Men's Style Anxiety: A Genealogy

I. Introduction

If you are wondering why men dress the way they do today, if you wonder why men are afraid to dress with more style and formality, if you are trying to decide if you really want to up your style and formality, the following history will help you to see how men's style got to where it is, where male anxiety about dress comes from, and what this all means for a man who might want to dress better today.

II. Men's Style before our Democratic Era The following story of men’s style is a very western one: it is focused at first on Europe and eventually comes in the mid-20th century to focus on the U.S. It is also a story rooted in economic and political realities, as I believe most things in social relations and behavior come down to economics and politics (and, in fact, that politics usually just come down to economics). It begins in what is called the ancien régime, the last few centuries when Europe was still dominated by monarchies and the nobility before roughly 1800. In the latter half of the 17th century, the Sun King, Louis XIV, made France and specifically his royal court at Versailles the undisputed center of western politics, culture and fashion. Part of his governing strategy was to keep as much of the French nobility at Versailles as much of the time as possible, indebted to him and constantly kissing up to him for favors. Thus the architecture of Versailles itself had to be not only impressively imposing, it had to be enticing. The fashion in men's dress he instituted was ridiculously expensive and ornate. Every aspect of Versailles had to serve as golden handcuffs keeping Louis' friends under his eye and potential enemies under his thumb at court. French life as dictated by Louis at court set the fashion for the rest of Europe. Nobles all over Europe built mini-Versailles and imitated the Sun King as much as possible. Even Frederick the Great, the great Prussian King of the mid-18th century made French, not his native German, the language of his Versailles-esque court just outside of Berlin. All things French, including court fashions, dominated the sensibilities of western nobility in this final century of the ancien régime. French style was the style. For all of history, going back as far as we have records, all the way up to and including the ancien régime, most western societies have been divided into basically (if you will indulge me in keeping things simple) two strata: nobility and commoners. Usually, the nobility owned everything, and commoners, the vast majority of humanity, worked for them, making their expensive lives possible. Other very small groups between the nobility and the masses have always existed such as various priesthoods and other bureaucratic professions who served the nobility and did not have to make a living as laborers, but who also did not enjoy all of the privileges of nobility. There have also often been those who made a living off of trade and similar pursuits who may have owned a small amount of capital. Not tied to land and needing to be centrally located for trade, this small segment generally congregated in towns and cities (in Old French they were called burgeis – town-dwellers) and began expanding their power and wealth, though modestly, from the Middle Ages on. This group would become the bourgeoisie of the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution and greater political involvement dramatically increased their wealth and power. Before 1800, however, this middle class was rather small, as was the aristocracy. Almost everyone was a peasant (including, probably, most of your ancestors if they were Europeans) with no hope of improving their

Thus. Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations formulating for the West free market economics. an age of new freedoms. They were also faced with new decisions about themselves and their lives that used to be simply determined by their birth. by around 1800. you would live the life of a noble. a common birth. The third form of atomization I am concerned with also found expression in 1776 with the American Declaration of Independence. In the ancien régime. but severely limited by cost and by the law.situation and with no thought of their children or grandchildren living an existence any better. Who they were was determined at birth. Upward mobility was not a concept. changing the West for ever. what they were now free to choose to wear. Sumptuary laws controlled what could or could not be worn by individuals. It made religion an individual matter (though in reality most religious leaders quickly realized the personal benefits of re-centralizing power around themselves). Atomization of Power and the Rise of the Individual By the end of the 18th century. however. so wearing a richly brocaded coat was as nonsensical as wearing a trunk and huge ears. This came to a head in Europe with the French Revolution begun in 1789 and was dramatically symbolized by the beheading of Louis XVI in 1793. In the ancien régimeyour lot in life was practically set in stone at birth. a force that had already begun to decentralize the wealth of the aristocracy and place more wealth and opportunity in the hands of more individuals. Where a relationship to God and salvation had been centralized in the institution of the Catholic Church. It was actually illegal for a peasant to dress like a noble. A peasant was as likely to become an elephant as a noble. the west was characterized by a rapidly growing atomized spirituality and moral thought. IV. Protestantism proposed that every individual needed only scripture and faith to maintain their own personal relationship to God. In 1776. through no choice or action of their own. and this was proclaimed by the clothes they were allowed and could afford to wear. This was the beginning of the end of the ancien régime. If you had a noble birth. Individuals were now in a position to do much for themselves that used to be done only by centralized institutions. This massive social upheaval could not help but be reflected in what men wore. and the revolution from the aristocratic styles of the ancien régime to the more middle class style of the 19th century was one of the most dramatic shifts in style menswear had ever experienced. and the dawning of the Age of the Individual. opportunities. powerful forces had been at work. III. and no commoner would think of doing so anyway. it did provide an inspiring example that bolstered the European move towards republican government (“republican” not referring to the modern political party but to a governmental system of representation as opposed to monarchy). Men's Style after the French Revolution: Beau Brummell . Some town’s people did dress nicer than peasants. Additionally. Though the American Revolution did nothing to overturn theancien régime in Europe. The scattering of centralized power out to individuals – what I will call “atomization” – would soon topple the ancien régime. Republican governing structures would accelerate the decentralization of power that had once been in the hands of the few and distribute it more evenly to individuals. you knew exactly who someone was by how they dressed. Protestantism had begun in the early 1500s as a powerful force of atomization. aping the aristocracy to some degree. atomized economics and political power in an entirely new way. aristocrats dressed in elaborately expensive ways that could never be imitated by commoners. responsibilities and anxieties. the life of a commoner.

plumage. Captain Brummell eventually irritated the Prince of Wales to the point of being cut off as he exhausted all of the wealth he inherited from his father with gambling and his exorbitant spending on clothes. and dressed in the more natural. make-up and long. authenticity and a greater degree of democratic freedom (even if most peers actually spent half the year or more in favor of very understated dress influenced by his time in the military and especially by the relaxed clothes worn by one who lives on the vast estate of an English country house and often enjoys the elite but earthy pastime of riding. In the mid-1790s he rode in the Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guard where he became friends with the Prince himself.” for the style revolution led by Brummell it denoted masculine simplicity at its strictest. lace. and a general lack of ornamentation. as well as by that most ambitious social climber of all. born in 1778. His fastidiousness was expressed in his hygiene. the standard still dominating men's style today. bowing. Before doing so.French style . powdered wigs.” whose understated minimalism was the opposite of the flamboyant. Britain would be the . From Brummell until the end of World War II. This newer look was characterized by short hair. continental extravagance of the ancien régime’s “Fop” or “Macaroni. The moment was also perfect for English men's style to set the trend for the continent. made possible by the wealth and power England was steadily building through its growing empire. Regardless of how accurate it really was. Finally. not the inventor of an entirely new idea but the culminating embodiment of long-developing trends. hunting on his own earth. He was the quintessential “Dandy. For all of these reasons and more. the image of the English lord at his country house far from the royal court. more egalitarian clothing had already been shaping English dress for decades. stiff silk coats bowing and scraping before the king while stabbing each other in the back encapsulated everything people felt was wrong with the ancien régime. Brummell’s personal style was characterized by two things: understatement and fastidiousness. by the late 18th century. makeup and other pomp of the ancien régime’s aristocrats . he established the new very British and very unaristocratic look of the Dandy.This shift was embodied and led by George “Beau” Brummell. a look even adopted by the Prince of Wales and many other aristocrats. scraping and back-stabbing in silk coats). his obsession with fit. had already cast England as the democratic nation of Europe in the 18th century. generously treating his tenants with his famous English hospitality. England's gradual eclipsing of France on the world stage gave its fashions the crucial connotation of power. though not noble. and in the end he had to flee debtor's prison to France. Just as he embodied the revolution in style around 1800. The English tradition of a powerful representative body going back to the 13th century Magna Carta. the future George IV. and his constant laundering. He fully rejected all of the silk. wooly costume of the rider represented naturalness. a preference for wool. The French had dominated and steered men’s style in the West since Louis XIV. few and muted colors. eventually becoming a synonym for “Fop. Thus. Napoléon Bonaparte. George grew up on a small country estate (meaning only some 800 acres) with some of the privileges of the nobility such as an education at Eton and Oxford. all things English appealed to republican sensibilities in much of Europe around 1800. bright colors.” Though “Dandy” would come to mean its opposite. England could not help but become the leader of masculine style in the 19th century. benefiting from many lucrative positions serving English nobility and from a marriage to a woman from another wealthy middle-class family. This penchant for outdoor. all courts but especially at Versailles . practical. as many icons are. brocade. the style exemplified by Brummell in the Regency era was also as much of a rejection of French cultural dominance as it was anything else. Brummell’s father was one of those few commoners who as a bureaucrat escaped a life of labor. Brummell was. The picture of Frenchified nobles in powdered wigs. court life . he also embodied the realization of many middle-class aspirations.had come to be seen as the epitome of artificiality and superficiality. For the English in general.

urban social sphere has probably been no easier. making social navigation quite easy. but his family. he will always be a man with a foot in both worlds. protestant world of the 19th and 20th centuries has been one of great individual anxiety. socializing with the “best and brightest. the American Dream. With his original country manners and speech. the farmer’s son has a chance. at becoming an extremely wealthy banker in the city. his social interactions would be uncomfortable and unnatural in ways they never were before he left and changed. many decisions were already made by the class system: what one did for a living. talking and acting like the wealthy. dressed like the wealthy. the Dandy's sparse style was just that. of formality and of style that expresses power – the very thing one complains men are doing to menswear today. From the perspective of the ancien régime. riding). what one wore. and who one is was already determined. but only at the risk of alienating all of his current peers. and never a man standing solidly in either. of course. The taste of the middle class had become ascendant. dressed to the nines.. This is the accusation leveled at today’s adult male in his running shoes. and people are not happy for the successes of others as often as they should be. It is this British tradition instituted by Brummell that gives us today’s suit and tie among other ensembles. atomized world of individual rights and individual possibility. As it is hard to be fully accepted by a new peer group. before the Revolution. To some degree. and there was a decided shift towards comfort and the look of sports (i. In the paradox between freedom and equality. While we in the States may not be born into classes by law. the message is that no one in a democratic.e. most of us harbor a deep if unconscious belief that class lines are real and not to be crossed . But this freedom and opportunity in the bold. You may choose to dress better than your [former] peers. self-improvement is condemned as it is promoted. Protestant society is better than anyone else – that is equality. but you do so with the almost certain likelihood of stirring anxiety that will be expressed as animosity by them. your old friend is just as free to dress better. and ball cap – and accurately so. democratic. On the other hand. his assimilation into a wealthy. t-shirt. with whom one associated. formalized as the American middle-class ethos. Yes.) Many at the time considered this style revolution a loss of dignity. But let us be honest enough to remember that the rise of middle-class taste and the widespread proclivity for sportswear did become the rule already with Brummell and has been dominant for over two centuries now. Especially in the States. new democratic world is fraught with risk (and is actually more illusory and elusive than it seems). etc. friends and other peers back in his farming community will have an almost impossible time continuing to accept him as one of theirs if he does. a country that has never had a legal aristocracy.undisputed leader in men’s style. On the one hand. The First Style Anxiety of the Individual Man: Resentment of [Former] Peers The post-revolutionary. But in the new. Sure.especially not by our own peers. it is just as hard to remain accepted by the one in which . or he may need to cut ties with you so as not to seem infected by what his peers will certainly consider your uppishness. Upward mobility generally has very real social costs. V. nothing is set in stone. It is easier for him to try to pressure you to come back to his level. Most of one's life was dictated by one's birth. When. One born into the starkest poverty may dream of one day living in great wealth. shorts. Were he to return. how one entertained oneself. capitalist. no matter how slight. one was born into a class with no hope of escaping it. the message is very strong that you should rise and make as much of yourself as you can – this is your freedom. of refinement. (A charming video with a bit more on Brummell can be foundhere.” This anxious aspiration is.

or seems to embody. certain virtues.” They were descriptive rather than insulting. that. and. because he is a prince. Similarly “courtesy. proclaimed earthy “authenticity. This is clearly related to the resentment just discussed above felt by anyone who encounters someone dressed as his superior in a world where such superiority is no longer institutionally established. In the ancien régime. These words. entrenching the idea that one has a choice to behave in a socially acceptable way or not. these qualities were intrinsically those of the nobility. Internalized social expectations can be even more powerful and binding than external systems of law. The freedom we now have externally is still balanced to an astonishing degree by the constraints we cling to internally. the modern “gentleman” could be any man of any birth who appeared and behaved correctly. as it was not a commoner's moral failing to have been born common.” the untitled but landed nobility. these words described the class into which one was born. but in America. This kind of purely moral understanding divorced from any memory of class implications is only possible in the postrevolutionary. but the more democratic and individualistic society became. it is even more pronounced.” “gentle. speech. VI. any man was much more able to claim for himself the highest virtues of no longer seems to fit. meaning simply “common.” the behavior of those at court. “just who does he think he is?” is only ever a breath away. Earlier. with its idealization of the paradoxical values of equality and freedom. The peasant would just get the hell off of the road as quickly as possible before being run down by the prince's horse. “vulgar” and “mean” used to refer to commoners. biological meaning of “breeding” has also been replaced by the moral concept of the manners. dress. In fact. Now. atomized world of free individuals responsible for themselves.” “vulgar. at great cost and with much effort. “Just who does he think he is?” and give him a dirty look when passing him on the street. this new nobility of character could best be shown and recognized through external markers like manners. Now in the new.certainly in the 1900s and 2000s many may more easily ask themselves. But there is more to it than that. he would never ask. At the other end of the scale. Simply wearing new clothes can easily stir up all of this anxiety of the internalized class expectations of others. But seeing a man dressed up all the way in the 1800s . as the internalization of the class system and its transformation from a description of the external world into an internal complex of moral decisions was accelerating after the Revolution. speech and dress one is taught by one's parents and peers. The literal. This mistrust of the well-dressed is real in Europe. a large part of Brummell's ideal of the Dandy was a man who embodied and projected the virtues attributed to the aristocracy through his paradoxically understated dress. “Just who does he think he is?” The answer would be rather apparent – he thinks he is a prince. The Second Style Anxiety of the Individual Man: Questions of Authenticity If a peasant in the 1700s traveling a road saw someone approaching dressed like a prince.” But now the markers of nobility were no longer controlled by birth or law and could be . The question. has become something that can be shown by those who will never in their lifetimes come near a royal court. the more any man could be “noble. a gentleman could be any man who embodies. just as any man could now behave in a vulgar manner. Where a “gentleman” was formerly a man belonging to the “gentry. “noble.” simply based on his perceived character.” and “mean” are almost only used with these moral meanings today. democratic world any man can be labelled “vulgar” or “mean” without regard to his birth. As had been the case with inborn nobility before the revolution. After the French Revolution. of course. The nature one was assumed to have based on birth was not a moral choice but a social fact.

only a few from the middle-class can really make it. for the first time a man could get the majority. but Brummell’s minimal. Looking good and working hard to do so became. Additionally. In the increasingly industrial and commercialized 19th century.if not vulgar . looking at all like you put any more than the minimum of effort or thought into your appearance was now considered unmanly. men were as done up as women if not more so. Effeminacy in the early. while the devil is pictured as the most well-manicured smooth-talker of them all. This moral king of the social hill is a thoroughly middle-class game. The Third Style Anxiety of the Individual Man: Projection of Socially Acceptable Masculinity In addition to threatening the peers one grows up with and to coming off as an inauthentic and an untrustworthy cad. as they are today. said and did all of the right things – whose bearing might best be described as noble – might also just be the most suspicious type of all. required substantial financial resources. The aristocracy had always already won the game without playing it. Thus. It was in the growing middle class with its longing to finally stand among the aristocracy that the desire to look and behave correctly was the strongest as was the distrust of anyone who was trying to look or behave correctly. it was decided after the revolution. Brummell's new look was not cheap. In an age when nobility could be learned out of style and etiquette guides and acquired from merchants. Now that clothes were procured on a shopping trip. Shopping had already been women's work. To be a desirable goal. and. and this new kind of nobility was not certified by any institutional authority.adopted by anyone. It is for middle-class men to be on the offensive by always looking and behaving correctly and to be on the defensive by constantly questioning others who try to look and behave correctly. as it would be meaningless . Before that. at least by anyone who could afford them. The man who wore. wealthier men had their clothes made bespoke by tailors and poorer men's clothes were made by family members. since the point of the game is to be like them. The poorest men were still locked out of the game. authenticity of character could be questioned in a whole new way.if everyone did. the well-dressed man faces another new anxiety after the Revolution: being considered effeminate. and 19th century marketers imbued it with even more femininity as they lured women into the pleasure palaces that were the newly invented department stores.and mid-19th century was not a sexual or biological concept but referred to being considered too occupied with concerns deemed feminine to the detriment of masculine concerns. if not all of his clothes ready-to-wear from a merchant. and the strong internalization of class expectations makes it a deeply moral one difficult to differentiate from the religious beliefs with which it has come to be thoroughly blended. This enterprise and its attendant anxiety is still the game the middle-class plays today. selecting and acquiring them took on a whole new feminized aspect. a feminine pursuit. VII. militarized aesthetic made simplicity the core of projecting masculinity with . of course. All could theoretically be noble now. In the ancien régime. in bourgeois modernity. Where no one would question if the prince in the 1700s was noble or not (he simply was) the man who wore all the right clothes and who displayed all the right manners post-revolution could raise the suspicions of many as to whether his intentions were genuinely noble or not. Of course. This created greater anxiety about being sure just whom one was dealing with and how one presented oneself to and was perceived by others. God himself can require you to dress up on Sunday and be offended when you use vulgar language. as his eventual poverty demonstrates.

cricket/tennis sweaters. Similarly.” Dressing well and projecting socially acceptable masculinity required an almost impossibly delicate balance. for a hunt or other sport. Men's Style Continues to Develop Despite all of this middle-class anxiety welling up in the new. Just why does one call a tweed jacket a sports coat? Why are long sleeve. golf and tennis. and men had to carefully use their appearance to project the masculinity sanctioned by their peers. personal choices leading to opportunity and risks opened up as never before. She does the shopping. and. Sweaters. i. the style he initiated would forever more seek to project not caring too much. rugby. and “sports” also began to refer to what was worn for games like polo. and men’s style did continue to develop. authentic masculinity. VIII. Blazers and sports coats were also making the transition from only being appropriate for sports to being worn socially around the turn of the century. It implied the wealthy lifestyle of an estate holder along with what seemed to be a rugged. though Brummell spent inordinate amounts of time and money on his wardrobe. to achieve proper social integration. with the school varieties having a particularly elite association with the then very rare privilege of a university education. all while working very hard not to appear to care about what they wear. men did continue to care about what they wore very much after Brummell. who call it sprezzatura. Remember that the 19th century began with all of Europe wanting to look like the English lord trotting around his estate. the concept of “sports” primarily meant riding a horse. and is one cultivated by the few conscious dressers. Everyone wanted to look like an equestrian of the English countryside. By the end of the century competitive sports had become an important part of school activities. where it can be called slovenliness. Throughout the 19th century.e. but would feel equally threatened if you accused him of spending time and care shopping for ties. cricket. Paradoxically. after the revolution. buttoned shirts with collars called sports shirts? What one must keep in mind is the history of the way “sports” has been used to describe clothes. rugbies. She just buys it for me and tells me to wear it. what are now called polos (originally for tennis). For most of the 19th century. “Oh I don’t know. became acceptable for men to wear around their homes. In the 20th century sweaters would become acceptable for public and even professional's appearance. and even button-downs (originally for . for example.” It fills the man who would feel slighted if you accused him of not knowing how to knot a tie. and to appear morally trustworthy. as if inattention indicated authenticity. by the end of the 19th century. they can be downright dressy in many contexts. The anxiety of this paradox is more than alive today and is expressed every time a man “dressed up” for something points to his wife and says. while they had previously only been acceptable for sports. Men learning to dress today can be a bit perplexed by the way the adjective “sports” is used to describe clothing. by the 21st century. --Thus. though it also referred to other activities like shooting and fishing. By the end of the 19th century. post-revolutionary world. This ideal is today embodied by the majority who have come to really not care. healthy. team sports had become popular. the anxiety of appearing effeminate by caring too much was compounded by the newly created medical and legal category of “homosexuality. the striving for sober simplicity and respectability was maintained but continually modified by Brummell's original desire for comfort and this desire’s attendant consequence of bringing sportswear into daily dress.

say. They are similar to the team jerseys and hats men still wear today. the Duke of Windsor and King Edward VIII). and not American inventions like basketball and baseball. . In sum. though generally only the most expensive ones. the English gentleman's style was most influential in his landlocked pursuits like hunts. The clothing worn in these two scenes is sports clothing. at the turn of the century “sports” in regard to clothing certainly still meant the tweed of the Englishman on his estate. sweaters. In the 1920s and 30s. Astaire. polo and cricket. here with schools. He took the gentry's tweeds and seamlessly blended them with traditional tartans and knitting patterns as well as with golf.a. The new ideal of the tanned. as well as polos. “Sports” in the historical sense basically means what the rich and powerful once wore when on vacation from not working. All of the colors. for their expensive. but eventually Hollywood came to exert its own style dominance by mid-century as America took a leading political role on the world stage and Hollywood had established its global entertainment preeminence. If you watch Chariots of Fire. he was the culmination of sports style. were all following the lead of Brits like the Prince of Wales. This was accompanied by the tendency of wealthy Americans to frequent seaside resorts where ever lighter versions of traditional sports items were developed. scarves. Much of this style was influenced by the American casualness he so loved. Despite being surrounded by the sea in every direction. etc. this Prince of Wales was the most powerful leader in men’s style. innovated on a century of British leisure style. No one would wear a cricket sweater from. but it also referred to items like the multi-colored blazers one wore to and from the pitch or court. Called the Beau Brummell of the 20th century. Grant. rugbies. and maybe no longer do. and certainly one of its most important trend setters. on the hats.k. blazers. Windsor's love of American casualness coincided with another development that would slowly move the center of men's style from England to the States . His penchant for sports clothing produced a much bolder and less conservative style than that of his father. It is the more English games. tennis and Palm Beach style. Later the commercial value of the desire to belong would be exploited in making colors into merchandise for those not on the team. function the same way the stripes on a regimental tie function do: to denote affiliation. etc. though at that time one would only wear the colors of a school one has actually attended. Thus. which would become so important to the style exported by Hollywood. David Windsor (a. simply because they are a fan if they have not been a student there. This leads to some need for caution discussed here. that influenced men's style in the early twentieth century most. as he detested British and especially royal formality (at least until he found himself in unofficial exile from it). today one can use the adjective “sports” to describe clothing you actually wear to play basketball with your friends. American sporting habits began to influence men's style in the 20th century. wealthy Americans living on the Northeastern coast. Early on. Americans loved to see their own proclivity for comfort reflected back to them in the stylish dress of the future Edward VIII. even though the only students actually engaged in sports are the two men who race. wealthy American at the beach.right before the Great Court Run scene. or one can use “sports” the way fashion designers and style historians do to refer t o what wealthy Brits and Yankees have traditionally worn. Though continuing to live out their Anglophile fantasies by playing tennis. and even staging fox hunts. This brought even more nautical colors and patterns and items into the American vocabulary of sports clothing. in contrast. polo. the most stylish men of Hollywood. A great embodiment of the continual drift towards comfort and sportswear is the 20th century’s most famous Prince of Wales. Cooper and others.the rise of Hollywood. leisurely pastimes.polo). there is a scene early on where clubs at Cambridge are gathered in a hall . became devoted leisure-time sailors. Eton or Caius.

cuts and silhouettes in surprising ways. its politicians and captains of business that had held on to slavery so long and that was still clinging to a world of inequality. quite simply. (Despite the persistent legend. the Peacock Revolution was underway. teaching them from youth on like their parents that they should have what they want. grey or grey. After these 16 years of intense fear.. in the U. This had been the uniform of the British Empire with its widespread and exploitative colonization. the children of those who survived the Great Depression and the last World War were coming of age. they explored many other style traditions. a clear indication of its place within and continuance of the old power structure (click here for an excellent introduction to the history of the Ivy Look). The Suit. improved indoor temperature control combined with war-time rationing eventually changed suit waistcoats from necessities to rare oddities. the automobile reduced that time to the brief moments between a climate-controlled building and a car parked nearby. produced the hat-less head that has dominated men since the 1960s. They grew up in a world with every luxury where marketers for the first time aggressively targeted them. bringing in vibrant colors beyond the standard palette of grey.a silk topper to go with his morning coat. and other injustices that had been accepted as self-evident by so many for so long were rejected along with many of the other ways their parents and grandparents had structured their world.S. This included masculine style. Not only did men do everything they could to not look like their fathers. This was the dress of the American establishment. When these Baby Boomers became college aged. in large part by pop musicians. and they knew nothing of the privations and seriousness their parents had faced. It reached its culmination in the 1950s when it was in the form called the “Ivy League” style. This time of palpable conformity in men’s style soon faced a violent swinging of the pendulum.” When the Peacock Revolution was brought to America. and a reordering of priorities. growing out their hair and shunning ties. sacrifice. Where men had once had to spend considerable amounts of time outdoors year-round. For example. The sober dress descended from Brummell had served as the uniform of the establishment for over a century and a half. The Revolution that Overthrew Brummell From 1929 to 1945 the masculinity of American men was first threatened by a prolonged period of scarce employment and then bolstered by fighting and winning the largest war to date. it fed into this Cultural Revolution to produce the greatest convulsion in men’s style since Brummell. many of them felt quite free to question much of what had structured the world of their parents and grandparents. the leadership again came from England. At first. one accompanied by a concept of separate spheres for the genders stricter than anything since the Victorian period. In fact. The racial. even more than JFK's famous distaste for hats. sexual. Meanwhile. grey. There. men's style was also influenced by other developments like those in technology.Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. was the uniform of The Man. a man perpetuating the old establishment in lifestyle and look could simply be called a “Suit. . adult men of the 1950s projected entrenched stability with the most limited and sober form of dress yet. and playing with patterns. though not entirely exiled. JFK did wear a hat to his inauguration .) IX. the limited concept of masculine dress that had continued and developed since Brummell was violently dethroned. often of peoples oppressed by the Anglo-American establishment like those of India and of the Native Americans. materials. In the 1960s. This.

spreading its aesthetics into every corner of youth culture. into adulthood. exclusive connotation of this entire tradition in the 1980s' attempted reactionary reassertion of WASP dominance. and it did indeed serve to reinforce the white. After the late-60s revolutions. Additionally. let alone a suit. wealthy. drugs. mistrust of guidance from tradition. Preppies were just one of those many sub-cultures. homophobic. many men became adults without ever having to put on a single tie. The number of serious youth with genuine cultural and political commitments was bolstered by many more young people simply attracted by the sex. Even more traditional professional spheres where the suit and tie had hung on began having “Casual Fridays. This collision of the Peacock Revolution and the Cultural Revolution produced an eclecticism in style that stayed as far away from the Ivy League suit as possible to make clear its rejection of the racist. The 1990s further dislodged traditional tailored menswear. the drugs. . had been in the 1950s. the will for political change.” By the end of the 90s it was really stuffy. imperialist establishment while exploring every possible source of inspiration to express a vision of a new world. A long tradition of sons learning from their fathers rituals of dress that had been passed on for generations had been severed. The prep look was very much in the tradition of the Anglo-American establishment. to work in all but a very few professions. Theirs was not the look of the majority as its predecessor. the veneration of the natural in the late 60s was overcome by an intense return to a space age enthusiasm that abandoned cotton. and rock and roll – the anarchic freedom – of the movement. All of the most excessive aspects of the 60s. sexist. groups that had been marginalized and had always needed to conform to the AngloAmerican styles of the establishment started to develop ways of dressing that reflected a powerful embrace of their own identities. X. while the best of the 60s. or as one of many other identities not necessarily tied to class. as the dotcom boom brought a style determined as much by Bay Area casualness as by the young average age of its leaders. This is how one ends up at a place like Studio 54. lots its central position in popular culture. wool and cashmere for bulletproof synthetics. and not at all the look of adult men in general. a stoner. By the 1980s. Eager to mimic the success of these new companies. Ivy League Style. The tradition of tailored menswear since Brummell had all but disappeared by the end of a decade that counted “Grunge” as one of its major contributions to the history of style. if not entirely superfluous. still stylistically disoriented by the Cultural Revolution. Men's Style After the Cultural Revolution The 1970s saw the commercialization of the style freedom of the 60s. a jock. unlike during the periods before the 1960s. which a man knew he was destined to wear as an adult. certainly not prep. intense narcissism. and sartorial wandering in search of boundaries continued on in a new. a goth. or a modified version of it. there was no longer one authoritative masculine look. many other businesses dropped their dress standards. Many men continued to wear the uniform of the subgroup of their high school days. did not know what to teach their sons about dress anyway. a preppy.At the same time. typified by the suit and tie. Most sons were no longer learning how to dress from their fathers at all. However. One now dressed as a punk. and those Baby Boomer fathers. the eclecticism initiated in the 60s cemented into standards of dress that were as determined by which subgroup a person chose to belong to as the standards of stratified dress were by the social classes under the ancien régime. to want to wear a tie.

ball caps and trainers at home and who feel quite dressed up wearing a polo shirt and chinos to work with trainers that. If you feel it is time to start dressing better but do not want negative social repercussions. the solution is simple: focus on dressing well at your peers' level of formality rather than alienating everybody bydressing more formally. The long. For most American men.Informal). it seems. by the English tendency towards comfort and sportswear. skill. are black or brown. A suit. despite our protestations of egalitarianism.there is no magical thread woven into it that gives you super powers . skill. appearing inauthentic or untrustworthy. is nothing more than conformity with what has been worn for a long time. This is a natural point to have arrived at. This gives us men who wear team-related or other ad-covered t-shirts. the sportswear of a century and a half ago (a suit .it is that wearing one well creates an impression of you for others that a t-shirt never could. unless they fear being judged by them. Men have idealized looking sporty and comfortable for a couple of centuries now. with a look preserved in a specific form by tradition. Demonstrating all of these things . “Dressing up” even more puts you in the sportswear of a century ago (a sports coat and odd trousers . in which case resentment can turn them against the welldressed man. Of course.Business Casual). and calling your masculinity into question – are all alive and quite well. few things make a better impression than long lineages and expense. Most men can improve their dress and how others view them quite a bit without alienating . hire and be around others who earn well and have knowledge. the more power your clothes connote and the greater the chance of stirring the anxiety of those most at home at the bottom of the scale of formality. a sports coat. And for the human animal. The Style Opportunities and Risk You Now Face The 21st century has not developed new ways for men to dress with style and authority as much as it has inherited an ambivalence towards the old ones. “Formality. It simply has a longer lineage and more expensive materials and construction. It has never fully recovered but neither has it fully disappeared. to “dress up” a little today means putting on the sportswear of half a century ago (chinos and a sports shirt . it is not that a suit is actually better than a t-shirt . That is. If you select and wear your clothes really well they also show that 3) you have talented skill and 4) the confidence to have a personal what transforms style choices into your personal projection of power.and casualwear. The further back you go in that tradition. In what we do usually choose to wear. Even if you find yourself in White Tie. Eclecticism still divides men into countless subgroups. and confidence. or. we are still guided. “dressing up” really just means turning back the clock to earlier forms of sports. if you are really going for it. consistent trajectory from Brummell to JFK crashed in the late 60s.earning power. though this tendency has been forcefully dislodged from the tradition of the look Brummell established.Smart Casual). there is nothing intrinsically or objectively better at all about a suit than shorts and a t-shirt. if he is feeling fancy. People want to date. Again. a tie. and 2) you haveknowledge of how these older and more traditional masculine styles should be worn.” as I discuss here. and all of the old anxieties about dressing well since the days of Brummell – causing resentment among your peers by taking yourself (as they see it) too seriously. you are only wearing what men wore for riding two centuries ago. even a sweater or a sports shirt chosen and worn well communicate power because they show two things: 1) you have the means to buy clothing more expensive than a Super Bowl t-shirt. and confidence .XI. knowledge. the further the more formal.

or at least regular occasions.their current peers. If you really want to dress more formally than your family. . Your clothes should not put you at odds with others but make your interactions with them easier and more enjoyable. even if they live at the level of Business Casual. where such formality is welcome. friends and coworkers. you need to move into social spheres and occupational opportunities.