Has fashion for men declined over the last five decades? Do the clothes that men choose in the 2020s reflect the changing culture and philosophy around men and masculinity? Is our more liberal 21st-century lifestyle reflected in the sartorial choices that men make when both at work and at play?
Invoking the Hollywood Golden Age
Looking back at the photos and images that represent life during the first half of the 20th century, clothes for men were more formal – and that transcended all classes. Flannel trousers, shirts, jackets, and ties. Movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood set a standard for how men dressed – actors such as Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, and Clark Gable were regularly featured in the gossips mags of the times, representing the old-fashioned Hollywood glamour that lifted the spirits of those that had experienced hardship and loss as a result of the First and Second World Wars.
The Relative Cost of Fashion
What needs to be taken into account is the relative cost of new clothes for the average man. While today we are used to fast, cheap fashion, 70 plus years ago, the average salary would only allow for one or two outfits a year. This meant that the clothes that were in a man’s wardrobe had to last for far longer and have far more wear than we would allow for today.
As a result, fashion trends did not so much come and go, as evolved over time. You wouldn’t see the fast changes in styles that we experience in today’s modern world, purely because the market was so much smaller, and responded according to the economy of the time. However, with increasing media representation across the different social classes, the awareness of fashion, and how it would set people apart, was igniting a hunger for better apparel in a much broader range of social classes.
More relaxed sportswear, for example, was indicative of the more relaxed approach to life, and growth in sports as part of the changing social landscape. Football, cricket, and tennis – during the twentieth century, their population increased in terms of both spectators and participators. As a result, this increased interest fuelled a shift in sartorial expectations both on and off the sports pitches.
A Relaxing of Expectations
Today sports and leisure wear have extended beyond the boundaries of different sports – it is fair to say that leisure wear drives fashion for men these days. For young men in their late teens and early twenties, in the early part of the twentieth century, a shirt and tie were a de rigor for them as they would have been for their fathers and grandfathers. In the 21st Century, this expectation has completely died – shirts and ties are relegated to special family occasions only. Instead, day-to-day wear is dictated by comfort and the latest brand.
And while the inclusion of accessories such as designer silver cufflinks would have been beyond the scope of most pockets one hundred years ago, branded premium accessories are seen as symbolic of the acceptance into certain social media circles today.
Representing a more Inclusive Society
As society has become more inclusive and accepting of the different kinds of relationships, this has also led to a releasing of creativity in terms of different fashions. The men of today have more freedom to celebrate everything that is different about their personalities. The generations before them were more restrained by the social mores of the times that they lived in, and maintaining a muted outfit ensured that they remained under the radar.