Many consider fashion to be all about self-expression, or maybe even an artistic endeavor. But largely, popular fashion trends are pushed forward by social, economic, and political norms of the age. You might be surprised to find that fashion trends have been closely tied to these factors – fashion is an expression of the times we live in.
1900 – 1919: The Age of the Detachable Collar
The early days of the century were largely formed by the industrial revolution and the prosperity it brought. The propriety and formality of the 1800s was suddenly available to much larger swaths of the population thanks to the newfound ability to mass-produce fabrics and textiles. The 3-piece suit was a mainstay of the times, accompanied by classic bowler, boater, or gambler hats, and two-tone boots.
Detachable collars were a hallmark of the age. Since collars required more cleaning, it was simpler to have them washed individually, rather than the entire shirt.
1920 – 1929: The Golden Age of Hollywood
After WWI, fashion was spurred on by optimism for the world. This, alongside the birth of Hollywood, and the jazz-age led to men bringing out their best and brightest mood in their clothing. The classic white suit and bow-tie became popular from these factors.
The rise of automobiles led to the popularity of driving attire, including flat caps, leather jackets, and white scarves.
1930 – 1939: The Zoot Suit era
The ’30s were marked by an economic crash and the great depression, which influenced the clothing and fabric industries as much as any other. Suits began to be made more economically, resulting in broader shoulders, thinner waists, and cheaper fabrics. The general malaise of the times led fashion in the direction of more ‘power suit’ styles, with broad shoulders and lapels which emphasized men’s width and size.
This was truly the era of the zoot suit, may it rest in peace.
1940 – 1949: Wartime Practicality
Thanks to WWII, fabric rationing further pushed economical clothing production. At this point, the 3-piece suit and brighter colors were viewed as unpatriotic, since all money and fabric needed to go to the wartime efforts.
Ties began to be used for more personalization during this time, as they were small scraps of fabric that could be added to any outfit.
Since the war hung over the nation, the only space for expression was in smaller details, such as colors, prints, and accessories.
1950 – 1959: McCarthyism Leading Into Counter-culture
After the war ended and men began to return to the workforce, conformity came back into vogue. The threat of the cold war brought paranoia and McCarthyism, which expressed itself in a rejection of anything outside of the ideal “good American.” The classic black suit was established as the default early on.
The youth, however, formed a counterculture against this conformity. The classic ‘greaser’ style came from this era. Spurred on by popular culture figures such as Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, the classic white t-shirt with denim jeans became a touchstone of the era.
1960 – 1969: Relaxing norms
The ‘60s were a time of establishing social change and revolution, with the primary expression of this being in the clothing. Men’s and women’s fashions began the very early stages of shifting towards each other- Women’s clothing became more boxy and masculine, while men’s fashion largely softened and brightened.
Suits began to tighten and began to be replaced by more casual clothing like denim jackets and simple military-style coats. Many youth sub-cultures grew out of time, such as hippie, mod, and rockabilly cultures.
And almost all of these sub-cultures were represented at one point or another by the true hallmark of the era: The Beatles.
1970 – 1979: Bold and Groovy
The ’70s were filled to the brim with a burst of creativity and self-expression, spurred on by major social movements – second-wave feminism, the anti-war movement, and the sexual revolution all spurred on more unique forms of clothing and menswear.
The hallmarks of this era were the bold colors and patterns alongside platform shoes, bell-bottoms, and leisure suits.
1980 – 1989: Recession and Rebirth
In the aftermath of the late-70’s energy crisis, alongside stagflation, fashion took another subdued turn. At this point, popular culture began to seep into fashion more than ever before, with sports branded clothing and active wear becoming a mainstay. Branding became hugely important throughout the decade.
On the counter-culture side of fashion, hip-hop was massively popular, with icons like Tupac influencing street wear and sportswear whether they liked it or not.
1990 – 1999: Rave, Hip-hop, and Grunge
Simplicity ruled the 90’s. Rejecting the trends from the past 40 years, men were attracted to casual clothing in simpler cuts and colors. These looks were everywhere, and they were largely influenced by the 3 defining sub-cultures of the age: Rave, Hip-hop, and Grunge.
All of these sub-cultures were formed in reaction to the decadence and flashiness of the past eras, and each took their own directions in forming a simpler style. The iconic graphic tee was a must-have during this time.
Most readers will have been alive during the ‘00s, and the ‘10s are still fresh in our minds, but we can all take notes about the ways that societal changes have affected fashion and casualwear in different ways. The decade is just beginning, so lets look forward to the next big changes in mens fashion