It’s a rare day to go by without some sort of fashion news appearing, in the newspapers, on television or in magazines; virtually all of it aimed at, for and about, women. A ‘bloke’ has to do something pretty revolutionary for male fashion to get noticed, and the genre is considered to be much too conservative to be of interest. Yet if one looks back over the years between 1900 and the present, the differences in style, taste and materials has been quite significant, though we can’t compete with the ladies of course!
Look at photographs, taken at the start of the twentieth century and most noticeable is that virtually all men are wearing hats. It’s a fact that no man ever went outdoors without a hat on, and not only that, but you can pretty well guess the social standing of the men you can see, from the style of their hats. The working class chap will, almost without exception, be wearing a flat cap, while the office worker, shop assistant or local government employee will have a ‘Trilby’ on their heads and members of the “upper” classes, lawyers, business men, M.P’s and Royalty, will be sporting either a ‘Bowler’ or a top hat, (even in the upper classes there were levels that dictated which particular style was right!). Nowadays it’s unusual to see any man wearing a hat, at all and when they do, it’s nearly always some form of what is known as a ‘baseball cap’ – quite a change from 1900! Only people who play bowls wear flat caps now, and they have to be white, to go with the player’s costume.
The material from which clothing was made was very different from today’s modern fabrics, which are washable, non-iron, long wearing and in a myriad of colours and weaves. In 1900 all clothing was made either from cotton, wool or silk, (there were class distinctions here as well, but we won’t go into those again). Men’s suits were invariably three piece, (with a waistcoat included), often of a pretty heavy woollen material that had to be dry-cleaned, because it would shrink rather viciously if washed. Another look at an old photo will show up the fact that ironing wasn’t a basic requirement of male fashion either – I guess it was a hard job to do, unlike the stuff we’re used to, which requires no ironing at all after washing in a washing machine! Corduroy was a basic working trouser material, made from cotton, with velvety ridges, but very hard wearing, and popular until denim jeans took up the mantle of work-wear.
Shirts usually had a separate collar that could be replaced daily, while the shirt went on for a whole week before being washed. Even I used to wear shirts like this, in the 40s and 50s, and I could buy replacement collars in Woolworths for a few bob, twelve to a pack and made of sparkling white cardboard. They were reversible, so each one could be worn for two days before it had to be thrown away, and they were quite smart, if a little uncomfortable. The shirts themselves always had long sleeves, with a fold-back cuff which required cuff-links to hold them in place.
Men have gone through various fashion stages more recently, especially since the Second World War, starting with the ‘Teddy-Boys’, ‘Mods & Rockers’ and ‘Skin-Heads. Then there were the ‘Hippies’, with their long hair, brightly coloured clothes and great desire to see the world differently, with the help of drugs, right up to the present when pretty well anything goes! Trousers are worn at half mast, showing a fare portion of bum – so different to the 1900’s when the waist-band of a pair of trousers was just below the armpit, or so it seemed. And hair – well, what can one say about the hair fashions of today, apart from that there seems to be no fashion to it at all, to older eyes.
It’s all quite frightening, but I suppose eventually we will go full circle and men will start wearing that hat everywhere again.
Check out this short clip we thought you’d like – Do you recognise anything?
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