The suit and its volumes (1/2)

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“There are some people whose entire existence is a study in aesthetics. A total life/art. Hide, the patron of cafestreamline in Tokyo’s Daikan-Yama district, is such an individual.” (Nick Clements on IG feed)

When you scroll through the feed of cafestreamline and mr. Hide, you have to agree: he’s completely in control of his aesthetic. He perfectly performs his dress, his suits, wide and high in volumes and he cares for, to own his space.

If you dare though to observe male’s essential contemporary wardrobe, especially in some southern European countries, for a long time they were the epicenter of cultured male dress styles, this appreciation and appropriation of space through the volumes of the clothes seems to fade. Slim slimmer and disappearing it seems, the male form reduced to an apparent, only slightly hidden nudity, paying particular emphasis on the visibility of the cultured body, for some northerners tastes obscene and definitely not appropriate.

In some ways it’s like returning to the French aristocratic dress codes prior to 1789. When there’s a lack of cloth to show off, the performance of social class has to focus on the details, such as excessive accessories, starting from the head wear to the neck wear and pocket squares to the leather upper of the shoes to wear only when temperatures are right.

Rightfully though, as soon as an individual invests in and embodies his aesthetic position performing his own style, he enacts his social position (A. Lurie, 1981, R. Barthes, 1990).

The signs and signifiers we choose for our performativity (John L. Austin, 1955, J. Butler, 1990) mirror our tastes, our social class, our gender, our ethnicity and national identity.

In postmodern society all aesthetics are possible and readily available.

There are some exceptions though, like the aesthetics of Mr. Hide. He embraces the shadowier realms of a subculture, not yet commodified, that requires passion and historical knowledge, appropriately performed for the few that have the opportunity to be involved but nearly invisible to the “others” (“The unseen scene”, Clements N. 2018).

Questioning the when and why the suit lost its volumes, we have to dig deeper into the history of menswear:

From a historic point of view, the roots of the suit can be traced back to the British countryside in the first decades of the last century. A change in the public function and performance of male dress occurred. The suit became a staple in men’s wardrobe.

In early 1930s JC Flügel termed it “the great masculine renunciation” (“The psychology of clothes”, 1930), when he observed the negotiations of a specific male identity embracing the formal aesthetic of the suit.

Devoting the public and private life to the principles of duty, of renunciation and of self control, the men longed for a new cloth. This change from the spectacular to the practical, de-emphasized the theatrical potential of the male form expressed formerly in the louche dress codes that signified aristocratic status and dominance of the upper classes.

With new class values, the suit had to fulfill the principles of the workers ethic. The new wardrobe had to fit the structural change work had been forced into.

While a plethora of fascinating detailed descriptions and analysis of the wardrobe from early stylists in menswear exist, just read through Brenden Gallagher greatly researched contributions on grailed.com, the reason for the “masculine renunciation” of volume in public space remains undisclosed.

At least in the public perception and mainstream consensus of consumer oriented fashion it’s not of any interest of further investigation. Part 2 should bring some light in the shadows or answers to yet to be formulated questions.

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