The catwalk’s homage to historical vogues
It is often remarked that a picture is worth a thousand words. The fashion photographs of New York Times’ octogenarian Bill Cunningham, not to mention the multitude of Instagram, Pininterest and Tumblr pages that are routinely updated with shots of the latest sartorial styles, gives credence to this adage.[i] Recent photographs from London Collections: Men and Pitti Uomo provide clues about the influences that have inspired next season’s collections. The cut, colour, material and texture of the clothes that were modelled at these events reveal that many designers have borrowed heavily from the past. In some cases, they have gone so far as to revive vintage patterns and silhouettes without any form of contemporary embellishment. Three of the more compelling trends centred on the suit, the coat and pocket wear.
It is hardly surprising that the suit, which has provided the structure for men’s formal wear for at least the past 200 years, featured prominently at the recent fashion shows.[ii] The material and silhouette of the suits on show drew heavily from two particular decades, the 1920s and the 1950s. The prevalence of three-piece suits and plus fours in grey and brown cloth, argyle socks and Fair Isle sweaters in navy and green, as well as flat caps, recalled men’s fashion from the early years of the twentieth century. The Duke of Windsor would have been pleased, and not at all incongruous.[iii] Peak lapels and double-breasted waistcoats in a lighter palette of colours, along with the occasional fedora, seemed to recall the 1950s. If David Gandy (pictured above) looked like an extra from Gangster Squad, those wearing sweaters and plus fours would have blended seamlessly with the cast of Broadwalk Empire.[iv]
When it came to the coat, designers seemed to have reached further back in time. The cut, deep-colour and opulent use of fur trims on the coats modelled for Canali and Comme des Garçons was reminiscent of the Victorian era. (The observation may be unwelcome, but the wide lapels in contrasting colours also bore a striking resemblance to great coats worn by officers of the German Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine during the Second World War.) The textured and embroidered fabrics that were used by Comme des Garçons and Dolce and Gabbana, in particular, were also similar to the three-quarter length fur-trimmed coats that featured in Prada’s fall and winter collection last year.
The influence of Prada’s 2012 fall and winter collection was also evident in the curious abundance of pocket (and lapel) ornamentation. Where Prada had adorned its Victorian-cum-military style coats with pens and tie-pins, which featured the bust of a Roman centurion, attendees at Pitti Uomo showed a certain amount of ingenuity by filling the pockets of their outwear garments with gloves, pocket squares and glasses (the key was to make one of the arms of the glasses visible, by hooking it over the jacket’s breast pocket). This detail on the upper left side of the suit and coat was a twenty-first century, and thus pacific, interpretation of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century military tunics that were decorated with rows of medals. There seem to be two schools of thought on why military and civic decorations are invariably worn on the recipient’s left. As ever, one version is romantic, the other is prosaic. Decorations were either worn on the left to be over the heart, presumably to draw attention to the sacrifice made in achieving the honour, or, they were worn on the left to avoid getting caught on the sash that supported the sword. Apparently, swords were traditionally worn on the left of the body because most officers were right handed. The weight of the sword was supported by a scabbard, or sash, that was worn over the right shoulder. The sash made the placement of medals on the right side impractical, if not impossible.[v] Whatever the reason, the present interest in decoration on the left side of the upper body hints at a fascination with military influences, and thus, the importance of masculine symbols. Men may be now be prepared to acknowledge their interest in clothes, but what they wear evidently still needs to be coded with references to their gender that extol the virtues of physical prowess.
For me, the main theme to emerge through the photographs of London Collections: Men and Pitti Uomo is that the past continues to play a significant and dynamic role in determining contemporary clothing styles. Seeing really is believing.
[i] For the current episode of ‘On the Street with Bill Cunningham’, see: www.nytimes.com/video/2013/02/01/fashion/100000002039724/bill-cunningham-old-hat.html. Accessed: 2-ij-2013; http://satori.al/; www.portlandprepster.com.
[ii] A. Hollander, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress (New York, 1994), 4.
[iii] E. Musgrave, Sharp Suits (London, 2009), 58-65.
[iv] ‘Shopping Snapshots: Jan. 31’. www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/01/31/fashion/20130131-BROWSING.html?ref=style. Accessed: 2-ij-2013.
[v] For some discussion on this topic, see: http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100202121023AAXHx4Y. Accessed: 2-ij-2013.