Many things have changed during the last century, in every aspect of our lives. This includes changes in fashion, but great style stays elegant across time. Looking at illustrations of great menswear from the past, it is possible to analyse them and learn a lot from them.
We have made a selection of 4 illustrations from the 1920s and 1930s which we will learn from. This was a time where suits were tailored, even for ordinary people. Now bespoke is very exclusive, with made-to-measure being more widely available, but two or three generations ago tailoring was the norm and industrial ready-to-wear was not yet dominant.
Great coats are the most stylish armour a man could wish for.
These coats, made around a hundred years ago, have a very generous volume. The tailoring is not oversized but you can notice the love of great fabric in the wide lapel, long coat and choice of fabric.
The gentleman on the left is wearing a windowpane check with a matching scarf in a lighter colour. On the right we have a large herring bone pattern in heavy light grey wool and a lovely half-belt tailoring detail in the back.
For anyone looking for a statement coat that would be lovely to wear all through fall and winter, this illustration teaches us the important of choosing a beautiful fabric and a classic cut.
Here we see two gentlemen out for a leisure sailing trip. While their relaxed attitudes show the pleasure of sailing, notice how they use simple wardrobe classics to make a timeless casual outfit.
This is very much the style that inspired Gabrielle Chanel’s relaxed style that revolutionised womenswear. Just like today, she saw that these timeless clothes could look as good on a woman as on a man, if worn with the right attitude.
The classic crew neck knit sweater and wide cotton trousers makes a practical and stylish outfit that could replace our jogging pants and hoodie next time we are having a day of relaxation.
You can also notice the high waisted trousers and the polo shirt the “captain” is wearing. The trousers sit on his natural waist, the thinnest part of the torso, which elongates the legs and highlights the v shape between waist and shoulders.
Now we get to look at classic suits from a century ago. It is amazing how little the ideal suit has changed over one hundred years and that you could go to any good tailor and get the same jacket made today.
The cut is slightly different from the modern cut. Today, trousers are slimmer and jackets are generally shorter. Here we also see a narrow 1920s-1930s English point collar on the shirts.
The chalk stripe fabrics are a classic design, very much still relevant, but these would have been in a much heavier fabric than today. If today a suit fabric might weigh 250 grams per meter, these could easily have been 380 grams, so significantly heavier .
It is also interesting to notice the difference between dark and light grey. If you want to stand out, you should choose a light grey, if you are looking for a discrete outfit that dark grey is a better choice.
Finally, notice how these suits are bespoke. Firstly the fit is perfect. The suits falls nicely on the shoulder, flatters the waist and the sleeve length leaves a good amount of shirt cuff showing. But you can also notice the handmade quality in the details. Most noticeable is the lapel roll of the dark grey suit, where the fabric softly curves around to form the lapels which takes hundreds of manual stitches to achieve.
Let’s conclude by looking at the height of formality. These two gentlemen look as though the are about to leave after a night at the opera, notice the cloak room behind them. Both men are wearing white tie, which is the most formal civilian outfit for men. It consists of black trousers, high waisted with pleats in this case, and a black jacket, sharp and short in the front and long in the back. It is always worn with a white waistcoat, shirt and tie.
On the right you can see the classic opera coat and the necessary accessories of the while silk scarf and black top hat.
Although this level of formality is rarely required, I think more men should enjoy the feeling of dressing up as much as they like. Clearly these two men care about how they look and were successful in their efforts.
Looking at illustrations from the past allows us to better understand timeless style, and to integrate the elements we like in our own wardrobe. Perhaps your next pair of trousers will be high waisted or you might indulge in a white tie suit that make you feel like a mix of James Bond and Downton Abbey.
Image Credits: @monsieurgallery