Continued from Part 1….
The suit is the outfit most closely associated with masculinity and manhood. A symbol of power and elegance, the suit has been around for more than a century and has evolved and flourished alongside the culture of the times.
If the first part of the 20th century has seen increased, yet restricted, development of the suit, the second half took the suit into the mainstream and adapted it to the modern man’s needs and lifestyle. Suits were no longer reserved for the rich and powerful, but remained a symbol of these two concepts. The beginning of the 21st century also marked a new beginning for the suit as, due to a growth in the interest shown by men in fashion, what had previously been a symbol of a reserved elite became an accessible, everyday outfit.
But, let’s start with the ‘60s…
The 1960s was the time when Western society began to divide into two major groups. On the one hand, you had conservative members of society and, on the other hand, you had the rebels. Unlike those of the 1950s, who still enjoyed a classic suit, the rebels of the 1960s expressed their opposition to the mainstream norms of society through their appearance. The resultant look was the opposite of what had previously been the mainstream; the classic suit was replaced by strongly feminized clothes, bright colors matching bold accessories, and long hair.
Actor Anthony Perkins in the 1960s
But the classic suit was not off the radar; Sean Connery, Michael Caine and The Beatles were some of the most influential figures of the 1960s Western world. Influencers like The Beatles wore skinny-fit suits, collarless jackets and drainpipe trousers that were cut short at the ankles.
The 1960s also saw the rebirth of Savile Row. Among the new trends, polo-neck sweaters could be seen worn with a suit. Savile Row coined the term ‘bespoke’, which described a suit cut by hand and specifically made to fit the wearer.
The 1970s was the decade of bright colors and flairs. The ‘hippie’ and ‘boogie-woogie’ ideology was also reflected in the styles of the era. Disco fashion was embodied in the suits created by designers of this era, who unleashed their creativity and sought to create a brand new style. While most of these designs can’t be seen as classics, they still have a particular importance, as they stand as proof of the various fashion experiments that occurred in this decade. We like to believe that only what was regarded as the best survived.
New revolutionary Cremplene fashions for men, reminiscent of the Regency days, are shown in London, England on April 17, 1970.
Tight pants with high waists and big collars were staples of the 1970s suits. Wearing hats decreased in popularity and several different niches appeared; these would develop their own interpretations of the suit and put their mark on this classic piece.
Robert Downey Jr. and Andrew McCarthy in Less than Zero
The 1980s were, in some ways, a new beginning for the men’s suit. The aesthetic of this decade was influenced by pop stars, movie actors, heavy metal bands, androgynous singers and TV celebrities. An era of opulence, the 1980s was all about showing off your social affiliations and cultural interests. This opulence was visible in all facets of style, and suits became loose and over-sized, and were well matched to long haircuts and highly saturated colors.
The different interpretations of the suit by the different social and cultural niches coexisted alongside the more conservative styles of the 1980s mainstream. The electric dreams of the ‘80s were expressed through padded jackets, which later became less padded, along with skinny, informal ties and narrow lapels. Pinstripe suits were back in style and the most common looks were two-piece, not three-piece suits. An element of comfort was used by designers to bring the community together, making suits accessible to anyone who wanted to dress sharp, but were afraid that this would mean they had to compromise on comfort.
The urban styles of the 1980s developed into a new style that would eventually become iconic.
Taking this ‘relaxed’ look to an extreme, the 1990s were full of baggy suits, drab colors, and quite honestly, boring cuts. The key focuses of the 1990s – renewing your home, minimalizing technology and searching for better education rather than street fun – led to a generation of dark suits and inconsequent shapes.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix for the Prada Men Spring-Summer 1997 campaign
Of course, the suits of the 1990s were not ‘bad’ fashion, because people were indolent; they were a reflection of the culture that had created them. The early years of the decade marked big changes in the world, as Eastern culture opened up more and more to the Western world, the international community was rebuilding and everything was under construction: relations between nations, cities, new technologies. The overall aesthetic of the 1990s does not focus so much on a visual experience, but more on practicality and fast innovation. You can find these tendencies in the music scene as well, where (in pop music at least) brief messages were delivered fast and without much metaphor.
The 2000s moved the arts to the suburbs and to people’s homes. Private spaces became open to the public, a concept that was also reflected in fashion.
Open styles, clean, pastel colors and a ‘coming out’ attitude characterized the aesthetics of the 2000s. Of course, the placing of the private in the public world was a reflection of the growing number of ‘sharing’ mediums becoming available via the Internet.
The 2000s were, in many ways, a time that expressed a need for something new.
From the Fall – Winter 2008 Rugby Ralph Lauren campaign. The 2000s were a time when designer started mixing the classic suit with sporty pieces
Generally speaking, this decade is referred to as the ‘mash-up’ decade, as it mixed influences and ideas. Shrunken suits became ‘the look’ but in general, suits were out of style. In the 2000s, suits were simply seen as a ‘formal’ look and were worn only when required (with exceptions, of course). The reason for this trend was that people wanted to live in new ways and the first thing one does when one wants to live in a new way and doesn’t know how to, is to throw out the old, and that’s fair in the end.
For a better understanding of this mentality, we can look again at popular music. Fashion and music have always been noticeably related, and they strongly influence one another. If you look at the music videos of the 2000s, which are shot either in house or public spaces, by comparison ones from the 1990s are filmed mostly in unclear spaces. In the 2000s, faces in daylight can clearly be seen, rather than the shadows in private spaces seen in the 1990s.
The 2000s was a time when a lot changed very rapidly, and this is why it is hard to talk about a ‘main’ style.
2010 – 2014
In early 2010, designers and their audience discovered that there is no need to throw out the old in order to create something new. The revival of men’s style built on classic pieces of past decades, particularly the styles of the ‘20s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but with a modern interpretation. Vintage and vintage-inspired pieces are the staples of the early 2010s.
The world is opening up again, as events such as the Arab Spring unfold, but unlike in the ‘90s, when the world opened up to post-communism, this time the Western world is more used to other cultures and visions.
In the spirit of post-modernism, the suits of the early teens are, in most cases, references; they always reference a place, a person, a time or an event. Originality is gold. Our world is building, and gradually entering into a new era, where everyone realizes that we are all connected and it is the organic technology we use that connects us. We don’t need to ‘be’ in a certain place have a certain look. For the man of the 2010s, technology is no longer a separate entity; it is an integrated part of his lifestyle and defines his personality.
From the Calvin Klein 2014 Resort collection
With all of these references around, today’s style becomes more than just fashion. It is important to observe that currently, niches are the new mainstream. The new mainstream is basically composed of many and various visions, concepts, aesthetics and styles. Today we know that fashion does not have to mean discomfort and, therefore, the suit is no longer something to be worn only in reserved settings. We also know that each man can create his own style drawing on the various fashions that emerge.
To detail all the trends in men’s suits that have existed throughout the second half of the 20th century would take up a lot more space than this piece allows. Each variation of the suit had thought behind it (which at the time was coherent and logical). As you can see, with every passing decade, fashion became more conceptual rather than simply functional. In the end, whether we want to admit it or not, our clothes say more about us than we think; they reflect concepts, paradigms, world views and personal characteristics.
Now, the ball is passed back to you. Which is your favorite decade? What styles and patterns have influenced you the most? What do you think the next evolution of the suit will be? Let us know in the comment section below.
This article was originally published in www.attireclub.org and was edited for the purposes of The Quintessential Man.
Latest posts by Fraquoh and Franchomme (see all)
- The History Of The Suit – Part II : 1960s – Mid-2010s - October 31, 2014
- The History Of The Suit – Part I : 1900s – 1950s - October 27, 2014