The Way We Wore: A Century of Men’s Fashion in Business – Forbes
One hundred years of dressing for successâfrom Black Tuesday to Casual Friday and beyond.
In the early 1900s, a three-piece suit meant business. Starched, detachable collars were also the normâand were always white.
The Jazz Age brought bolder fashion for menâincluding patterned suits, shirts and ties. But in 1921, Forbes warned readers to tone it down: âIn Australia, American salesmen in loud-checkered suits are likely to be mistaken for the race course trickster or the confidence menâgoodbye orders.â
Times may have been lean, but suits werenâtâthey were typically double-breasted and exaggerated the male physique. And donât forget that Fedora or Homburg, sir.
War brought austerity to menâs fashionâwool was rationed, double-breasted was out, and pants lost the cuffs and pleats. But the second half of the decade saw a return to wide lapels and baggy suits. And improvement to machinery allowed ready-to-wear clothes to replace custom-made.
The era of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suitâconformity was king. The Organization Man knew to dress like his superiors.
The Sixties may have been revolutionary in fashionâbut not for businessmen. JFK made the two-button sack suit stylish and helped bring about the decline of hats.
Peacock Power! Ties, collars and lapels got widerâand patterns were groovier. But a designer named Ralph Lauren tried to reinterpret the classics. In 1978 he described his philosophy to Forbes as ânew traditionalism, which is like the old Ivy League but more romantic.â
Giorgio Armani and other designers brought sex appeal to the suit while Ronald Reagan added his own flourishâthe almighty red power tie. And masters of the universe braced themselves with suspenders and white-collared shirts, thanks to Gordon Gekko.
The dawn of Casual Friday brought panic to the office: Was it really okay not to wear a tie? And what about jeans andâ¦a t-shirt? What was the boss wearing? It was all so confusing.
Globalization came to fashion as men mixed high and low labels, cultural influencesâand decades. Retro Eighties suit with a Japanese fast fashion tee? Sure. Oh, and nice tattoo.
The office continues to get more casual with the rise of athleisureâdesigner sneakers and cashmere hoodiesâin the workplace. While white collar and blue collar workers make room for a new colleagueâthe no collar Millennial.