How Men’s Fashion Has Changed Over Time
Menswear has become more casual since the pandemic, with tailored silhouettes making way for looks that prioritise comfort. Light fabrics in soft colors like pinks and yellows are paired with traditionally feminine decorations like lace and bows.
This style is also evident in Helmut Lang’s minimal trousers that turn functional strapping and bondage-style wraps into decorative elements. This blurring of gender aesthetics has extended to high fashion, as shown by the merging of Mens and Womenswear shows from brands like Paul Smith.
The 1930s were a tough decade. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression took hold. It led to people spending less and conserving what they did have. This had a significant impact on fashion. Both menswear and womenswear became more conservative in their look. The androgynous and daring looks of the 1920s were relegated to history. Hem lines dropped to mid calf for day and to the knees for evening and dresses were simpler with flat silhouettes. Designers like Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli helped create this new look.
Dress shirts were simple and classic with vertical stripes, windowpane or small checks in saturated greens, mustard yellows, blues, burgundies and browns. Cotton broadcloth with drop stitching was the fabric of choice but silk rich hues and rayon were also popular. Dress shirts were worn with tucked in pants or a jacket and either single button or double French cuffs.
Shoes were a big part of the 30s wardrobe as well. Plain oxfords or derbies with cap toes were the norm but white buck dress shoes were also very common. Men’s hats were a key accessory as well, fedoras were very popular but berets and bowlers also figured in many outfits.
Movie stars were the fashion icons of the day. Joan Crawford teamed up with designer Adrian to create a series of knockout dresses for her films including the Letty Lynton dress Menswear that was so popular it spawned a home dress making pattern. She was a good example of how film could influence fashion; her clothes were designed to flatter her figure and she wore them with confidence and style.
The 1950s brought about a great deal of change in men’s fashion. This was mainly due to economic gains that allowed the population to spend more time relaxing outside of work. This resulted in less formal attire that sported a casual appeal. Circle skirts and cinched waistlines were replaced by dresses featuring wide bottoms. A popular new dress style was the shirt dress, which featured a straight or princess-style gown that paired with a short jacket. This dress could be worn in a variety of colors and patterns to create a fun, youthful appearance.
Men’s waistlines were also looser than ever before, thanks to Dior’s “New Look” that favored rounded shoulders and small waists. This looser silhouette also led to sack dresses, which featured a relaxed fit blouse and long, narrow dress. Dresses without waist seams, such as the chemise dresses of Balenciaga, were also common. This trend continued into the early ’60s, when teddy boy suits and belt-buckle shirts were worn by rockers like Elvis Presley.
Khaki-colored pants, referred to as chinos, were also popular for business or casual wear. They were often worn with Madras plaid blazers, which were typically single- or double-breasted in dark brown, black, burgundy, navy blue, green, sky blue, and tan. A wide range of sports coats were also popular for business or leisure, including corduroy, shearling, and even a style called the 49er jacket that was usually made from cotton, leather, or wool tweed fabric.
The noughties saw menswear influenced by a host of new cultural channels. Podcasts like Throwing Fits and Instagram accounts such as NCL Gallery, Hidden and JJJJound helped to introduce new audiences to the concept of menswear. Also, the rise of e-commerce and the instant sharing of celebrity looks led to a significant increase in the availability of high street replicas of designer styles.
This newfound accessibility of high-end menswear meant that many younger men were looking to Menswear emulate their idols in their own way. A key style influencer of the time was Paris Hilton, who sported an array of looks that were seen as highly fashionable for a period of around four years. This included tracksuits, Ugg boots, bright colours and bared skin (Fig. 2).
This newfound appreciation for the male form saw the menswear department of most high-end retailers grow, as well as the appearance of high street chains that aimed to bring a more fashion-forward approach to men’s clothes. At the same time, the clear delineation between womenswear and menswear seemed to blur as more women began to adopt male looks and vice versa. The trend continued into the current decade with both womenswear and menswear shows now appearing together at some major fashion houses.
Throughout history, men’s clothing has been influenced by a number of cultural and aesthetic trends. The emergence of World War II brought about numerous classic designs that are still in use today, such as trench coats and cargo pants. By the end of the war, many Americans had more money and a greater ability to travel, which opened their eyes culturally and aesthetically to fashion from other countries. This helped to shape the current style of contemporary menswear, with tailoring and other formal looks being softened by casual sportswear inspired garments, such as tracksuits and hoodies.
In the early 2000s, the rise of fast fashion saw brands like H&M and Forever 21 offer clothes at a fraction of their designer counterparts’ prices. This caused a collapse of class structures defined by fashion, with high and low styles mixing on the runway and in shops.
In the present, there is a trend towards eye-catching contrasts, with bright colours such as shock pink and magenta being prominent across a variety of different garments. Meanwhile, colour forecasters Italtex and WGSN expect blue tones bordering on cobalt to be key across trousers, suits and chunky knits. A more sober look also features, with off-white and the full span of neutrals set to dominate shirts, jumpers and jackets. Those who prefer a subtler touch can opt for tartan prints and refined wool materials.