What do you see when you picture a man in a suit? I imagine that everyone has a formative idea of what a suit should look like, whether inspired by a fashion magazine, an iconic movie character, or a family member. A man in a suit seems like such an ubiquitous manifestation, but if we were to compare all of our mental images, quite a lot of variations would begin to emerge.
If you are curious about how the modern suit evolved, sociological implications at various stages of this evolution, and tidbits on the industry of bespoke tailoring—Listen to The Measure of a Man by J.J. Lee! This recording was made in 2007 for CBC Radio’s Ideas, and he has since then published a book that continues along this same vein. Also titled The Measure of a Man, this book is a 2012 nominee for the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction and a 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award Finalist for Non-Fiction, published by McClelland and Stewart.
Very Vintage: The Guide to Vintage Patterns and Clothing
Written by Iain Bromley and Dorota Wojciechowska, and published in 2008, 175 pgs.
Despite the vague and encompassing subtitle: “The Guide to Vintage Patterns and Clothing”, Very Vintage has a much more narrow and specific purpose. It is organized as a segmented look at various influences on predominantly couture fashion in the 20th century, breaking up the century into eight sections, by decade after the 1940’s. Rather than examining each decade with the comprehensive depth seen in costume history texts by Tortora and Eubank, or Valerie Steele, Bromley and Wojciechowska review historical events and people as one-shot entries, referencing trends that prove to continue decades in the future.
The book is dominated by large, detailed pictures, mostly in black and white, but later some in color. The most unique element is the occasional pattern illustration, by Dorota Wojciechowska, rendered clearly and precisely. In this text, she illustrates a basic kimono, a guinea dress, a 1940’s woman’s tweed suit, 1960’s Richard Shops dress, Biba catsuit and red stripe tomato suit, and a Teddy boy jacket.
Including a two-page list of sources for obtaining vintage garments, it is an interesting review of the couture industry and its most famous contributors. While it has neither the breadth nor depth to be a consistent reference for 20th century fashion, I might turn to it as a starting point for some of the historical figures that it covers, especially the most famous designers, or for pattern details.