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The Men who made Menswear

Presented by Russell Nash

13th February 2024

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Our lecturer, Russell Nash, gave us a fascinating insight into the world of men’s fashion.  Looking very dapper himself in a 3-piece tweed suit of wide check in muted browns, Nash started by giving us a brief history of menswear, going back 500 years when the laws mandated how men dressed.  The Georgian period saw ¾ length coats, no trousers yet, colourful wigs and silk stockings.  Macaroni’s gaudy and outlandish style could be seen by the end of the 18th century. 

The 19th century saw the introduction of more sober, conservative, tailored and reserved dress with the basic building blocks of suits today: trousers, waistcoat, cravat. ‘Beau’ Brummel was the arbiter of men’s fashion in Regency England.  By the Victorian age, the frock coat was heavy and formal with a single vent. 

 

The early 20th Century saw jackets and coats as heavy and padded in order to keep out the cold in un-centrally heated buildings and in dark colours to protect against filthy, city streets.  By 1931 tailors began to make sportswear for the middle classes up, including the Oxford Bags and the soft collar, attached and informal.  The Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, wore incredibly stylish suits with little padding and softly made.  His suits were made by Anderson & Shepherd, tailors on Savile Row and who are still there today. 

 

With WWII came the rationing of material and after the war the development of men’s fashion came across from Italy.  The style was a slim and narrow look, the Mods became a defining style.    In the 1950s came the Teddy Boys, looking back to the certainties of the early 20th century, a mixture of the Edwardian and rock n’ roll.  By the 1960s young people were deciding what they wanted to wear, including cotton, leather and jeans, all material that softened and moulded to the wearer.  In the 1980s came the power suit, padded shoulders, pinstripes, shirts with contrasting collars and cuffs, lots of colour.    Less expensive fabric was now being produced in Northern Italy and Milan and imported into the UK.  Nash described the 1990s as “the decade fashion forgot” and moved onto the 2000s and the introduction of the skinny suit, very slim cut and in darker colours.  Today suits are worn less but velvet jackets have become very fashionable as evening wear.

  

Russell then gave a brief description of 10 men who, in his view, were instrumental in the development of menswear from the turn of the 20th century, starting with Thomas Burberry (1835-1926).  Burberry developed a waterproof and light weight material called gabardine and produced the trench coat worn by WWI officers.  Gabardine is still woven today in Yorkshire.

Keir Hardie (1856-1915) was the first man to arrive at the House of Commons on behalf of the Labour party in a tweed suit and peaked cap.  Fashion became a political statement.

Henry Poole (1814-1875) was the first man to run a tailors on Savile Row.  He dressed Disraeli, Edward VII, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.

Montaque Burton (1885-1952) dressed the most British men ever, producing hard-wearing, durable suits.  He lived in Leeds and owned 600 shops throughout the country.  His legacy was that “master and man could not be told alike”. 

Cecil Gee (1902-1971), post WWII he rejected the austere world and introduced the Italian look to men’s fashion.

Hardy Amies (1909-2003) launched himself onto upper-class society.  He dressed Queen Elizabeth II, Bobby Moore and was known as providing the ABC of men’s fashion.

Bill Green (1910-1966) provided an alternative style of Breton tops and dark polo-necks as worn by Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Picasso.  His clothes were very expensive.

John Stephen (1934-2004) was known as the King of Carnaby Street.  He revolutionised fashion for men, making it cheap and accessible in the swinging ‘60s. 

Tommy Nutter (1943-1992) started on Savile Row and along with Edward Sexton, spotted an opportunity to re-invent the Savile Row suit in the 1960s.  Worn by David Bowie, Mick Jagger and the Beatles.

Finally, Russell came to Lee Alexander McQueen (169-2010), who took the fashion world by storm, bringing avant-garde design to men’s fashion.  McQueen was an apprentice at Anderson & Shepherd on Savile Row and was quickly recognised as an exceptionally talented cutter of fabric.  After attending the Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design, McQueen became an internationally renowned designer, at the heart of which was his exquisite cutting.

Vicki Cowan

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A member of The Arts Society
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