With blogs competing to out-scoop each other down to the very second, it's easy to see fashion as a fleeting, temporal thing. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months, quipped Oscar Wilde; the fact that this quote is proudly displayed on many style sites only solidifies this view in the general populace. What word is most often associated with fashion, especially women's fashion? Beautiful, sure. Tailored, maybe. But more often than not, that word is frivolous.
The British writer Linda Grant starts her blog with a different sentiment: Because you can't have depths without surfaces. I don't think I would have written this blog for this long if I didn't think that the way we dress means something, that it is a subject matter worthy of discussion and, yes, debate. More than that - the way we dress is a fundamental aspect of how we understand each other and, in turn, ourselves.
Flipping your way through fashion magazines and up-to-the-minute blogs gives you the sense that fashion is constantly in motion, spinning from one thing to the next. Of course, nothing gives the non-fashion based media more pleasure than constantly pointing out how retread "modern" looks can be; occasionally, it verges on the hostile, as though we are all fools merely duplicating past aesthetics.
It behooves the fashion writers of today to get a firm grounding in the styles of the past, and Cally Blackman's excellent One Hundred Years of Menswear aptly fills an admittedly truncated gap.
Rather than simply travel through the century in chronological order, Blackman has identified key trends under headings such as Worker & Soldier, Dressing Down, Dressing Up, and Culture Clubber. The text is kept to brief opening essays and short but informative captions.
Three images in particular stood out for me. The current "workwear" trend has seen its share of detractors, including an impassioned if misinformed rant from Field and Stream magazine.1 To hear tell of it, people who don't slog through the bush on a regular basis have no business adorning themselves in Woolrich Woolen Mills or Filson (don't tell that to the companies, which are riding high on the increased popularity.) I wonder what critics who dismiss this as a current fashion trend gone wrong would make of this photo of Gary Cooper:
Egads, is that a chambray shirt? Keep in mind, this is not a movie still - this is a photo of what Mr. Cooper liked to wear around the house. The caption points out that this was considered, at the time, workwear.
Remove the man in the back and throw this in a current GQ - would you guess this photo was from 1959?
One Hundred Years of Menswear is a fascinating look at how men's style has both changed and stayed remarkably consistent over the last century, and a worthy edition to the style-obsessed's library.
1Choice quote: "So now we have a sensitive, limpid-eyed guy shuffling down the sidewalk of a trendy shopping district on his way to open-mic poetry night, Chairman Mao handbag slung over his frail Vegan shoulders. In the right front pocket of his Italian-tailored Filson tin cloth bird pants he's sporting a new pocketknife and he just discovered that the rows of little round thingies on the inside pockets of his slim-cut, virgin-wool game vest are perfect for holding aromatherapy canisters." So good.