A few weeks ago, the kind folks at Laurence King Publishing sent me a copy of one of their new books, 100 Years of Menswear, by Cally Blackman, with the request that I review it here. Since books are my favorite kind of blog-related free swag to pick up, I of course said yes. Forgive me if I'm a little late to the party with this one. I realize that reviews of this book have been popping up all over in the last few weeks.
I think this is a fun book. Mostly, it's a photo book with very little text at the front end of each section. That's fine with me, given that it doesn't seem to be intended as a definitive tome on the social ramifications of menswear, but rather a compendium of photos spanning a little of everything men have worn in the last 100 years.What strikes me most about it is the diversity of styles the author sees fit to include. If you're looking for (yet another) sycophantic pin-up book about the long lost splendor of the 1930s, this book isn't for you. If however you realize that the sharp elegance of the magic old days is but one piece in a much vaster puzzle, than you may find something to like here.
Of course, we have the requisite illustrations of the 1930s which the menswear blogs have deemed we are now required to drool over...
and late nineteenth century photos and illustrations of men in morning dress, or playing tennis in white flannel suits, or hunting in tweed three piece suits with plus fours. Like so many other menswear bloggers, I love that stuff, but as someone who also has a checkered past in rock n roll, I realize that these things are far from the full story, and so apparently does Ms. Blackman. She managed to amass in a relatively small book lots of great examples of artistic sub-cultural clothing, every bit as much "menswear" as a top hat and tails.
We have original 1960s Jamaican rude boys, in sharkskin suits, skinny ties, and baggy military surplus coats.
Crazy space aged stuff from the 1970s.
And every form of music related dress code, including androgynous glam, zoot suits, and punk rockers like the ones pictured here.
So much of what we read these days on the topic of such an ambiguous term as "menswear" tends to be rather narrow minded. We like to hone in on our own particular point of interest while failing to even acknowledge that anything else existed. We get hung up on particular moments in the past, and paint them romantically to suit our own ideal of it. We create rigid sets of rules which may or may not have actually existed. This book isn't called "A Guide to Ivy League Fashion", or "Best of Laurence Fellows", because those things are not the whole story in menswear, and as such this book attempts to cover it all. You may not like everything you see in this book, and you don't have to. Personally, I find there to be as many things that I find silly as there are things that inspire me here. But that's the point. Men have worn everything in this book at one time or another. Hippies, punks, businessmen, soldiers, coal miners, artists, and athletes all wore something we can call "meswear". Knowing the full history of any given topic is always more useful than a rose colored and edited version, and Ms. Blackman has given us a concise set of thumbnails that embraces the full story. I like that.