Modern History of Men's Clothing | American Clothing History
A Modern History of American Men's Clothing Style
by Jon Green, Bespoke Tailor
Photos of fans at Yankee Stadium taken after WWII show almost every man dressed in a suit, dress shirt, tie, and hat – for a baseball game.
By the New Milennium, American men had the most clothing resources in history ... yet it can be argued they have never been so badly dressed.
HOW AND WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?
1945: The prosperity that followed WWII in America afforded many men something new: leisure time ... and a wardrobe for it: sportswear.
1950's: The disaffection and rebellion of a youth subculture that rejected the conventional values and dress codes of their father’s generation began to challenge the mores of small town America and changed how many young people dressed.
1960's: This tumultuous decade had other cultural disturbances. The Beatles, “Hair,” Vietnam, and social activists who expressed their metaphysical differences through an unconventional lifestyle that embraced “free love” and “back to the land” movements. Because of their aversion to commercialism, which they saw as being “square” and mainstream, the Hippies let their hair grow and dressed in clothes bought at flea markets and second hand shops.
1970's: As a result of the '60's rebellion, menswear changed dramatically in the ‘70s. Retailers, even stolid Brooks Bros., began experimenting with fashion trends to appeal to men pulled away from tradition. One example was the double knit suit in fashion colors worn with white shoes and a white belt, affectionately known as the “Full Cleveland.”
1980's: By the ‘80s menswear regained a modicum of balance. Classic style was again embraced. Wall Street was booming ... and the Academy Award winning movie of the same name inspired men to dress in classic style. Thank you, Gordon Gekko! But, that boom bubble burst ... and things would change yet again.
1990's: TGIF! By the ‘90s, the trend of casual business wear had spread across the country and most companies had moved to a policy of “casual Fridays.” Casual Fridays traced back to Silicon Valley in the 1950s when everyone in the computer pioneer Hewlett-Packard pitched in at the warehouse on Friday to package goods for shipment. What had become an ingrained practice in the valley was clearly bolstered by Levi Strauss. In 1992, Strauss launched an extensive ad campaign and sent “A Guide to Casual Businesswear” to over 30,000 HR directors featuring their brands in clean, professional looks presented to employers as a way to soften the blow of avoiding giving employees raises. This worked, for a while.
2000's: Eventually, however, many companies began to regret their decision to allow casual dress when they found their employees coming to work dressed in torn jeans, sloppy shirts, and flip-flops. From the CEO's office on down, management began to voice their dissatisfaction. The threat of being the next person laid off motivated many to return to suits before their companies even formalized a change in dress code.
Stricter dress codes have proved resilient and there is little to suggest that dressing down is still a viable option outside the tech and creative industries. In businesses where client meetings occur, stricter dress codes produce better results. Perceived professionalism is still crucial for the majority of businesses.
We've Come A Long Way ... Baby!
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
“Business Casual” has been good for men and for the menswear industry. Granted, it has been tumultuous, but there are now many more options for personal creativity in dressing and a new appreciation of the ease of dressing traditionally. And an acceptance by most people that it is OK. For the men who enjoy investing the the time and money to create clothing consistent with their individual preferences via Bespoke, Custom, and Made to Measure, the world is their oyster. There are expanded options also available in Ready-to-Wear for those who don’t want to wait.
Men who find it easier to wear “the uniform” rather than trying to master another more complicated way of dressing - which probably doesn’t appeal to them any way - are relieved.
But the most important difference today is comfort – physically and psychologically. We are not pegs to be hammered into holes. We are individuals and unique. As a bespoke tailor and wardrobe consultant, my commitment is to help every man find the place where he is complete and happy with the way his appearance functions in all parts of his life, whether casually or formally, because dressing well is not a self-indulgence. It is our first communication with every person we meet!
Coming by Jon Green in our Next Issue:
Developing A Personal Style: The Art of Pulling It All Together
Editor's Note: Jon Green is a renowned bespoke tailor and wardrobe consultant with studios in New York City and Florida. He can be contacted here. As always, let us know how we did and please contact us with your feedback and questions. We'll be happy to answer.