suits that no longer sported shoulder-pads and slimmer ties. Fashion had to cater to a growing interest in sports and travel which resulted in a more leisurely take on style as pastel coloured shorts gained popularity. Luxury items like sunglasses became more affordable and became common among the public. This is the first decade in which a prominent subculture was born- the youth got bored of dressing like their parents which saw the birth of the 'Greaser' subculture. They were typically working-class, motorcyclists or hoodlums that got their name after their signature Elvis-inspired greased back hairstyle.
1960's men's fashion took an effeminate turn as flower shirts, longer hair, velvet and puffy sleeves gained popularity. This was also the decade that created the mod's who favoured tight-fitting suits and bright colours. The 60's were youth driven as The Beatles took centre stage and made anything from a London high-street a fashion staple. Fashion was flashy and fun which resulted in many new subcultures such as the mods, hippies and rockers.
Synthetic fibres came about in the 1970's which resulted in the 'wash and wear' culture also known as fast fashion. Materials dropped in price and travel was booming which made this decade a lively one. In '72 platform shoes and tight bell bottom trousers that flared at the knees became staples in men's fashion. Leisure suits, tracksuits, three-piece disco suits and knitwear also gained popularity. Live on bold colours and patterns!
The 1980's saw the beginnings of athleisure as men began to prefer more snug fit casual clothes. Staples like denim jackets, Levis and bomber jackets gained popularity due to the laid back attitude towards fashion. The youth discovered hip-hop and began dressing like the musicians in the scene whereas the adults had a new found attitude towards success and money therefore bringing power dressing into fashion.
For the first time, casualty and simplicity was the wave as hip-hop, rave and grunge influenced mainstream fashion which caused 1990's fashion to be a complete breakaway from the previous decades. Trainers, prominently displayed brands, hoodies and tattoos gained became very popular. This decade embraced straight cuts and simplistic colour pallets.
The turn of the millennium saw designers take a futuristic approach as metallic and silver colours dominated fashion. Low-rise distressed jeans, khakis, converse and cargo pants gained popularity. Beige and forest green were popular colours in men's fashion. The 2010's saw the birth of hipsters and a continuous preference for athleisure and causality.