Fashion, it is commonly assumed, is a feminine phenomenon. It is therefore necessary to reiterate the increasingly frustrated assertion that the study of men’s fashion remains secondary and indeed marginal to the analysis of women’s fashion and dress. Despite the recent resurgence of interest in men’s fashion, and attendant studies of it, its significance remains severely underestimated. This is mostly due, as Jennifer Craik has noted, to an historical equation of masculinity with Puritanism and restraint that reached its pinnacle of near masochistic self-control in the late nineteenth century, resulting in almost an entire disassociation of men and men’s dress from the world of fashion, itself defined increasingly in primarily feminine terms (Craik, 1994). The potential impact of the near revolution in fashion in the 1980s – when “menswear” mutated into “men’s fashion”, and was put on display for the first time in designer catwalk collections, or hung on the shoulders of handsome young models and splashed endlessly across the pages of the new crop of style magazines for men – is easily overstated and not without precedent, yet remains significant. The study and understanding of men’s fashion across the population and

academia alike is haunted by the ghost of Flügel who asserted with some aggression that men had “renounced” fashion in the early nineteenth century (Flügel, 1930). On the face of it there is some commonsense truth to this. Whilst Jane Austen’s heroes such as Mr Darcy were decked out in plush velvet tail coats of many colours, silk waistcoats with frills, and figure hugging pantaloons, they became entrapped within the dull, dour and grey uniforms of the industrial revolution in a matter of decades. It is this sense of the decorous descending into dullness that has dominated understandings of men’s dress for over a century, yet the evidence itself, let alone its meaning and interpretation, confounds this notion at every turn. Decorous masculinity was only truly demonstrated within a minority, namely the aristocracy, and the dull grey suit of the late nineteenth century was accompanied by city pinstripes, dashing evening dress and candy-coloured leisure wear. However, the evolution of men’s dress was not uniform in any sense or any direction and it is the purpose of this chapter to capture the sense in which men’s fashion did, and did

not, accord to Flügel’s interpretation and, if not “renounced”, then shifted in its terrain of form and meaning. Central in this, even axiomatic, is the suit as the template for men’s dress more widely, and the emblem of all that is loved or loathed about men’s clothes. Consequently, this chapter has three sections: first, a consideration of the marginalisation of men’s fashion per se; second, its reconsideration in the light of the increased attention to men’s fashion since the 1980s; and third, a fundamental and detailed case study of the suit that in itself forms the core of this chapter and the analysis of men’s dress alike.