The Way We Wore: A Century of Men’s Fashion in Business – Forbes

One hundred years of dressing for success—from Black Tuesday to Casual Friday and beyond.

 


Hulton Archive

All business in the early 20th century.

 1910s

In the early 1900s, a three-piece suit meant business. Starched, detachable collars were also the norm—and were always white.

 


(Photo by J. Anthony Bill/Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images)

Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison in 1923

1920s

The Jazz Age brought bolder fashion for men—including patterned suits, shirts and ties. But in 1921, Forbes warned readers to tone it down: “In Australia, American salesmen in loud-checkered suits are likely to be mistaken for the race course trickster or the confidence men—goodbye orders.”

 


(Photo by Lambert/Getty Images)

Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry: Jolly businessmen in the mid-1930s.

1930s

Times may have been lean, but suits weren’t—they were typically double-breasted and exaggerated the male physique. And don’t forget that Fedora or Homburg, sir.

 


Bettmann

Howard Hughes signs an autograph in 1947.

1940s

War brought austerity to men’s fashion—wool 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.

  


(Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Gregory Peck in the 1956 film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

1950s

The era of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit—conformity was king. The Organization Man knew to dress like his superiors.

 


(Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

The Kennedy brothers pose at the White House in 1963.

1960s

The Sixties may have been revolutionary in fashion—but not for businessmen. JFK made the two-button sack suit stylish and helped bring about the decline of hats.

 


(Photo by Susan Wood/Getty Images)

Ralph Lauren with staff members and models, in his Seventh Avenue office in 1977.

1970s

Peacock Power! Ties, collars and lapels got wider—and patterns were groovier. But a designer named Ralph Lauren tried to reinterpret the classics. In 1978 he described his philosophy to Forbes as “new traditionalism, which is like the old Ivy League but more romantic.”


(Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Greed Looks Good: Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street.

1980s

Giorgio Armani and other designers brought sex appeal to the suit while Ronald Reagan added his own flourish—the almighty red power tie. And masters of the universe braced themselves with suspenders and white-collared shirts, thanks to Gordon Gekko.


(Photo by Jean Bernard Vernier/Sygma via Getty Images)

Steve Jobs at a press conference in 1999.

1990s

The dawn of Casual Friday brought panic to the office: Was it really okay not to wear a tie? And what about jeans and…a t-shirt? What was the boss wearing? It was all so confusing.

 


(Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Russell Simmons and Jay-Z are in the mix in 2004.

2000s

Globalization came to fashion as men mixed high and low labels, cultural influences—and decades. Retro Eighties suit with a Japanese fast fashion tee? Sure. Oh, and nice tattoo.

 


(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Sean Parker redefining dressed for success in 2011.

2010s

The office continues to get more casual with the rise of athleisure—designer sneakers and cashmere hoodies—in the workplace. While white collar and blue collar workers make room for a new colleague—the no collar Millennial.

 

 

 

 

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