19 June 2011

Classic styles are back

I go to church on Sundays.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. My house of worship is a three-storey 19th century building with mod-con refurbishments that contains, among an assortment of businesses, a magazine shop that also makes coffee. My Sabbath ritual involves easing myself into a sinfully comfortable leather armchair on the shop’s second floor, then quaffing a mocha while I peruse the stock, usually art, history, culture and fashion magazines (I avoid reading ‘hard’ stuff like current affairs, politics and science on Sundays, ‘day of rest’ and all that).

Today I read fashion mags. One noticeable trend in menswear (whether on magazine pages or Melbourne streets) is the return of early to mid 20th century styles, in clothing, shoes and accessories like hats or braces. I’m partial to the menswear of that era, so it’s satisfying to see a large-scale resurrection of fitted jackets and vests, smart cardigans and pullovers, tailored pants, dress shoes and boots, hats that aren’t baseball caps, ties both narrow and wide on shirts with all kinds of collars, and satchels or briefcases instead of backpacks.

I’m not going to analyse the causes of the current menswear Renaissance. But this sartorial example from the 1950s may provide some clues to answering this question: why do classic styles have such staying power?

The photo was posted by the owner of the Shorpy Historic Photo Archive website. This was a presumably candid (as in frank, though posed) shot of the photographer’s father in 1955. Yet the distinguished-looking gentleman and his apparel would not look out of place in the magazines I browsed this morning. In fact, they would be very much of the moment. The rich texture of the knitted vest, the clean lines of the shirt (whose elegant minimalism is emphasised by covered buttons!), the warm brown and gold of the tortoiseshell spectacles suitably contrasting with the cool blue and grey of the gentleman’s ensemble and neatly combed hair – all these parts form a complete aesthetic that pleases the eye in some inexplicably fundamental way.

There must be a reason why classic 20th century menswear styles are making a comeback, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. All I can offer is this weak assertion: these styles are back because they look good.


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