Fashion changes, style remains, they say, as if they were two opposing forces. They aren’t.
Among classic menswear enthusiasts it is often believed that elegance is somehow governed by immutable laws. Unlike fickle fashion, classic style is constant.
I get why some may find such distinction appealing. The world of fashion is chaotic, and keeping up with it may very well be a full-time job. Rapidly changing trends create desire for new things, rendering the ones you’ve got obsolete very quickly. This in turn affects the quality of the clothes you buy – if they are to be soon discarded, they don’t need to last forever. And the constant strive to come up with new and original ideas can lead to creation of more and more ridiculous trends.
The idea of unchanging classic style builds a compelling opposition to that: quality over quantity, tradition on both style and craft, and a rigid set of rules which are essentially easy to follow once you get a hang of them. Suddenly, being interested in clothes is not something frivolous and vain; it becomes almost an anthropological endeavour of exploring and brining to life hallowed traditions upheld by generations of men before us.
The problem is, those two views are not as disconnected as they might seem: they are two extremes which lie on the opposing ends of a spectrum. And as it usually is with extremes, they ignore or reject a whole lot interesting things.
For example, a lot of things that are treated as classic rules sanctioned by decades of tradition are often anything but: they are either preferences or trends from a certain time period elevated to the state of laws by overzealous menswear enthusiasts. You know all of those: black suit is to be worn only for funerals and after dark; the length of a jacket sleeve should be such as to show 1/2 inch of the shirt’s cuff; no brown in town or no brown after six; and so on. This fantastic thread on Cutter and Tailor forum explores them in detail, citing historical sources clearly contradicting those statements.
This should not come as a surprise: if you look at illustrations and, later on, photos of classic menswear over the decades, you can see some clear differences. If you were to wear a suit from the beginning of the 20th century now, it would look like you snatched a favourite garment from your great-great-grandfather’s wardrobe (presuming it survived both wars). If the rules of style truly were unchanging and almost eternal, this would not be the case. Instead, the cut, construction and the use of fabrics are dictated by fashion and change over time. The things which are conservative classics now – like a suit, or even a tuxedo – used to be hot novelties some time ago. And there is no reason to think that sometime in the first half of the 1900s, menswear reached its peak form, Platonic ideal.
Top menswear makers understand that, and they do follow trends. Not in the fast-fashion sense of that word, but rather through evolution. In this case, cycles go on for at least several years, and they involve subtle changes – width of the lapel, height of the gorge, length of the coat; soft or more structured construction; slim silhouette which is cut close to the body, or the opposite. This is fashion as well, and those details are crucial if the garment is to look contemporary, and not like a costume for a historical reenactment.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating throwing your suits in the bin and buying whatever some designer says is fashionable this week. Not every fashion is worth following, some are ridiculous, forced, short-lived. All I’m saying is: exercise your judgement. Dressing according to some trends you find compelling doesn’t make you a fashion victim – blindly clinging to certain things you think are eternal traditions might.
Cover Photo: Fall 1934 to Winter 1935 Style Book of Windsor Clothing company