10 Iconic Menswear Styles Britain Gave The World

By Google Arts & Culture

The home of the world’s oldest milliner and the birthplace of the brogue shoe; London has evolved into the leading centre of innovation and craftsmanship in men’s fashion. We have given the world the three-piece suit, the trench coat and the bowler hat. Since 1666, the areas of Mayfair, Piccadilly and St. James have become synonymous with quality, refinement and craftsmanship after being taken over by generations of hatters, shoemakers, shirt-makers, jewellers and perfumers. Today the influence of this exclusive enclave of quality menswear has spread across London and beyond. It is stitched into the very fabric of the British designer brands and emerging talent showcased at London Collections: Men. This story celebrates the places and people whose artistry, skill and pursuit of excellence have helped shape and define modern day London as the world capital of menswear. Follow the thread of men’s fashion over 300 years: through these famous streets you will walk in the footsteps of the likes of Lord Nelson, Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde, Fred Astaire, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Tinie Tempah, as well as royals, from Edward VII to Prince Charles to Prince Harry. 

Charles II in an Early Three Piece SuitOriginal Source: British Fashion Council

1. The three piece suit

In October 1666, Charles II introduced a ‘new fashion’. He adopted a long waistcoat to be worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt. Samuel Pepys, the son of a tailor recorded in his diary that Charles had adopted ‘a long cassocke close to the body, of black cloth, and pinked with white silk under it, and a coat over it’. This marked the birth of the English suiting tradition and over time the waistcoat lost its sleeves and got shorter until by around 1790 it became the length it is today.

Pair of Man's Dress Wellington Boots (circa 1845) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

2. Wellington Boots

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington instructed his boot-maker, Hoby of St. James’s Street to modify the 18th century Hessian boot so that it could be both hardwearing for battle, yet also comfortable to wear in the evenings. The new boot was made from soft calfskin leather and was cut more closely around the leg without a trim. Worn and popularised by the Duke, they were dubbed the Wellington and became a staple of hunting and outdoor wear for the aristocracy in the early 19th century. In 1852, Hiram Hutchinson met Charles Goodyear who had just invented the vulcanisation process for natural rubber. Consequently, Hutchinson adopted the boot for farmers by making them from wholly waterproof rubber.

Painting of Hunting Scene with Sir William Heathcote and Major Vincent Hawkins Gilbert (1790)Original Source: British Fashion Council

3. The Riding Coat

Between 1750 and 1830, influences from equestrian country clothing informed English tailoring. Style leadership shifted from the aristocracy at court to the landed gentry and mercantile middle classes, a shift which ran concurrent with an increasing professionalisation of the commerce and manufacturing which fuelled Britain’s economy. By the early 19th century, the riding coat had developed stylistically to be a tailcoat which included a double breasted row of buttons, a high collar and a steeply cut away front.

The Bowler HatOriginal Source: British Fashion Council

5. The Bowler Hat

The Bowler was designed in 1849 for Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester by Thomas and William Bowlers for hatters Lock & Co. of St. James’s. The brief was to create a hat for Coke’s gamekeepers to protect them while they were riding. Referred to as the ‘Coke’, it was worn by labourers until its adoption by Edward VII. Its characteristic domed crown and curled brim remained emblematic of the London City gent and the Bowler hat’s international appeal meant it was the most popular hat in 19th century America overshadowing both the Stetson and the cowboy hat. One of the most famous British icons to wear the Bowler hat was Winston Churchill.

Original Advertisement for Burberry Trench Coat (1938) by Christopher BaileyOriginal Source: British Fashion Council

6. The Burberry Trenchcoat

Burberry’s first London store opened on Haymarket in 1891 and by the 1910s Thomas Burberry’s development of water-resistant gabardine led to outdoor-wear commissions for Britain’s early expeditions to Antarctica and the South Pole. In 1901 Burberry was commissioned by the War Office to design its officers’ uniforms, a charge which would develop in 1914 into the creation of its most iconic product. The cloth-quality and attention to detail of the Burberry Trench coat represents a peculiarly British modern sensibility; its stylistic associations vary between military, rural and high fashion.

Men's Tartan CoatOriginal Source: British Fashion Council

7. Tweed and Tartan

Tartan is inextricably linked with the origins of the Scottish nation. In the 1920s the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor combined traditional British plaids, tartans, and tweeds with spots and stripes making him a style ambassador for the British textile and manufacturing industries. Tweed is a derivation of the Scottish word ‘tweel’ or ‘twill’, misread by an English merchant in 1830 and influenced by association with the River Tweed in Scotland. Ever the champion of British textile traditions, Vivienne Westwood named her 1987 collection ‘Harris Tweed’ after the cloth which to this day is hand-woven by islanders in Scotland.

Men's Brogues (1925/1935)Original Source: British Fashion Council

8. The Brogue

The Brogue is a style of low heeled shoe or boot with decorative perforations and serration along the sturdy leather uppers. Modern Brogues trace their roots to the late 18th century in rural Scotland and Ireland. In their early form un-tanned hide and punched holes allowed water to drain from them while crossing wet terrain. The Brogue’s transition from rural practicality to urban fashion occurred when the Duke of Windsor wore brogues on his golfing trips to Scotland.

Floral Kipper TieOriginal Source: British Fashion Council

9. Floral Shirt and Tie

John Stephen and Michael Fish can both lay claim to the introduction of the tailored floral shirt and tie. Stephen opened his first store at 5 Carnaby Street in 1957 where he commissioned menswear made from patterned and textured fabrics previously not used in men’s fashion. In the early 1960s Jermyn Street shirt-maker, Turnbull & Asser, employed Fish to inject an air of youthful exuberance into the firm’s range of classic shirt designs. In 1966 Fish opened his own boutique, Mr Fish, on Clifford Street in Mayfair where he sold ‘kipper’ ties, colourful suits and separates.

Punks in London (2011)Original Source: British Fashion Council

10. Bondage Trousers

The post war optimism which fuelled the entrepreneurialism of the 1960s dissolved in the economic exigencies of the 1970s and youthful dispossession exploded into the DIY aesthetic of punk. In 1971 Malcolm McLaren opened his homage to Teddy Boy culture Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road. Two years later working with Vivienne Westwood, McLaren renamed the shop Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die and then in 1974, Sex. The leather and rubber bondage clothing sold at Sex provided a template for their 1976 Seditionaries collection of slogan t-shirts and bondage trousers with bum flaps, straps and zips. The duo’s anti-establishment and fetish-wear inspired garments epitomised the antagonistic spirit and style of English punk.

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