Friday, September 19, 2014

Men's Suits: Drapery Extremes

Many things seem to swing between extremes. Not all extremes reach absolute limits, but they can come close to something like limits imposed by practicality. That is the case for the subject of this post: the amount of cloth used in men's suits.

It turns out that two extremes were reached about 20 years apart. Around 1940, fad apparel for some young men was in the form of the Zoot Suit, an exaggeration of current men's suit styles that already were rather baggy. By 1960 fashionable men's suits were snug and used minimal material. Lapels were narrow, as were neckties. The archetypical suit had three buttons and the two upper ones were buttoned down. On college campuses, this was sometimes called Ivy style, after the prestigious group of colleges and universities in the Northeastern USA (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell) where the mode of dress was supposedly popular.


Here is a Zoot Suit. Its characteristics include: Baggy, high waisted trousers "pegged" (narrowed) toward the cuffs. A loose-fitting suit jacket with wide lapels, heavily padded shoulders and a hem down toward knee level. An extremely long key chain was a usual accessory. Neckties might be long or (as in this case) bow, in both instances using plenty of material.

Two Zoot-suiters with a young Army sergeant (who himself might have worn a Zoot Suit a year or two earlier).

The great Cab Calloway in 1942 wearing an exaggerated (yes, it must have been possible) Zoot Suit for a performance.

Now it's 1961 and we find Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard on New York's Park Avenue during the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Peppard is wearing an Ivy style suit, but for comfort's sake has it unbuttoned.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Agreed. Fashion fads come and go generationally. No adolescent is going to be caught dead in the clothes his/her parents wore 25 years earlier.

But you seemed to have tapped into yet another cyclical phenomenon and that is the economy. Zoot suits in the 1930s had high-waisted, wide-legged, cuffed trousers, long coat, wide lapels and bulky shoulders. Big, bold and using truckloads of material.

1939, war, austerity and rationing meant a new world. I am certain this austerity affected men's civilian clothes during the war years and continued into the 1950s. My father got married in army uniform (in 1945) because it was the only suit he owned.