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How menswear has evolved over the years

Today's fashion is moving towards fluidity, and prioritising comfort, be it in formal wear or casual wear

French fashion designer Julien Fournie at the 2021 Ballon d'Or France Football award ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. 
French fashion designer Julien Fournie at the 2021 Ballon d'Or France Football award ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.  (AFP)

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Fashion is never just fashion. It is unique to every part of the world, reflecting the time, politics, art and culture of the place it was born in. 

Today's fashion, especially menswear, is moving towards fluidity, blurring the gender lines and prioritising comfort, be it in formal wear or casual wear. 

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To understand how men's clothing became what it is today, we need to take a step back in time. Each decade has had an impact on menswear as we know it today. A major shift in the style sensibility of men’s fashion took place in the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by the rapid changes in culture post-war, the 50s era saw the introduction of hair quiffs, and T-shirts became increasingly popular. This was a complete shift from the 1940s: since wartime austerity meant restrictions on supply of materials, the world was stuck in a cycle of clothing from the decade before.

The casual wear of the 1950s continue to find space in the current streetstyle: smart casuals with an Elvis Presley-like edge. The decade that feels revolutionary when it comes to menswear was the 1970s, with more flamboyant looks becoming popular and people making extra bold style choices. This was the decade of bellbottoms, sport shoes and disco suits. Colour-blocking trends and bold patterns were all about expressing one's personal style and freedom.

By the 1980s, the world was becoming more brand conscious. Clothes and accessories with big designer names and heavy price tags signified stature and held importance. Hip-hop culture also grew and the youth embraced the Beastie Boys style, wearing baggy shirts, bomber jackets and caps. There were still, however, some elements of the 1960s and 70s styles that remained popular, like skinny ties and big graphic prints, respectively. All in all, the eighties were all about an oversized-relaxed fit. 

The 1990s, an era known for the style idea of being rebellious, fostered some of the most iconic looks. The grunge culture took over, with leather jackets, black denim and knitwear becoming a favourite among the style followers. A lot of 1990s trends are still visible today: baggy jeans, bum-bags, bucket hats, popper pants, even centre-parting hairstyles. Curtains were a thing of the 1990s but now it’s all about messiness and textured hair styled asymmetrically.

During the 2000s, rapper clothing brands become a common trend. And let's not forget those sweatbands that became hugely popular with a crossover appeal. They were the most unathletic way to show that you are athletic. Arguably, this decade had a wider scope for fluidity with clothes. Colours were bold and shapes were alike for all genders—a trend that continues till today.

Fashion for men has almost always been restricted to suits, blazers, pants, shirts and T-shirts. A slow change started taking place in the 2000s, when men started dressing according to their own desire and designers began paying close attention to the need for change in menswear. To a degree, the cause for fashion has always been about how we perceive ourselves, or how we sit with our surrounding culture, class or gender.

With the rise of commercial and editorial media and the emergence of stylists, we are seeing more experimental looks among men. In the present day, there isn’t a linear narrative for menswear, there is universe of stories with each look. But two themes rule: comfort and wearing clothes that your heart desires.

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Rahi Chadda is a model and a fashion content creator.


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