I lately noticed a presentation by the cultural historic and author Benjamin Wild (beneath), on the historical past of menswear. The discuss coated all the pieces from 1300 to the current day, but it surely was pre-20th Century that was essentially the most attention-grabbing. 

The event of menswear prior to now 100 years is roofed fairly usually: the Duke of Windsor, emancipation after WW2, the delivery of the designer. Earlier tendencies are not often coated in a lot element, presumably as a result of they appear much less related. 

However there’s a lot there that’s noteworthy, whether or not it’s how a lot our fashionable clothes is pushed by the worship of individualism, or how fleeting our concepts of masculinity are. It may give us context and perspective. 

Listed here are just a few of the factors I discovered most attention-grabbing, which run roughly chronologically. The discuss itself shouldn’t be publicly out there, sadly, however there may be a lot extra on Wild’s writing on his web site right here.

Early on, Wild made the purpose that the historical past of clothes up till the top of the 19th century was pushed by establishments – by the monarchy, and by the church. 

They dictated what was acceptable and what was aspirational. This was one motive clothes didn’t change – alongside the restricted technique of manufacturing. 

This may appear apparent, but it surely stands in stark distinction to the second half of the 20 th century, the place the powers of expertise, globalisation and mass media have put the emphasis a lot on the person: what you need, what makes you look good. 

That emphasis on the person would possibly usually be a ruse to persuade you to purchase one thing a specific model is promoting, but it surely’s telling that the concept of non-public alternative at all times frames the dialog. It’s value remembering how a lot energy we now have.

Wild’s historical past started within the medieval interval. And right here, for tons of of years, the dominant type of European male gown was the tabard (proven prime, left; and above).

The tabard was a T-shaped piece of clothes, with a gap lower for the top, that hung to someplace across the knees. The one form got here from a belt that might be tied across the waist, and from which instruments or luggage might be hung. 

You may see why the tabard was so sensible, and lasted so lengthy. It offered the fundamental overlaying required, was versatile, unisex, and had little requirement for sizing. It was additionally easy to make – simply two items of fabric sewn collectively. 

The truth is, its intuitive nature might be demonstrated by how related different clothes around the world had been – just like the kimono, for instance. One was a shirt and the opposite a popover, however in any other case they had been a really related idea. 

I discovered that part of the discuss attention-grabbing as a result of I’d by no means heard a tabard outlined earlier than – the one references to it you usually see are as some form of heraldic layer over armour. 

The subsequent level had wider implications about ostentation, and masculinity. 

For many of this late medieval interval, wealthy folks confirmed they had been totally different from the poor by sporting extra of those draped clothes, or by dying them or ornamenting them. Apparently shaving the nap on the material into totally different patterns was common. 

However afterward, the the Aristocracy began differentiating themselves by including form. Tailoring was born. 

You may see this within the distinction between Phillip the Good (centre, in black) and people round him within the portray above. 

Whereas most, such because the the noble and churchman on the left, are nonetheless in some form of free, long-sleeved tabard, Phillip’s outfit is tailor-made, with huge sleeveheads. These garments had been now being lower near the physique, slightly than simply cinched, with hook-and-eye fastenings within the again. 

In the event you look intently, everybody in that portray additionally seems like they’re sporting Balenciaga Pace sneakers. Really, these are pointed footwear referred to as Crakows, named for the town in Poland they had been purported to have come from. 

This period of formed, dramatic clothes and pointy footwear is one which, within the 21st century, we will discover fairly alien. 

How may it have appeared aspirational, and certainly masculine, to put on a cinched gown, poofy shoulders, and tights?

After we take a look at better-known photos, just like the Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII (above) that each English youngster sees of their historical past schoolbooks, it’s laborious to establish with the garments or why they had been worn. 

However setting them on this longer operating context helps – a minimum of for me. 

The intense of that development got here in France, most famously encapsulated within the Rigaud portrait of Louis XIV (above). 

Right here, the King is proven in a lot decorative, flowing material that he couldn’t probably have moved in it, not to mention carried out royal duties. And he’s sporting pink excessive heels – which I by no means observed earlier than. These had been recognized (derisively) as talons rouges.

The sort of clothes set the the Aristocracy aside as a result of it confirmed they didn’t should do something for themselves – that they had folks to do this for them. And certainly, later Louis took to limiting which individuals had been allowed to put on the pink heels, making style a really express type of class sign. 

The response in opposition to this ostentation got here within the 17th century in England – and that is the place menswear nerds can be extra conversant in the historical past, because it’s generally thought to be the birthplace of the swimsuit. 

When Charles II took to the throne, he decreed (on October 7 1666, based on Pepys) that courtiers ought to do away with their lace and bows, and put on the brand new uniform of lengthy jacket, waistcoat and (quick, two-piece) trousers. 

As you possibly can see from the picture above (that’s Charles on the correct), the proportions had been very totally different from a contemporary swimsuit. However nonetheless, it was a step change from the flowing cloth, cinched tabards and bows. It was plain, tailor-made material. 

That is nonetheless the age of establishments, and so what the king and courtiers wore, males all over the place aspired to as properly. Extra apparently, although, that aspiration additionally mirrored the values Charles wished to challenge: anti-French and anti-Catholic, prudent and Protestant.

That largely set the tone for the subsequent 250 years. Effectively into the 20th century, males’s gown was supposed to speak that they had been profitable, critical folks to be valued on their  character and their works. Not their magnificence. 

Certainly, as Wild mentioned in his discuss, that concept of masculinity as being sensible has died laborious. Even after the peacock revolution and the flowering of style ever since, males are nonetheless most comfy in garments which can be plain, and useful. 

There is perhaps quite a lot of narcissism round at this time – begun, maybe, by the fastidious Beau Brummell (above) – however there may be nonetheless little or no ornament in menswear. We’re a good distance from even the fur and gold of Philip the Good.

Wild additionally talked properly about fashionable tendencies, however I gained’t go into them as they’re so broadly coated. For the second I feel it’s value remembering, each time we scoff at some style development or runway present, how slender our concepts of menswear are – and the way a lot of it has come earlier than.