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Thread: Economist article on history of the suit

  1. #1
    Senior Member shah's Avatar
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    Jul 2009
    lost antiquarian

    Default Economist article on history of the suit

    I thought this is an interesting article. Perhaps some can elaborate, verify, or give countering evidence, for the history of the suit ? Well it was interesting to me, in particular the paragraph I've quoted below. I have 1 suit, a single-butting Raf from spring/summer 2008, and I've never worn it. I don't like the concept of fitting the human form much. I prefer that my outfits, uniforms or otherwise, drape gently over my body, not to hide anything but rather I find the concept quite elegant. Anyway, thought I'd share and get your reactions to the article !

    Men's clothing

    Suitably dressed

    The lounge suit, battledress of the world’s businessmen, is 150 years old—possibly

    The practice of fitting cloth closely to the human form rather than draping it around the body was new. As fashion historians point out, medieval linen-armourers had long made padded undergarments that fitted beneath suits of armour, reducing a little the discomfort of wearing plates of steel. But the Enlightenment and neoclassicism brought tightly fitted clothing to the surface. In an attempt to emulate Greek statues of naked men, Brummel commissioned figure-hugging trousers and coats. He used plain colours to focus attention on form and line, ushering in what Mr Kelly calls “the tyranny of monochrome”. When the prince regent swapped his flamboyant wardrobe for Brummel’s stripped-down style it spread across London and beyond.

  2. #2


    In an attempt to emulate Greek statues of naked men, Brummel commissioned figure-hugging trousers and coats.
    You have to consider it against the wider romantic obsession with the ideal of transparency. Transparency and translucence were considered as a way to transcend the material (an odd contradiction when adopted by the dandies!). Romantic texts are filled with references to glasses, lenses, crystals, veils, microscopes etc. The magic lantern was the hot thing, with people going to see phantasmagoria. You have the huge sales of stereoscopes, kaleidoscopes, and so on. The microscope was mind boggling for the average man. It was a sort of optical fetishism, with people excited by the idea of being able to see more and opening their minds to new ways of seeing.

    This ties in most notably with the dandy practice of carrying monocles, spyglasses and opera glasses. The idea of seeing the detail of one's outfit and being able to spy other's outfits. You did not want to turn heads as you walked, being too loud was unfashionable, but having minute attention to detail and presenting a perfected package that could be closely inspected was admired. Of course in order to be able to inspect to such a close detail, you wanted your clothing to appear seamless.

    Thus you have the close cut that Brummel liked - a way of creating a complete look, with no breaks or separate elements, it all had to overlap and flow into one whole look that encased him, attempting to make him a perfected object. Of course this also has elements of the erotic mode of viewing, especially when the clothing was tailored and designed to reveal the body as well as possible through the fabric. Dandies were reported at the time as having scraped at their coats with pieces of glass, in order to make them as transparent as possible (with holes and what not being a reasonably common occurrence). You wanted to be transparent and godly, a mythic creature in the clouds, so beautiful you could float away at any moment, etc.

    The obsession with transparency was also revealed in the preoccupation with nude fashion (as swept France after the Revolution) at the time. Paintings of the time usually tend to show women in rather clingy and transparent dresses, and indeed there were reports in France of women catching pneumonia due to the wispy things they insisted on wearing out.
    "Lots of people who think they are into fashion are actually just into shopping"

  3. #3


    Oh and an extract from Norah Waugh:

    "Whereas the 18th century was characterized by its attention to cut, the 19th century was notable for its concentration on fit...this state of affairs was due to several causes, the main one being the adoption of cloth an a more scientific approach to the whole technique of tailoring...The coat was cut in cloth, a much more pliable material than tightly woven silk, shrinking and stretching by the tailor's iron could mould it and give a more subtle fit, even if the coat was worn buttoned.

    By the end of the 18th century, English tailors became the leaders of men's fashions because of their long experience of the subtleties of cloth had developed their skill and gave style and elegance to the practical country coats and so made them acceptable for fashionable wear."

    "Lots of people who think they are into fashion are actually just into shopping"

  4. #4
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Long hard road out of hell


    Thank for the article - very interesting. I believe the author's use of the Brummel's quote is imprecise - what he said was that if John Bull (which I take is the English term for a commoner, which in contemporary terms would mean a person with a mass market tastes) turned to look at you, you were not well dressed, which is very different from "people." Hurray for elegant elitism, I say.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

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