A lot has changed in the last 100 years, especially when it comes to fashion. The male workwear wardrobe has evolved, with the strict business suit now replaced with sneakers and sweatshirts. Opening the doors to the historical workwear wardrobe, we’ve picked out the most popular fashion trends from every decade in the last century, exploring how and why they’ve changed so much.
The traditional three-piece suit dominated this era, and hats were an essential part of a man’s outfit, regardless of their job or societal class. Whilst the cut, colours, and style of suits changed, tailored garments remained a workwear staple.
As World War 1 began in 1914, military uniform dominated the decade. The trench coats we wear now were inspired by the ones worn by soldiers over 100 years ago.
During WW1, women took on a lot of male jobs, working as blacksmiths, welders and electricians. They would often wear men’s overalls and their hair tied up in knots.
After the war, middle-class businessmen attached tall, white collars to their shirts to differentiate themselves from their lower class ‘blue collar’ co-workers.
Henry Ford George M. Cohan Thomas Edison
IN THE TRENCHES
British officers wore trench coats as part of their uniform, however when Burberry launched a range, most men owned one by the end of the decade.
In the 1920’s, Oxford bags were a staple trouser trend for middle-class men who often worked as doctors, lawyers and bankers.
A trouser trend made popular by Oxford University was one of the decade’s most popular. ‘Oxford Bags’ were wide, low-sitting and baggy.
Post war, popular women’s jobs such as nursing and waitressing still required strict uniform, however styles began to take shape and waistlines could be seen under fabric.
Joan Crawford Anita Page Coco Chanel
HATS BY CLASS
Your hat defined your class in the 20’s, with only Gentlemen wearing top hats. Middle-class businessmen sported a trilby, whilst those with labouring jobs wore a cloth cap to work.
As trousers tapered and skirts softened, a change was definitely starting to emerge. The 1930’s began to consider comfort in workwear, rather than just convenience.
HIPS DON’T LIE
Both hair and hems got longer in the 1930’s. Skirts widened softly below the hip and then stopped at mid-calf. Ensembles; matching dresses and skirts, appeared as a popular trend.
With the arrival of Superman, suits got slimmer, with extra broad shoulders, thin waists, and tapered legs.
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A BOWLER FOR BUSINESS
Bowler hats were generally only seen by city businessmen in the 1930’s, whilst labourer’s still wore cloth caps.
During the 1940’s fabric rationing and cutbacks in clothing production meant clothes were basic. Most men were at war wearing uniform, and colours were dark, getting notably brighter when the war came to an end.
The military jackets we see today are inspired from the RAF pilots in the 1940’s. Navy blue with gold buttons, the uniform was sleek and stylish.
Men wore utility clothing to work due to the rationing of fabric. This meant no pockets, no cuffs, and no embellishment.
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SEWING GETS SEXY
Despite the economic struggle, women embraced the call to ‘mend and make do’. They sewed cups into their bras and cut material, so it clung to the body.
As the war ended, life slowly went back to normal. Workwear reflected the change, as the freedom of fabric inspired new styles such as the Teddy Boy jacket and slip-on loafers.
TIED BACK TO TYPE
A lot of women worked as typists after WW2; hemlines sitting just below the knee and dresses getting looser. Hair was short and parted to the side so it wouldn’t get in the way of typing.
THE TEDDY BOY BOOM
A knee-length, single-breasted drape-style jacket with contrasting cuffs and lapels in velvet or satin, the Teddy Boy jacket gave the first glimpse of the Mod trend.
Frank Sinatra Paul Weller Hugh Hefner
The slip-on loafer was a hit with businessmen in the 50’s. More colours such as grey, dark brown and even blue suede appeared, along with two tone shoes.
You can thank the rebellious attitudes of men in the swingin’ 60’s for igniting the workwear revolution. They introduced new fabrics and styles, with music heavily influencing their wardrobe. Open collars reflected the relaxed attitudes, and the statement shoes from the 70’s took the party to the office.
The 1960’s was a decade of drastic change, especially when it came to fashion. Unisex fashion made its first appearance, and The Beatles inspired a number of timeless trends.
ROLL UP, ROLL UP
Men in business began wearing roll neck jumpers instead of shirts in the mid 60’s, thanks to the rebirth of Saville Row.
PANTS GET PRETTY
There is a new trend in town, and it’s called unisex. For the first time, a woman in pants was acceptable both in and out of the workplace.
Cher Diana Ross Nancy Sinatra
STRAIGHT OR SKINNY
Thanks to The Beatles, suits became tighter-fitting, trousers were straight legged, and vests were all but a thing of the past. The band had a huge influence on 60’s fashion - and if they wore it - so did you.
1970’s fashion focused on freedom and fun. Colours became brighter, collars became looser, and the restricting business suit seen in previous decades was long gone. Those who could wear denim, totally would.
Bold stripes and polka dots were splashed onto dresses and blouses. It was a loud era, not just in protest, but in style.
Worn by The Monkees, suits with mandarin ‘nehru’ collars became a popular replacement to the traditional suit jacket.
David Bowie Mick Jagger Jack Nicholson
OPEN COLLAR CULTURE
The 70’s saw the top button pop open, reflecting the relaxed attitudes of the decade.
The 80’s saw a huge job shift, as the launch of the internet meant more men than ever were working in an office environment. It was the initial birth of Silicon Valley, and the decade of the power suit.
FEEL THE POWER
Businessmen wore ‘power suits’ with wide shoulders, with the aim of looking masculine and authoritative. Three-piece suits gradually went out of fashion in the early 1980’s and lapels on suits became very narrow.
Keen to succeed, an increasing number of women were focused on climbing the career ladder. Dropping the cleavage and high waists, a wild perm resting on shoulder pads was the money-maker.
Madonna Princess Diana Whitney Houston
GETTING TIED UP
Ties made a return, coming back in a variety of styles. As with most 80’s fashion, ‘anything goes’, and you could choose between extra-wide kipper ties, skinny ties, and square-end ties.
This era saw the arrival of the Casual Friday concept, which soon stretched to Thursday. Mark Zuckerberg influenced the cool Silicon Valley uniform, making denim and sneakers totally acceptable. In 2019, the suit is rarely seen, and you’re more likely to see a pair of Balenciaga’s than a blazer in the workplace.
As ‘Casual Friday’ made its way into the office, men embraced the chance to ditch the suit and wear their much cooler leather jackets.
GOODBYE SHOULDER PADS
When shoulder pads fell out of vogue, more relaxed suiting took their place, pants often being swapped for pencil skirts and heels.
CASUAL EVERY DAY
As more men made their way into the office, they brought a casual look to the desk, ditching the tie for an open shirt and blazer. Casual Friday now crept into Thursday.
Brad Pitt Pierce Brosnan Michael Madsen
Reservoir Dogs inspired a monochrome look, meaning skinny trousers, white shirts and dark shades were bang on trend throughout the 90’s.
The Naughties saw some fearless fashion trends, including the blazer and tee combo, and the loss of the sock - which still has the nation divided, almost 20 years later.
SILICON VALLEY UNIFORM
Men in tech often opt for a similar look. Plain tee, jeans, and sneakers - every day of the week. It was inspired by Steve Jobs in the 80’s who said this basic approach to workwear allowed him to focus his energy on important decisions, rather than aesthetic style dilemmas.
BLAZER AND TEE
In the early 2000’s, suits in the workplace were no longer essential, with more people rocking the infamous blazer and tee combo.
Sarah Jessica Parker Kate Moss Naomi Campbell
A DECADE OF DENIM
In the decade of denim, women felt empowered to wear their jeans straight to work. “Business casual” was a trend accepted by most workplaces.
Research shows office apparel has declined by 39% in the time that co-working spaces have increased 28%, suggesting that suits could soon see extinction. Gender fluidity floods through the modern workplace, redefining stereotypes and evolving limited attitudes.
With almost 50% of the UK worforce set to work remotely by 2020, men are embracing the out of office culture in athleisure. Oversized hoodies, joggers, and snapbacks aren’t uncommon in today’s working world. To see a suit in the creative industry is rare.
GENDER FLUID FASHION
As gender fluidity in fashion rises, it makes its way into the mainstream workplace. Most employers encourage the shift, and traditional attitudes towards gender and clothing are challenged.
Harry Styles Kanye West David Gandy
Yeezys, Balenciagas, and Air Jordans were once only worn by celebs, but now, you’ll also find them on the feet of office-based millennials - cult followers of designer trainer trends.