Fashion Timeline

historical man

Following a fashion timeline of men's clothing will yield some interesting finds, some of which may open your eyes. Throughout history, men have placed a great degree of importance on their attire, much of it dependent on their standing in the community. Some areas of the world haven't experienced as dramatic a change in men's fashion as others, but taking a look at a fashion timeline from a European and North American perspective shows just how much has changed over the centuries.

Fashion Timeline of Men's Clothing

For each era of history, expect the fashion timeline to reflect what transpired in that time. In early centuries, you could tell what job a man held, as well as his status in society, based on what he wore. It is revealing when you take a stroll down a fashion timeline throughout history.

Ancient Rome to the 19th Century

  • Ancient Rome: Rather uncomplicated, Ancient Roman fashion mostly consisted of tunics and togas, with cloaks as outerwear. Shoes were usually simple sandals, while soldiers wore armor and boots. The more affluent, influential citizens wore more colorful and dramatic fashions.
  • Medieval and Renaissance Times: Except for royalty, the medieval era showcased a drab period in men's fashion. The poor members of society wore coarse fabrics and simple, flat caps. Wealthy men could afford materials such as satin or velvet. Other distinguishing characteristics of an affluent man's clothing included embellishments such as ruffles, feathers, and embroidery. Men's fashion in the Renaissance period retained much of the same look, with a great emphasis on separating the nobility from the peasant classes through clothing.
  • The 1700's: The 18th century saw men wearing a knee-length linen undergarment, which doubled as a nightshirt; a waistcoat and breeches, which stopped at the knee; and a coat or heavy "great coat" as outerwear. Coats typically had vents in the back and sides, which allowed men to ride horses comfortably. Kerchiefs resembled neckties in that they tied around the neck, but they were simply secured and not worn under a collar as modern neckties are. Also, hats were always worn in public and the three-cornered style, or tricorn, was popular.
  • The 1800's: Looking at photos of men's 1800's clothing, you might find it surprising by how formal everything appeared. Truthfully, when photography became available in this century, men and women wore their best clothes when being photographed. The fashion timeline takes a dramatic shift this century. Men wore long trousers instead of knee-length breeches, the top hat became the head covering of choice and vests took the place of long waistcoats and overcoats or frock coats soon replaced cloaks. Clothes fitted the body better instead of draping loosely. This century also saw the beginning of mass-produced clothing, making it possible for a man to have more than just two to four outfits, as in centuries past.

The 20th Century and Beyond

  • The 1920's and 1930's: Men's fashion reflected the decadence and abundance of the 1920's. Sportswear came into vogue, but there was still a separation between daytime fashion and more formal evening wear. Tailcoats and top hats were the choice for night, while loose trousers and sweaters were popular sporty looks during the day. Men of all ages still adorned hats, from the casual boater to the fedora. After the stock market crash of 1929, men's fashion changed little during the 1930's. The suit became broader through the shoulders, reflecting a bigger silhouette and tapering at the waist. Double-breasted suits became popular, and men still wore hats.
  • The 1940's through the 1950's: These decades saw a gradual shift in men's dress, from a more formal style to a more casual one. Trousers in the 1940's were high-waisted, and nowhere was this more obvious than in the dramatic zoot suit. Men who stayed away from such fads still clung to conventional suits. In the 1950's, men wore more cardigan sweaters, tropical shirts, and polo shirts. Each reflected the affluence after the war and demonstrated that men had more leisure time.
  • The Sixties and the Seventies: While previous decades showed minute changes on the fashion timeline, these two decades reflected a huge shift in how men dressed. Hippies and flower children arrived on the scene and with them came fringe, leather, suede, and polyester. While the fringe set wore big and long hair, businessmen's suits became slimmer in the pants and the jackets. A conservative man could sport a cardigan and slim trousers and his flamboyant counterpart might wear platform shoes, patchwork jeans, and a fringed suede jacket. Color became very important during this period, since there were no longer such rigid rules on what shades a man could wear.
  • The Eighties and Beyond: While there were some less-stylish moments during the 1980's (such as neon and acid-washed jeans), men's suits once again reverted back into bold shapes. Pinstripes and navy blue were common, while casual style choices included jeans and sneakers. Baseball caps replaced dressier hats and a general turn to casual wear happened. Beyond the 1990's, men have more options in style and don't have to follow so many rules. The suit remains standard in the business world, but sports a relaxed drape to it. Casual fashion ranges from tee shirts and jeans to polo shirts and khakis.

History Through Fashion

You will learn quite a bit researching a fashion timeline. Clothes continue to shape big parts of society - from distinguishing one class from another to reflecting the changing times - that if you study the way fashions have changed over the centuries, you will learn a great deal.

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Fashion Timeline