Since the beginning of time, man has relied on clothing for numerous reasons. Cavemen used fur to protect themselves from inclement winter conditions. Much further ahead in time, there was the doublet, a snug, fitted and buttoned jacket with minimal stitching and a quilted lining (“doubling”) that originated from under armor wear who’s main purpose was to add warmth.
We browsed back in time and found some important garments from different eras along with their purpose and meaning. Some of them are still part of trends or the everyday fashion of today. Some others were left behind, thank God, like the cod piece: in the 14th century, men wore two separate leg hose over linen drawers, leaving a man’s genitals covered only by a thin layer of linen. The codpiece covered this gap. …Well, it still does exist in some way, as the protective cup in the jockstrap.
Many of these items appeared and were, at the time, stylish, but their main purpose was usually functional, like the ruff (a detacheable colar and cuffs that could themselves be laundered separately, preventing the jacket from getting soiled).
During Elizabethan times, a Sumptuary Clothing Law controlled and specified social structure. English Sumptuary Laws governing the clothing that Elizabethans wore were well known by all of the English people. Penalties for violating such laws could be harsh: fines, the loss of property, title and even life (hello, Fashion Police).
Further back, Roman clothes separated the social castes of the Empire. Slaves, merchants, nobility and Roman Senators could all be easily identified at a distance by their clothing. Even before that, Egyptians also had a flair for fashion, but the most attention on dress for both men and women was reserved for decorative collars and headdress.
Men’s fashions through the years have been highly influenced by military models. Changes in the European male silhouette were frequently forged in the theatres of European wars, where gentleman had the opportunity to make notes of foreign styles: an example is the “Steinkirk” cravat or necktie. Another European example is the frock coat, a knee-length men’s coat that was characterized by a larger chest circumference and smaller waist circumference. The bottom of the coat, extending from the waistline, resembled that of a flowing skirt. A frock coat was first seen during the Napoleonic Wars. The Austro-Hungarian and German army officers would wear them during military operations to keep warm and protect their uniforms. It became more popular and viewed as a fashion statement amongst non-military men during both the Victorian and Edwardian periods. A double-breasted style topped by peak lapels would be worn in a more formal setting, whereas, a single-breasted version with notch lapels would be seen in an informal one. Could this be one of the causes of today’s common notion that peak lapels are directly associated with a tuxedo or dinner jacket while notches are associated with a suit? It might just be, however, in our world of custom suit design, we like to leave the choice of whether or not to override these traditional views to the individual’s discretion.
In early 1900, King Edward VII aparently grew so rotund that he was unable to fasten the last button of his waistcoat and jacket. To not offend the king, those associated with him started doing the same. The custom then gradually spread the world ’round, or so the legend goes.
King Charles II, another noble to be, was known to have a flair for fashion and sported cufflinks regularly, quickly influencing public opinion on this new clothing accessory. A fashionable and elegant way to fasten their cuffs, earlier fastened by a string.
Trends started and spread widely, and a generation of very well-suited men arised in mid-18th century England. These men were known as “maccaronis.” Later on, a similar movement referred to the male taking such pride in dressing as dandy as possible.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Beau Brummell was a model of this movement, claiming to take up to five hours getting dressed. He also changed men’s fashion in England. He established the mode of men wearing understated but fitted and beautifully cut clothes adorned with an elaborately knotted cravat. Brummell is also credited with introducing the modern men’s suit.
So, as we said, fashion back then was mainly functional (well, not to Brummell, at least) and a way to establish social status (silk was only sold to the rich). But that makes us think that we probably have not evolved much from such methods. It’s just now a matter of labels: Cartier, Loubotin, Aston Martin, Hermes, and, of course, custom clothing.