How styles of men’s suits have changed over the past 50 years
No matter how beautiful the fabric, how careful the construction, how high the price, the costume is designed to create a body image. Traditionally, this image is one of masculinity and strength: a powerful shoulder, a slim waist, an elongated torso. But over the past 50 years, designers have found new and surprising ways to reveal and discover something deeper about the male physique.
The revolution put forward by the maestro of men’s tailoring, Giorgio Armani, was that the body could simply be revealed by the costume, rather than tightened, exaggerated and reshaped. So it’s no surprise that before Armani became a fashion titan, he was a medical student. With surgical precision, the designer ripped out the innards of the suit and rearranged the throat, position and lapels of the jacket, for example, to create something new, a silhouette that elegantly drapes from the shoulders and flowing from the hips. Before, the men in suits were serious, dull, discreet; in an Armani suit, they transformed into something different: an object of desire.
Armani founded his company in 1975, and just five years later he was enshrined in pop culture canon as a costume designer for American gigolo. You know the scene: Richard Gere fidgeting as he dresses. It was as much about Gere’s sex appeal as it was about Armani. “By making the costume unbuilt and from lighter, more tactile materials, it made the costume more erotic and emphasized the movement of the body in the clothes,” says Valerie Steele, museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. York. “The costume has become almost like a skin; it almost gives off an aura of nudity.
The softer the costume, the harder the body, that was the Armani reveal. By removing the wide and rigid architecture of the shoulders and chest, he encouraged the figure below to be more structured, more muscular. It was counterintuitive in a way, but it’s no coincidence that the 1980s also saw the rise of a gym-mad fitness culture.
The decadent ’80s came the hedonistic’ 90s, and no designer has captured the libidinous, sweaty, nighttime energy of the decade better than Tom Ford, who became Gucci’s creative director in 1994. The Veteran Director Cast member James Scully notes that the ostentation and sex appeal had faded by the early ’90s. “Tom wanted to see a man in a suit again,” he says. “He wanted him to be sexy. When you put on a Tom Ford costume, you hold yourself up differently, people look at you differently.
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