Menswear wasn’t always about being “timeless”- it was also weird. And I love it.
Well some of it.
Like always, be sure to listen to the conversation Spencer and I had on the Style & Direction podcast before reading the essay! We go into much more detail about specific niche vintage pieces we like. Then you can read my written appreciation for the ideals behind it and peruse the images.
Man, my style (and the blog) has gotten quite different over the years. Now I get comments being called “the beret guy” or the “suit guy” when for a long time, I used to be blanketed with “dapper” or “vintage” as a moniker. This is mostly because my style gradually taken on a contemporary (or in some cases, post-modern) spin, making a much more nuanced take to classic menswear than just being period-accurate. The fact remains however, that a lot of my style still references a lot more vintage than modern, even if the pieces themselves were made in the past 3-5 years. My archives are also filled with much more vintage inspo than modern ones- I always find myself going back to vintage, even if it’s just to look. It’s about pulling the vibes, you know what I mean?
After doing that whole essay on Apparel Arts and The Esquire Man I decided to think about why that is. After all, going period accurate isn’t exactly what I’m about anymore. It’s “more” than that- a love of details perhaps? Our conclusion was that he and I share a general love of history combined with a passion for clothing. In essence, it’s just cool for us to look at clothing within our narrow POV that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s niche and special, especially when we make it work in a modern context.
There’s just something intriguing about garments or details that aren’t common. I’m sure this sentiment applies to a lot of thing in the nerdy-collecting space like rare Pokemon cards with alternative/limited artwork. From an art standpoint, it’s also similar to noticing how some styles fade over time and transition into the next, with a few either being ahead of its time or referencing something even earlier. It’s all in the details and with art (and menswear), details truly matter.
What makes our appreciation for vintage menswear even more fascinating is how these niche details apply with facets of tailoring (a term which you know I use quite liberally). Most people in the mainstream assume that tailored clothing is meant to be safe and conservative. While that’s true in broad terms, looking at AA proved that combinations and styling were actually quite creative. Granted, this was the #menswear of the day and men didn’t always follow Esquire and dress like that (though you could definitely tell the ones did). What I’m about share with you goes to show that the details of tailored clothing (and its accoutrements) were also quite wild.
The presence of these “out there” details (as well as some done purely for art or in some cases, rebellion) makes sense to me because tailoring was truly la lingua franca of Golden Era. Sportcoats, ties, and collared shirts made up most of men’s clothing, unless you were out at a specialized job or hobby. However, this didn’t mean that everything was business wear. What ended up happening was that tailors, brands, and designers would use tailoring as a backdrop for interesting details to make their garments stand apart, whether it was simply through design or to play off of a garment’s functionality or even formality level. Some of it was simply about adding in workwear or military details to piece; other times it was just something flashy, with no real functional purpose. Classic menswear, at least back then, was fashion.
Unfortunately many of these pieces were considered novel even then, which ultimately meant that not many were produced and results in them being quite rare (read: impossible) to find in person. This is why much of the stuff I included only exists in illustrations and photographs; only hard core collectors and museums have the existing pieces.
The allure of this niche vintage menswear comes from the fact that is just scarce, not only physically but in the POV of current menswear. There’s just an incredible sense of beautiful practicality and ulitarianism that seems to persevere through most of these niche vintage pieces, all with the theme of tailoring (again a loose term). For example, it wasn’t out of place to have a belt back sportcoat with pleats to ease your movement or even four patch pockets ready to be stuffed with the day’s necessities.
There was also just a wonderous idea that classic menswear should be beautiful and interesting (whatever that means to you), which lead to more elegant takes on espadrilles or decorative punches found in spectators. Peak lapels, a detail considered formal by many modern menswear enthusiasts, were routinely found on non-formal jackets- they were simply a design choice to use in conjunction with tweed cloth and patch pockets. Double breasted jackets were treated similarly, with many not following the current convention on the style. Hell, the use of belts (literal ones, not half belts on a garment’s back) is quite a decorative and interesting addition, done to cinch the waist in a flattering manner- you can see this on all manner of jackets. It’s a shame that most of it only exists in photographs and illustrations. It’s even worse when you see that even at the higher level, current menswear is still boring. It just lacks that same punch as vintage, making it a real treat when we see niche things online (or in person).
Casual wear (known as sportswear) was also much more interesting than what we have today, at least when the mainstream is concerned. Back then, polo shirts had a variety of different styles, not just in colors and fabrics, but in how the plackets and collars were designed. Some had loops while others felt more like a pull over sportshirt; a few even incorporate wide ribbing, which accentuated the waist. Overshirts (back then they were Hollywood/leisure jackets) were quite common place to wear at home, made from wools and rayon gabardines for a louche look. Tees even had variations, with a few notable ones being ribbed and mesh- a far cry from the rather simply designed 50-50 blends coveted by explore page vintage resellers.
While a few of these ideas have come back in spades (like knit polos and chore suits), there’s just something much more elegant and interesting in how the original vintage ones have done it. The Golden Era just makes tailoring so easy to wear- especially since to them, it was sportswear- something kinda tailored, but not meant for business. It’s just a shame that most of this stuff hasn’t returned. Even modern sweatshirts lack the cool features of their vintage counterparts, both in fit and details!
To most in the modern day, the of interpreting tailoring and making it interesting can seem wild. Lurkers on MFA and random tiktokers seem to comment endlessly about boring classic menswear is and yet they are completely resistant to deviations from the mean- whether they are modern or vintage. Even the #menswear world is a bit too “cosplay conscious” for them to embrace a few of these wilder details, even if it helps make the case that menswear is fashion rather than something inherently formal. It’s unfortunate people feel the need to box menswear into such a rigid space that no one will like. When you look at these fun-yet-odd pieces of vintage sportswear, you’ll know that it wasn’t so inflexible. Maybe that’s why my friends and I, or at least those with an expanded appreciation of vintage and it’s niche treasures are pretty open with the inspirations we have and the styling we prefer.
Now don’t get me wrong- I don’t think that all of these pieces should come back. Despite my love of spearpoint collars,a wide leg, and the occasional mix of rugged items, my style is rather safe. I’m not about to wear crazy perforated spectators or mesh shirts just because it’s niche. To me, this niche vintage is something different than sportshirts with droopy camp collars or a low notch lapel. It’s not about simply resurrecting them to the same degree as mislurp and workwear. Instead, these old oddities inspire me to think of classic menswear the way they did. Not as business wear or formal wear, but as clothes. Being able to play with the details of tailoring without deviating too strongly is such a cool notion. Overall it is this mindset behind Golden Era menswear that I wish would return in some form today.
Even from my earliest days of vintage, I learned that classic menswear as a conformist, safe mode of dress is a relatively new idea. From photographs of Lithuanian families to French menswear illustrations, I was exposed to so many different menswear details and garments that prove how vibrant menswear can be. Fits and silhohuettes had variations, whether it was in the shape of a jacket, trouser, or even the lapel. It was different from Apparel Art’s appeal, which to me was more about styling. With niche, odd vintage menswear, the draw was about the inherent design of vintage. My thought was that if the so called Golden Era of Menswear had fun with their clothing, why can’t we?
This is why I have no issue with wearing LL Bean Sport Vests with ties, wearing gurkhas and cargo pants with a jacket, or putting patch pockets on navy worsted suit. It’s all about keeping that “vintage” approach to menswear alive, especially when the details are already inherent in the tailored garment- it’s different than just combining rugged pieces with it. That idea of slouch? The Golden Era had it, all present in the novel/niche pieces they had, done through utilitarian design or by leaning into the elegance and fashion for fashion’s sake. Hell, this just means that to get those details, we have to continually buy vintage since modern makers (at least ones relatively accessible) don’t do it. Why else do you think that so many of my friends and readers all buy vintage? It’s the only way to get non-boring classic menswear!
Of course a few of these details are present today, though it’s just as hidden and niche as you’d expect. It turns into a fun game when you’re able to find some of these ideas scattered through menswear of different eras. Thick belts were a thing in the 1920s- they eventually found their way to casual wear later on. Quad patch pockets were common for sportcoats, fell out of favor in the 1960s, and then came back in a few Armani jackets in the 80s. Hollywood jackets paved the way for leisure suits in the 1970s. The Bedford from Engineered Garments looks like a 1910s jacket, just done in non-sartorial fabrics. Silhouettes of Lithuanian suits can be found in some avant garde takes on tailoring. The list of references to niche vintage menswear goes on!
And hell, if the so-called Golden Era was comfortable with mixing in some crazy menswear details, designs, and silhouettes, why can’t we have an expanded view on classic clothing? I’m sure they had the same spiels about looking elegant and appropriate, yet its clear that they wore Danner boots with suits, had a tie with a leather jacket, or wore a knit tee with tailoring and sockless loafers. They also had belted jackets worn casually or had some cool popover shirts to signify that they were off duty. This is what people should pay attention to, not some blogger who seems to only be concerned about transitioning seamlessly from the boardroom to the bar. Niche vintage menswear proves that menswear is an avenue for fun and creative combinations, not just in patterns and cloth, but in the specific pieces and designs themselves.
So enjoy some of our favorite images of niche vintage menswear. It’s almost like looking at the original for many things we see in modern clothing today (though with a few obvious changes). Maybe you’ll get the same inspiration I did- not to wear the exact pieces themselves but to apply that same theme of practicality and elegance in classic menswear. Approximating the vibes if you will. Or it’ll just trigger an insane thirst for vintage menswear, along with a sense of disappointment that current menswear will never be this interesting again.
Either way, the point is that even with “classic” menswear, you can still have fun with it. It’s not always about being corporate or formal! Having that expanded mindset will make menswear much less restrictive- at least for us. But more on that philosophy next time.
- 07:47 – Intro to Vintage
- 16:12 – Workwear
- 30:07 – Shoes
- 38:37 – Tailoring
- 43:39 – Trousers
- 48:22 – Shirts
- 55:54 – Suits
- 1:17:43 – Palm Beach
- 1:27:29 – Closing
- My old Essays
- Permanent Style on Vintage Sportswear
We also did a whole stream where we dive into some of the fun things Spencer and I found to prep for this episode/blog post, with special guests Aldous and Ivan!
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