History of Mens Clothing & Names

I shall warn you, that I although I am a huge nerd for mens clothing, I am also a big history buff. I think that is part of the reason I took to tailored clothing the way that I did, is that it has a rich history. While it might seem that new items and fads are cropping up all the time (which is true), many of the core elements for menswear were created over 100 years ago. While they have been modified, rebranded, and re-appropriated, there remains a direct lineage to the past. Most of menswear directly comes from the British, and especially the Victorian and Edwardian eras many purposed either for civilian town & country clothes, elite public shcools, or the military.

It seems the British were very big on rules and there clothes were no exception. They were the also the originators of many menswear staples. While 21st century has changed the level of formality and occassion, the clothes themselves still march on. Along this long march interesting anecdotes and mysteries have come along as we have lost touch with history. Here are a couple that I think are particularly interesting.

  • Oxford cloth comes from Oxford University. At one time there was a cloth for all of the 4 major schools; Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford is the only remaining one and the others are lost to the sands of time.
  • The word cravat (the predecessor to the tie, but still seeing limited use) is actually a corruption of the word Croat or Croatian.
  • Corduroy, the lovable whaled cotton material comes from the French 'Cord du Roi', meaning Cloth of the King.
  • The Japanese word for suit 'sebiro' is believed to be a corruption of 'Savile Row', the place where mens suiting really caught hold and is still considered the spiritual home of the suit.
  • Speaking of the suit, if you fold the lapels straight over your chest, you will notice that it looks a lot like a military uniform from the 19th Century. There is a good reason for that, the suit is adapted from the military.
  • The word Blazer has been hotly debated for many a decade. Many believe that it comes from the ship HMS Blazer, that upon the Captain being told that they would be receiving inspection from Queen Victoria outfitted his crew in smart navy serge jackets. Others state that it comes from early rowing blazers from schools like Oxford and Cambridge.
  • When it comes to outerwear, it seems like all of our jackets descend from the military. Whether it be the Trench Coat made for life in the dirt in WW1 or the Pea Coat and Duffle Coat that kept the Royal Navy warm, to the A1 Leather Jacket that kept pilots cozy while at high altitude. For the creation of the most enduring pieces of the 20th century you can thank the military.
  • Lastly, the Crimean War gave us many garments, but perhaps the most iconic is the Cardigan. Named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, he would later become famous for leading the Charge of the Light Brigade.

There are many other wonderful examples and stories that I am sure will come to mind, and this list is not exhaustive. It is supposed to be a bit informative and quirky, but also show that good menswear lasts. Trends, unlike in women's fashion, have been slower and have taken less of a hold when it comes to mens clothing. Men seem to like the tried and true.


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