Televised Nostalgia: Looking Optimistically at the Future of Tailoring

    After a long bout (re-)watching Mad Men, I’ve recently moved on to The Crown. At the time of writing, I’m only on the first series, but from what I’ve seen so far and from all the stills and promotional images from the fourth series I’ve been bombarded with by various brands and clothing enthusiasts, there’s one notable aspect that the two shows have in common: a wonderful wardrobe full of structured tailoring.

    I really can’t comment on the period accurateness of the costumes. From what I gather, they’ve done an excellent job, but when it comes to that particular niche I can’t recommend Ethan Wong’s blog enough. His early stuff in particular is a lot more focused on period-accurate vintage, but for any enthusiasts of contemporary vintage-inspired clothing, his blog is a true treasure trove. What these shows did, however, is give me a strange hankering. When I’ve gone through a few episodes, I find myself having the urge to wear more structured tailoring, polish my shoes more neatly, wear an ironed white shirt, put on a tie, and so on and so forth. 

    During the Mad Men-era, I, like so many others at the time (although I was a little late to the party), gave in to that urge. I’d only wear white shirts with French cuffs, three-piece suits in worsted wools, polished oxfords, braces, a white pocket square in a neat tv fold, and a tie whenever wearing a suit or sport coat. It just got to me at the right time. I had just started working in men’s tailoring, I had managed to procure a few vintage RLPL jackets through a friend, and was starting uni, a common period for anyone to rethink and rework their personal (sense of) style. 

    I simply fell victim to the sartorial pendulum swing, like so many do when they develop that initial interest. You can see the same sort of journey in Ethan Wong’s own wardrobe and Handcut Radio’s Aleks Cvetkovich often comments on how his first commissioned suits had some pretty radical hems’ widths, trouser rises and lapel sizes. You get your first taste and suddenly you want the lot. So you end up going to a lecture wearing a jacket and tie with everyone thinking the teacher just walked in. Luckily, I am no longer as prone to falling for what I know will be a very temporary desire. Still, it’s interesting to notice how these romanticised depictions of clothing from a certain era and demographic can spark such enthusiasm with the uninitiated and seasoned lovers of tailoring alike; no matter how unsympathetic the character in that clothing happens to be. 

    There’s another interesting correlation between these shows and their tailored wardrobes. After a crisis (usually a financial one, or one with significant financial ramifications), sales in men’s tailoring tend to go up. There’s speculation a plenty: getting dressed up is part of the post-crisis optimism, people want to look their best when hunting for new jobs, there’s simply more money to spend in the environments that ask for tailored clothing, or—and this is arguably the most tenuous one—people are spurred on to buy new clothes as the style shifts through certain recession-led changes in production (e.g. shorter trousers and smaller lapels to save on fabric). Whatever the cause or the eventual outcome, the attention that The Crown’s wardrobe is receiving in our current crisis has me tentatively hopeful for the future of men’s tailoring. Of course, this particular crisis has changed much of the work environments in which tailoring was de rigeur, but to me, the pandemic has only moved a long-inevitable development closer. For many, structured tailoring had already started to seem like something you’d own sparingly and save for special occasions. There’s a chance it will work its way into more eclectic wardrobes and styles (Aleks is very good at combining structured pieces in casual outfits). The more likely scenario, which was already on everyone’s lips pre-COVID, is a rise in softer tailoring with an emphasis on sportier pieces such as chore coats and the like, simply because such pieces still hold on to the more broadly carried appealling side appeal of tailoring: craftsmanship, versatility, silhouette, and sustainability (a contetious one, to be sure).

    As we’re all staring at vaccines on the horizon, many might begin to feel the urge to invest in fresh new tailoring when they’re allowed back in the office, but hopefully there are plenty more thinking of taking their first steps into that world, even when their environment doesn’t require it. If that means a lot of buyer’s remorse down the line as they have a wardrobe full of double breasted British suits, so be it.

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