Archives for posts with tag: men’s fashion

John French, Susan Abraham in John Cavanagh lace evening dress, spring 1957

Photo John French, model Susan Abraham in John Cavanagh lace evening dress, 1957

The combination of black and white in fashion has always attracted  attention. What I find interesting is the timeless appeal of the two opposites, whichever way you combine black and white in clothing, it is always to a striking effect. Spring is in the air and  B & W is the hot trend in fashion right now. So wishes to welcome the new season with a post to  celebrate the ultimate colour combination.

A.Durer,autoritratto a 26 anni,1498,prado

Durer, self-portrait age 26, 1498, Prado museum Madrid, Spain

Men’s fashions have not been immune to the lure of the black/white combination. We find examples from Renaissance Italy, but it is the German artist Durer who wears it in the most compelling way at the end of the 1400s. Durer was an extraordinary character. His self-portraits  (which he executed at regular intervals throughout his life) were always intense and challenging, and I imagine his choice of clothing or ‘look’ for each picture was carefully thought out. This white jacket with black trim and sleeve detail is certainly eye-catching, as is the floppy striped hat and the black and white plaited rope holding his cloak across his bare skinned chest. The outright sensuality of this outfit and the way it is worn remains  intriguing 600+ yeas on.

Fra Galgario, gentiluomo 1730c, brera

Fra Galgario, Italian gentleman, 1730c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan Italy

Less sensual but equally fascinating is the coat worn by this Italian gentleman from the first half of the 1700s. At a time when pastel colours – as dictated by French taste which was closely emulated in Italy – were the dominant trend for upper class gentlemen, this mat black coat with intricate, rich late baroque embroidery in silvery white is worthy of note.

Goya, Pepito Costa y Bonells 1813 met

F.Goya, Papito Costa y Bonells, 1813, Metropolitan museum of art, New York  USA

Again a coat of black with silver embroidery for this very young Spanish gentleman. Flaunting the latest fashion for children, (the idea of putting children in adult clothing had been swept away by Jean Jacques Rousseau’s forward thinking philosophy some decades earlier) he wears a little jacket, the sombre black colour being set off by the white silk high-waisted trousers and the lace trimmed collar of his shirt.

The ultimate black and white combination for men came with the invention of the evening suit by George Brummel in London at the turn of the 19th century. The first official dandy (as decreed by Lord Byron) wanted English gentlemen to smarten up and wear different clothes at different times of day. He declared that black was the perfect colour for night, as long as always worn with freshly pressed white linen (shirt and cravat). White gloves and a black top hat completed the look.

J.McNeill Whistler, Theodore Duret, 1883, Met

McNeil Whistler, Theodore Duret , 1883, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

Black and white clothing does have a less glamorous side to it too. Until recent times, the close members of the family of a deceased person (man, woman or child), would adopt mourning clothes for a period of time after the death of the loved one. The ancient Greeks did it, as did the Romans, continuing in Europe  throughout the past centuries. By the 1800s this tradition was so consolidated that etiquette books were written on the subject giving all the information necessary as to what colour should be worn, for how long etc. Fashion magazines always had pages dedicated to the topic and often included fashion plates representing mourning dress. This implies that it was acceptable to look ‘fashionable’ during the time of bereavement and there was no shame in dedicating time, care and money to looking nice at such a terrible time in one’s life. Today we would call this a form of ‘Fashion therapy’ I suppose.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth century fashion plates for mourning dress show total black for the first period of mourning, followed by black and white combination for the second period of mourning. Often it is difficult to tell whether a b/w outfit is mourning or simply fashion.

mourning outfit, paris

French fashion plate, 1780s, Paris, France

Il corriere delle dame,  moda d'italia,  1808

Il Corriere delle Dame, 1808, Italy

Le Journal des dames et des Modes, 1830

Les Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1830, Paris, France

journal des demoiselles, agoust, 1867

Journal des Demoiselles, august 1867, Paris, France

And then there is black and white for the sheer  pleasure of it. The strength exuded by the next few images speak for itself:

Correggio, lady,1517-19.Hermitage,  St.Pet

Correggio, Lady, 1517-19c, Hermitage museum, St Petersburg,  Russia

partrait of a lady, french, Bonhams

French school, lady, 1560c, Bonhams UK

Alathea Talbot, countess of Arundel and Surrey, 1605c

British school, Alathea Talbot countess of Arundel and Surrey,1619c, Ingestre Hall, UK

A.Renoir, Il palco, 1874, Court. gal lon

A.Renoir, box at the theatre, 1874, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

corset, 1905c, museum of decorative arts, Prague

Corset, 1905, museum of decorative arts, Prague, Czech Republic

Worth, abito ballo, 1898-1900, CI Met

C.F.Worth, ball dress, 1890s Paris, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

bozzetto Lanvin,1929

Jean Lanvin, 1929

Ladies Home Journal, 1958

Ladies Home Journal, 1958, USA

Vogue Foale e Tuffin,wool suit,1964         Foale e Tuffin,wool suit,1964,VA

Vogue UK, Foale and Tuffin suit, 1964 (suit in Victoria and Albert museum, London UK)

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel,AI 1991-92

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, 1991-2, Paris








ritratto artista

Anon, the Italian artist, Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques, Milan, IT

Haircuts are, of course, subject to changes in fashion just like all other aspects of our appearance. Hairstyles come and go, and sometimes come back, and back again. Fashionarchaeology has been reflecting on one particular haircut for a while now, the male “bob” (or rather: same length hair worn long to the neck and cut straight across). This style has a cyclical reoccurrence in the history of western men’s hairdressing and today’s post will investigate when and why men chose this style over the ages.

If anyone has ever worn a bob they will know it is not the easiest of hairstyles to cope with. It’s ‘high maintenance’ and requires constant care and upkeep. This is the first clue to understanding just why men in Europe in the middle ages began to adopt this style  in the early 13th Century


French, illuminated manuscript, 1250c, Bibliotheque National, Paris, Fr

In the rapidly evolving society of medieval Europe wealth and prestige was flaunted through appearance and the use of luxury objects. Quality clothing, textiles, jewellery all needed suitably groomed hair to go with it. Kings and their male courtiers began to wear their hair in a bob. In the above image the young man (his clothing tells us he ‘belongs’ to a court) wears his hair not only cut straight across below his ears, but obviously curled up or “set”  as old-fashioned hairdressers would still say today. Hot metal tongs were used for this purpose – also just like today. This “setting” of the hair is what distinguished aristocrats from commoners


Benedetto Antelami, the months (September), 1210-15c, the baptistery of Parma, Italy

In the rural scene above we see two men working in a vineyard. The smaller figure has the fashionable haircut but it has not been “set” in the style of a gentleman. The larger figure also wears a bob, but since he is doing physical work he needs to keep his hair out of his face and hence the linen cap. These caps will be worn all over Europe by those men who could not afford to  spend their day at the hands of a hairdresser but had to work for a living.

Fast-forward to the next great bob craze: the early 1500s

By the year 1500 the bob was back. Long to mid neck and with just one difference between north and south Europe: In Italy it was worn all the same length whereas in France, Germany, Austria etc. it was worn with a much more practical, short, squared-off fringe. Italians were at the height of their Renaissance and extremely conscious of their self-generated culture as well as their appearance. The explosion of the art of portraiture reveals a very self-engrossed Italian male who took the greatest care over his looks

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo,1504,MFA Budapest

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo, 1520, M.F.A. Budapest, Hungary

The intellectual (image above), the artist (see below) and all who shared contemporary fashion codes adopted this hairstyle

Raffaello, autoritratto con un amico,1518-19,Louvre

Raffaello, self-portrait with a friend, 1518-19, Louvre, Paris, FR

The next time the bob becomes seriously fashionable again is exactly 300 years later. By the 1820s  romantic young men chose the fringeless bob to represent their wildly sentimental characters. Significantly – in this time of historical revival – the new hairstyle was called “a la Raffaello”. A reference for the initiated in the marvels of Italy, the Grand Tour, the Old Masters and the sheer intoxicating romance of it all

Auguste de Chatillon,Theophile Gautier

Auguste de Chatillon, Theophile Gautier, 1820s

In Paris, London, Milan –  it was a shared fashion for Romantics across Europe. It lasted a couple of decades but some artists, such as the composer Liszt, stuck to it for the rest of their life so significant had it become to them.

H.Lehmann, franz Liszt, 1839, musée Carnevalet Parigi

H.Lehmann, Franz Liszt, 1839, Carnevalet Museum, Paris, Fr

In London the young Charles Dickens cut a fine figure (also wearing total black like Liszt) in a wavey bob

D.Maclise, Charles Dickens 1839 NPG lon

D. Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839, N.P.G. London, Uk

By 1850 a new sobriety was setting in and the wild  bob gives way to increasingly layered and short hairstyles. Some artists however maintained at least something of that extravagance of the earlier generation, even if it was only with a wisp of a fringe or a wild curl not conforming to domestication

G.Fattori, autoritratto,1854,Pitti

Giovanni Fattori, self-portrait, Pitti Gallery, Florence, It

Today it takes a seriously stylish and confident  man to wear what is ( for the time being) seen as a totally eccentric hairstyle.

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

For my last post (for now) on men and hats I take you back to the early 1400s and the first image in post no.1 on Top Hats.

On The far left the gentleman in red dons a very wide-brimmed straw hat. Now, judging by the amount of fur and heavy clothing in the image, you may be wondering why this man is wearing a hat more typically associated with  summer. There is a quirky explanation for that: he flaunts a very particular french hat trend of the first decades of the 1400s. It consisted of wearing peasant hats which had been “upgraded” by adding a fur lining (no, we cannot see the lining but there is literary evidence available ). It’s incongruous of course, and that is just why it was so fashionable .

anon,Lavori dei mesi,luglio,1250c,San Marco VE

Wood engraving, the months of the year, 1250c, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

Peasants, male and female, had been wearing hats for ever. The most obvious material for protective headgear of this sort  was readily available plant fibres such as raffia, straw and reeds (or bamboo in Asia). As the 13th century wood engraving above shows, the wide-brimmed and shallow crown typology was very popular in medieval Europe.

Straw hats remained the favoured headwear for male peasants in Europe for the following centuries. With the Renaissance gentlemen gravitated towards more luxurious materials in their desire for conspicuous consumption.  It is only in the 1800s that we once again find straw hats on the heads of middle and upper class gentlemen.

paul Cezanne, Gustave Boyer in a straw hat, 1870-71, met ny

Paul Cezane, Gustave Boyer, 1870-71, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

G.Fattori, Valerio Biondi, 1867, cp

Giovanni Fattori, Valerio Biondi at Castiglioncello (Tuscany), 1867, private collection

The two portraits above come from France and Italy and apart from a very similar date, they have something else in common. They both represent creative/intellectual men. It is precisely in the artistic milieu that straw hats once again “step up” from the fields to the well-kept gardens of European society. Artists in the 19th century dared a little with their appearance – in the true Romantic tradition  they could choose to break sartorial rules in the name of creativity.

Eliseo Sala, pittore Carlo Silvestri,1850,GAM MI

Carlo Silvestri, the painter Eliseo Sala, 1850, Galleria Arte Moderna, Milan, IT

More conservative gentlemen prefered the fashion version of these peasant hats to be found on sale  all over the mediterranean during the hot summer months and even in colonial countries where fibre hats represented the compromise between western elegance and extreme weather conditions of tropical lands.

top hat, raffia and silk, french Mellin, Poitiers, 1820c, met ny

Raffia and silk top hat, maker label: Mellin of Poitiers France, 1820c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

straw hat, 1896-98, met ny gift of Louise Dahl Wolfe 1948

Straw cap, 1896-8c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

Finally this remarkable straw cap complete with decorative elements. This piece holds a story of its own which may be worth telling one day:  it was donated to the Met by the wonderful female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe in 1948

now where did she get it?…

fratelli Limbourg,t.r.h.d.Duc de Berry,gennaio,part,1412-16,MC Chantilly

Limburg brothers, Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, (detail : Duke John de Berry in blue and fur hat),1412-16, Musée Condé, Chantilly, FR

Once again we return to the 1400s to talk about men and hats. As I mentioned in the previous post, this was a particularly creative moment for hat makers throughout Europe. In this post I want to explore a symbolic “statement piece” of the male wardrobe – the fur hat.

Jan van Eyck,uomo con garofano,1435c,MS Berlin

Jan van Eyck, Man with a carnation, 1435c, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, Germany

Petrus Christus, man with falcon,1445-50c,Stadel Museum, Frankfurt

 Petrus Christus, Man with falcon, silverpoint on paper, 1445-50c, Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

 The painting and the drawing above show realistic examples of a most fashionable type of hat for men in northern Europe during the 1400s. it was large, shaped and made of fur. Fur was not the novelty here – fur had been around for thousands of years of course – what was new was that artisans now had the technology and skills to produce such large, free-standing (i.e. structured to hold the shape) headwear.

So why use fur? Just like today fur was expensive and exclusive. It was a status symbol in western society. It is significant that this type of fur hat becomes fashionable in Burgundy/the Netherlands , since the northern ports of this region were international fur trading centres. Cargos of precious furs came through  (for example the most exclusive of furs, sable, would come from Russia) and be sold on to merchants from the major cities of North and South Europe.

Not only do we see these fur hats in male portraits during the 15th Century, but we also find saints and other males who populate the religious paintings of the Netherlandish school  wearing fur-lined “costumes”, including hats.

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of st Erasmus, detail

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of St Erasmus (detail), 1458c, St Peter’s church, Leuven, Belgium

Here the central figure wears a fur-lined cap, the brim of which has been turned over and pinned back, giving it a strange exotic feel. The two-tone fur is probably mink.

 The Big Fur Hat trend soon petered out  and eventually gave way, in the early 16th Century, to the Big Fur Cap trend.

In northern Europe especially, these are often made of rare and expensive fur such as sable (rather than local fox or rabbit).

Hans Maler,Sebastian Andorfer,1517,met NY

Hans Maler, Sebastian Andorfer, 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

This gentleman wears a large cap (originally known as a Milanese bonnet or bereta) with a wide, segmented and upturned brim. What is unusual is that instead of being made of felt or velvet, it is made of Russian sable.  Once again a true statement to the man’s wealth and social status. We must, however, concede to the need for warm headwear in the rigidly cold winter months  of countries like Germany, where this gentleman lived.

From the 17th Century onward fur in its natural state falls out of fashion in favour of the use of fur felt. Fur hats seem to be relegated to the sphere of extreme weather conditions and certain cold-weather sports. In the 20th Century for example, with the appearance of the first automobiles,  warm hats were required as cars had no overhead covering or windscreen.

male hat, wool and fur, 1900c, met ny

 Man’s wool cap trimmed in fur, possibly for motoring, American, 1900, Metropolitan museum , New York, USA

Today men still wear fur hats in extreme weather conditions; placing this accessory in the sportswear category rather than fashion. However men’s fashion designers have recently returned to the idea of fur for men. This winter’s collections were full of fur in all shapes, sizes and colours. Possibly the most bizare use of fur was at Moncler’s Gamme Rouge catwalk show – it will be interesting to see if we spot any item from this collection in the streets of New York, Paris, London or Milan by Christmas time….

Moncler Gamme rouge aW 13.14

Moncler Gamme Rouge, fur outfit, A/W 2013-14


gentlemen,Montreal,1895,McCord mus

Photo anon, Gentlemen, Montreal, 1895c, McCord museum, Canada

One of the earliest images I have found of a top hat (by that I mean a hat that has been built up in height and is made of wool, fur felt or other material that can be “shaped”) dates from the early 1400s:

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

In this image,  where we see French noblemen and kneeling before them the formidable Christine de Pisan, in the act of presenting her new  book , the gentleman in dark pink on the right is wearing a tall, black hat decorated with red and white feathers held by a gold brooch. Like the rest of the men, his head is covered despite being indoors, confirming the new fashion of the period. A gentleman always covered his head except in the privacy of his own home. This new trend gives great impetus to contemporary hat makers who competed with each other to create the most striking shapes. The size of these hats is also significant – they are large and attention seeking. The black hat he is wearing is important because it represents a new manufacturing skill of the period – the ability to shape felt (wool or the more costly fur)  by moulding the material over a wooden, pre-carved shape or “block”. This is still the way felt hats are made today.

In subsequent centuries,  the top hat disappears making room for an array of shapes and sizes in the history of men’s head-coverings.

We meet up again with the top hat in England  during the last decade of the 18th Century. But it is really in France during the Directory   that we see the top hat become the emblem of the new dandy fashions – wonderfully represented in the fashion plates produced by the Vernet family  between the end of the 1700s and the first decades of the 1800s

H.Vernet, Incroyable (parasole)1799-1815

Horace Vernet, “Un Incroyable” (or The parasol), France, 1799-1815c

At first contained in size, it will rise to extreme heights during the course of the 19th Century. Between 1800 and 1900 it is THE accessory for men, synonymous with status and power.

silk plush top hat,1892,McCord mus

Silk plush top hat, 1892, McCord Museum, Canada

Giuseppe Molteni

Giuseppe Molteni (Italian), 1835-9c, for sale: Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques

Continental gentlemen took their elegance seriously, even when out game shooting. The Italian nobleman above wears a light coloured top hat with contrasting edging and green lining. The artist has expertly represented the “plush” (slight pile or furiness) of the material and the way it reflects the light. Exactly the desired characteristics of this mid-season or early summer hat. Very similar to the surviving item below.

Jas Wilson,top hat,1830-40c,manch.

Top hat, 1830-40c, Manchester museum UK

In full summer, in America top hats were even made of straw to combat the heat. Managing to combine the symbolic with the practical in a very elegant manner.

cappello, paglia, 1850c, mfa Bost

Top hat, straw, 1850c, M.F.A. Boston, USA