Numidas Prasarn wrote:
We have images of masculine attire through the ages as being playful at some points, and completely dour and boring at others, with it ultimately landing on the latter. English psychologist John Carl Flugel coined the term for this phenomenon as “The Great Masculine Renunciation”. He writes, “modern man’s clothing abounds in features which symbolize his devotion to the principles of duty, of renunciation, and of self control.” Changes in political attitudes and values pinned masculinity into this mode of restraint starting with 17th century France. And not to beat a dead french horse, but the death of the aristocracy was just the first nail in the coffin. After the French Revolution, specific signs of nobility and class distinction were shunned and in some cases outright outlawed. Which isn’t to say that in their push for liberty and equality in the Napoleonic era class distinction and social hierarchy did NOT exist, only that showing specific signs of flamboyance or excess, characteristics of the bourgeoisie, was unacceptable. And so we reach a period of uniformity and reserve in masculine dress, as Flugel puts it “Man abandoned his claim to be considered beautiful. He henceforth aimed at being only useful.”
Interestingly Prasarn cites the emergence of the dandy as part of this trend away from “play” in men’s dress towards minimalism, though I’d always had the impression of the dandy as a rather fanciful figure:
On the flipside, in the English Regency, there are two major factors that contributed to this change – the Age of Enlightenment and the quintessential dandy, Beau Brummell. England at this point is engaged in constant war between Napoleon, its own efforts at expansion, and itself (Hey, America!) and the French Revolution along with the philosophical writings of the time jump start this trend of neoclassicism. For men, this means a “sleeker” silhouette, to highlight the male body and echo the idealized physique in greek sculpture. Suddenly elaborate trims and ornamentation is left out and the quality of tailoring and cut of cloth is emphasized in such a way that implied the fitness and virility of the wearer (important also in a growing military culture). Beau Brummell takes this silhouette and runs with it, becoming the poster boy for men’s fashion. He is so influential as a style icon that it is often credited to him that we see the modern suit form, the dark colors and precise tailoring, starched crisp collar and a well placed necktie all from his cue (which he took from the french idealization of working class aesthetics).
Full Story: Coilhouse: The Evolution of Fashion as a Signifier
Previously: Fashion Is A Feminist Issue