Book Review: 100 Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman

(Laurence King) £24.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

100yearsofmenswear-cover1

100 Years of Menswear begins and ends with suits; from the accession of Edward VII in 1901 and his influential lead towards a greater informality in dress codes, to Thom Browne whose collections are a direct riposte against the informality of ‘business casual’ and motivated New York magazine in 2006 to declare him the “cutting-edge men’s designer who’s going to save the suit from extinction.” Though with nearly three and half centuries of adaptation and reinvention behind it, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s oft borrowed line, the suit’s death-knell may well be exaggerated. The very dapper Twain also features in the book in a great photograph from 1900 in which he is wearing one of his trademark white serge lounge suits of which, as Cally Blackman writes, “he had 14 made so he could wear a fresh one every day.”

John Hazel, Harold Wilmot, and John Richards arriving at Tilbury docks aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948

John Hazel, Harold Wilmot, and John Richards arriving at Tilbury docks aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948 © Douglas Miller/Getty Images

Though men’s fashion over the last 100 plus years has not been purely about suits, and has also been subjected to a myriad of influences, which means that any book attempting to cover it enters, as Blackman underlines in her introduction, a “minefield” because “the categorisation and classification of looks and styles is notoriously difficult; they are interwoven, overlapping and slippery.” To plot a clearer path through this, Blackman has divided the book into two parts, 1900-1939 and 1940 to the present day, and subdivided each part into six sections through which she explores, for example the impact of uniforms, manual work wear, sportswear, and Hollywood films.

Marc Bolan at home c1975 © Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marc Bolan at home c1975 © Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This works well, particularly as the book is 95% pictorial, enabling changes and developments to be not only clearly illustrated and plotted, but also highlighted through juxtaposition. Which is supremely aided by the quality of the picture research which has resulted in the book, from Terry O’Neill’s fabulous cover shot of David Bowie onwards, being packed with many wonderfully evocative and rarely seen photographs and illustrations.

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