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Men’s Style in the 2020’s

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COVID-19: Watching History Unfold In Real Time

seattle police officers during 1918 spanish flu
Seattle police officers wear face masks during the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

To be conscious through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a bit of a shock to the senses. There are some current events whose historical impact we understand while it’s happening. Recent memory gives us plenty of examples: The Great Recession of 2008, September 11th, and Black Monday come to mind. If we go further back, we’ll see events that must have felt as if they were happening in slow motion. Pearl Harbor, the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, and the 1929 Stock Market Crash are all contenders. We haven’t even gone past the twentieth century. 

The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020, the quarantine with which it’s being fought, and the economic fallout associated with it is indeed one of those events. 

One reason that historical events are historically significant is that they often mark the ends  – and, therefore, beginnings – of eras and trends. Take the market crash of 1929 as an example. It led to the Great Depression, a decade of the worst financial hardship that Americans would experience in the twentieth century. Importantly, the Roaring Twenties, a decade of huge economic growth and (mostly) widespread prosperity, preceded it. The swinging of the pendulum is a constant throughout history, and historical events of massive import tend to serve as landmarks on that timeline.

The effects such changes in the zeitgeist have on our group psyche are far-reaching and profound. We enact new legislation and adopt new policies. Popular music takes on a different sound. Habits, social customs, and even language morph right under our noses. Part and parcel of this are changes in clothing styles, which will be the focus of the remainder of this post.

Men’s Styles in the 2020’s – Historical Precedent

The Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression again provide an excellent example for us because the parallels between then and now – unprecedented prosperity followed by the prospect of frightening uncertainty – are so clear. 

Luxury, Exuberance, & Glamour – The Roaring Twenties

Edward Beale McLean black and white portrait
Edward Beale McLean, owner of the Washington Post from 1916-1933, in 1920. Note the bold pinstripe suit with matching vest.

The 1920’s were an age of unprecedented wealth. After the belt-tightening during the Great War, there was a boom in industrial growth and consumer demand for middle-class goods like cars and appliances.

People felt confident and secure in their newfound wealth, and they dressed like it. Slim suits in bold patterns were all the rage (at least until Oxford Bags became popular in the middle of the century), and bright color was everywhere. This mirrored other cultural and artistic movements of the time: the development of jazz music and the influence of Art Deco in art and architecture celebrated boldness, craft, and beauty just as much as the era’s nattiest bespoke suits.

Sobriety & Somberness – The Great Depression

Franklin D Roosevelt on train in 1934
FDR on a train in 1934. Note his ticket pocket and the fullness of the other gentleman’s jacket sleeves.

Things changed after the market crash at the end of the decade. After feeling as if the financial rug had been unceremoniously pulled out from under them, men began dressing differently. They traded in the slim cuts of the Gatsby era for the “London drape” cut. Created by the tailor Frederick Scholte and popularized by King Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor) on his many excursions as a celebrity to the States, the London drape was a much fuller cut than what we saw in the 1920’s. After the trauma of the crash, it was clothing to safely hide behind. Also gone were the bright colors of the Twenties. Sobriety ruled the Depression era as mens’ shops offered clothing in tried and true colors that wouldn’t let you down. 

In short, it was clothing that was safe. This makes sense; as a generation, people who came of age during the Depression are known for frugality, ingenuity, and an aversion to risk.

Coronavirus Will Change Our Habits & Headspaces

We’re learning now, as we learned then, is that we humans will do what we can to regain stability after it was fundamentally rocked. There’s no reason that our clothing choices wouldn’t be affected by this.

As has happened in the past and will surely happen in the future, we predict that men’s style in the 2020’s will change. Though the unwavering focus is and always will be on the individual in the custom clothing world, we think the menswear fashion industry will continue swinging backwards in time towards a 1990’s-style fit. While we don’t think we’ll go into a full-blown baggy look, (more on this below), this would mirror the change we saw in the 1930’s, but would also be reinforced by a changing landscape related to firms’ work-from-home practices. Though we don’t necessarily recommend it, it’s easy to sell oneself on looser, relaxed clothing when you may not ever leave the house that day.

Athleisure and other casual wear will take up increasing space in men’s closets, and the technological developments associated with athleisure – stretch fabric, specifically – will continue to be part of the custom tailoring world. As such, we doubt we’ll be making baggy suits for our clients, but we’ll bet that we’ll see a shift in preference from as-tight-as-possible to a more classic look.

Pantone's Color of the YearIt’s also likely that we’ll see widespread somber colors as brighter ones recede into memory. Pantone’s 2020 Color of The Year – Classic Blue – foreshadowed this, and we’ve been coming off of a trend toward bright colors for a few years now anyway. The bright sock, a massively popular trend in the 2000’s, has had its moment. Most of the ties we sell have been more serious in tone and pattern for the past couple of years.

Trends & Men’s Custom Clothing in 2020

Holiday Party EtiquetteIt’s important to note again that this discussion centers around the menswear industry as a whole. As image consultants, we’ll reiterate that trends are inescapable. Still, the truly stylish among us dress for our body type, coloring, personal taste, and audience. Our wardrobe decisions should be rooted in permanent style and how it applies to us as individuals. If we base them on what designers constantly try to sell us, we’re doomed to trendiness.

There’s a difference between fashion and style. Style is permanent because it comes from within and is based on your immutable, individual traits. Fashion, on the other hand, is fleeting. It’s based on the clothing industry’s constant need for newness. If what’s “in” never changes, clothes don’t sell.

Will we see the effects of trend changes in the custom world? To a small extent, yes. The colors our fabric mills show in their collections may sway a bit in the breeze of fashion. Still, the hallmark of custom menswear is expert construction and fit achieved from the best materials. Though men’s style in the 2020’s will see its share of tweaks, fundamental permanent style will remain the same.

In Conclusion

We predict that society’s response to COVID-19 will entail fundamental changes for men’s style in the 2020’s. But the crash of 1929 wasn’t the only factor contributing to the sartorial sobriety of the 1930’s. The novel coronavirus will likewise not be the origin of the changes we see in the next decade. They’ve been happening in the past couple of years, the pandemic will simply solidify them.

We’re keeping positive as we work from home. History shows that in the face of dire circumstances, humanity won’t just survive. In fact, it thrives in their aftermath. There’s no reason to believe we can’t – and won’t – do the same, and in great style to boot.

We strongly encourage you to take a look at Career Wardrobe’s OutFIT for Work campaign, and give as well as donate if you can.

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