The Tailcoat

Few other articles of clothing say “dapper” like a sleek, black tailcoat! Whether it’s worn for a wedding, evening dinner, prom or a dance performance, the tailcoat is always elegant and brings to mind the dressier days of bygone years. Let’s take a look at what tailcoats are, where they originated and how they made their mark in the fashion world.

What is a Tailcoat?

The history of this unique jacket goes all the way back to the early 1800s, where it was worn as a horse-riding outfit. The knee-length, double-breasted sports coat was the norm, of course, until someone introduced the brilliant idea of a tailcoat. This was a coat with the front cut away at the waist for the sake of easier maneuvering in the saddle.

The back remained knee-length, with a split down the center, so that the “tails” could fall comfortably over the back of the saddle and horse.

While most modern tailcoats are black, they were worn in many colors in the 19th century. Today, you’ll see men sporting them at formal gatherings, professional settings, equestrian competitions and military events.

Who Designed the Tailcoat?

The gentleman commonly attributed to the tailcoat’s design was a man named Beau Brummell (1778-1840), an Englishman who was intimate friends with the British aristocracy and who also became a recognized leader in the fashion of his day. Unfortunately, however, Brummell engaged in his high-society lifestyle without prudence and racked up unmanageable debts. He died an impoverished and abandoned man. However, his legacy of fashion continues to this day.

The Modern Tailcoat

Today’s tailcoats are no longer double-breasted and aren’t generally worn with a high, lacy collar as it was in the Regency Era. The color is usually restricted to black, paired with a bow tie and reserved for very formal settings such as weddings, orchestral concerts and proms.

The Cloak: A Universal and Practical Garment

The purpose of all garments is to protect the body from the elements. Even though we may use them for symbolic purposes on occasion, their main intent remains. Cloaks are an excellent example of a protective garment, being one of the oldest forms of clothing to have been utilized in every imaginable way. While its primary purpose is to keep the body warm and dry, it holds numerous possibilities for designers and wearers alike.

Where do Cloaks Come From? 

Essentially, cloaks have existed for about as long as human beings have been living on earth. It’s thought that they evolved from the use of blankets worn around the shoulders for warmth. The definition of a cloak is simply a sleeveless overgarment worn loosely over the shoulders. This is a pretty broad definition, implying that people everywhere have worn cloaks throughout all of human history.

Nearly every civilization on the planet has worn some form of this garment. The Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, Native Americans and Mesopotamians have worn cloaks since antiquity. As universal as they were, these cloaks were not all alike. Every culture had its own unique shapes, styles and designs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, warmer fur cloaks were worn, while nearer to the Equator, cotton or linen cloaks were more common. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, the cloak was an essential garment for everyone, regardless of class, sex or occupation. Simple cloaks could be found everywhere, while wealthier people often wore decorative cloaks made from finer material.

Certainly, protective clothing is as necessary to life as physical nourishment to our bodies. However, cloaks remain a significant element in the world of modern fashion.

Cloaks for Dress and Fashion

Today, cloaks can be seen on popular TV shows like The Game of Thrones. Many people wear them during Halloween or other celebrations. In the 1500s, cloaks emerged as the predominant form of formalwear throughout western Europe. Fashionable cardinal or velvet cloaks were also quite popular in 18th century Britain.

Elegant cloaks have often been worn as fashion statements. However, they’re more likely to be worn for a practical purpose today.

Though the use of cloaks has declined in the last century, the fashion world would be bereft of an iconic style without these exquisite garments. 

The Maillot: A Rebel With a Cause

While the name may be unfamiliar to you, you’ve no doubt seen the maillot many times and perhaps even worn one yourself at the beach or pool. “Maillot” is, in fact, the original French term for what we know today as a one-piece swimsuit. The name isn’t the only thing to have changed, however. From shape to style variations, this garment has evolved countless times over the decades since its inception.

The Birth of the Maillot

The one-piece swimsuit made its first appearance — as popular fashion styles often do — when someone broke the rules. In 1908, champion swimmer and future vaudeville star Annette Kellerman decided to flout convention by appearing on a public beach in a form-fitting one-piece suit that exposed her arms, legs and neck. She was promptly arrested for indecent exposure.

Thanks to Kellerman’s daring, in the aftermath of World War I, the maillot became a legitimate option for women and a welcome alternative to the voluminous swimwear usually worn. This original maillot was sleeveless with attached long shorts, as popularized by the “Diving Girl” advertising icon of the Oregon swimwear powerhouse, Jantzen.

Changing Times, Changing Tan Lines

Though the arrival of two-piece swimsuits and the 1946 bikini stole some of the maillot’s popularity, it has nonetheless remained a swimwear staple. The original long shorts were gradually phased out and replaced by the high-cut leg lines we see today. Meanwhile, the development of a stretchy, more elastic fabric in the 1930s gave the suit a tight-fitting look that’s still in vogue.  

Nowadays, we see the maillot in an endless variety of shapes and styles, as consumer preferences continue to evolve. Today, maillots can have plunging or halter necklines. Some even have criss-cross lacing in the front or back. Whether worn in the water or for sunbathing ashore, this wonderful swimsuit has shown itself to be functional, flattering, and interesting in its every iteration.

A History of Battledress

Military dress is a relatively modern invention, aside from the clothing ascribed to specific ethnic groups or tribes throughout history. Below, we analyze some of the key forces that have influenced the need for battledress and how the garment has evolved.  

Battledress Evolves With Warfare

The carrying of weapons may have been the earliest identifier of the warrior class within a tribe. However, as societies grew, it is believed that some resourceful civilizations created specific dress codes for those tasked with protecting civilians. As Love to Know points out, the Papal Guards in Rome are one example of those who wore these early uniforms.

As gunpowder made its appearance on the fields of war, the needs of the battlefield heavily influenced the look of battledress. With battlefields often clouded by smoke, largely thanks to gunpowder, the need to tell friend from foe became a matter of life and death. As such, bright colors were used by different armies, in order to avoid shooting at their own peers during the heat of battle.  

Battledress Evolves With Globalization

Battledress evolved as leading-edge technologies made their appearance on the world stage and trade across continents became more prevalent. Better weapons were developed, delivering more precision at farther distances. So, battledress no longer needed to be distinguishable in nature. Instead, they came to be used as a means of camouflage.

As such, military uniforms around the world took on the colors found in the fields of war: greens, khaki browns and desert colors, which made soldiers “invisible” to their enemies. This fantastic graphic from Military History Now shows the evolution of British battledress and how it has changed throughout history.  

Tradition Still Has Its Place

While those engaged on the ground need to blend in with their surroundings, the more ceremonial and traditional elements of battledress are now reserved for ranking members of the military. Those who war through diplomatic channels against their adversarial counterparts use emblems, medals and other ornamentation to communicate rank, power and military might.  

As we move into an era of cyber warfare, it will be interesting to see how battledress evolves to reflect modern trends. For example, will military robots figure in future wars? Similarly, how will nations distinguish themselves during non-violent conflicts?  Or, will anonymity be a weapon of its own?  Only time will tell. Nevertheless, the battledress remains a stalwart element of modern warfare.

Peplum: Form Flattering Fashion

Peplum is a popular fit-and-flare style. It referred to a woman’s outer tunic in ancient Greece and was highly prized during the Italian Renaissance. The peplum style migrated to Italy from the Eastern Ottoman Empire, which controlled the majority of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa for roughly six centuries.

This beautifully feminine style resembles an upside-down tulip. Historically, the peplum was a fashion embellishment worn by both men and women. Today, it’s overwhelmingly used to create a fit-and-flare silhouette in women’s clothing.

Daring Flare Style

The unique peplum style refers to the extra strip of fabric fitted to the bodice or waistband of a blouse, jacket, dress, skirt or overcoat. This extra fabric (or overskirt) gives a flared, flouncy silhouette to the garment. Peplum can be made in various lengths, cuts and styles.

The flaring overskirt accentuates the hips and visually slims the waist. This versatile fashion can be paired with pencil skirts or full skirts. Both daring or conservative necklines also go well with a peplum outfit. 

East Meets West

In Charlotte A. Jirousek’s recently published book Ottoman Dress and Design in the West: A Visual History of Cultural Exchange, she explains that “the Eastern idea of open-fronted garments layered over other garments was introduced into European fashion via Italy late in the 14th century.”

During this early period, the peplum style was apparent in both male and female garments. In Italian artist Sofonisba Anguissola’s mid-sixteenth century painting of a family, the young subjects of his painting (a girl and boy) was dressed in the peplum style of the time.

Though no longer fashionable for men or boys, peplum has a long history in the feminine world of fashion. This versatile style was especially popular during the decadent 1980s and has taken on different incarnations since. A modern, elegant choice for all body types, the peplum’s ability to imbue traditional office wear with a feminine touch has made it an essential piece in many career women’s wardrobes. From casual to chic, this style suits every occasion!

The Turtleneck’s Evolving Identity

The modern turtleneck is a common item in wardrobes today. It offers a timeless look that has been adopted by diverse groups of people. Is there any garment that has undergone as many identity changes as the turtleneck sweater?

A Working-Class Hero

The turtleneck became a wardrobe staple for male laborers in the 1800s. A heavy, knitted sweater topped with a high collar made for an appealingly warm garment. The sweater provided protection from the wind, rain, and snow. A favorite among fishermen and other seafarers, the wool turtleneck eventually became an official part of the U.S. Navy uniform during WWII.

It didn’t take long for this specialized sweater to become more than a working-class uniform. The turtleneck functioned as equestrian sports wear when polo players adopted the garment in the 1880s. In fact, it’s still sometimes referred to as a “polo neck” by European wearers today.

Introduction to Women’s Fashion

The turtleneck made its entrance into women’s fashion in the 1890s when the Gibson Girl was created as an ideal of the active, independent woman. The garment’s high neckline and squeaky-clean reputation fit perfectly with the Gibson Girl lifestyle. Although the turtleneck was becoming more widely worn, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the high-necked pullover gained popularity among the middle class.

Bombshells, Beatniks, and Black Panthers

The turtleneck got its sultry reputation when Hollywood bombshells such as Jayne Mansfield began sporting it in the ’40s and ’50s. Radical, free-thinking beatniks also adopted the stark black turtleneck as a uniform staple. Meanwhile, actress Audrey Hepburn wore it in the 1957 film Funny Face.

Finally, the turtleneck paired well with the Black Panthers’ leather jackets in the ’60s and ’70s. It was also favored by feminist activists such as Gloria Steinem. All in all, the turtlenecks of the mid-nineteenth century was all about being bold and original.

Fall from Favor

Despite the powerful statements the turtleneck made in previous decades, the ’80s and ’90s saw a sea change in the garment’s reputation. The awkward fashion styles of those decades turned the turtleneck into a punchline. Simply review old episodes of Saved by the Bell and Friends to experience the cringe-worthy styling choices of the period.

During the 1990s, Steve Jobs built his Apple empire while wearing a black turtleneck. This clothing choice may have classed Jobs as a nerdy figure, but it helped make the turtleneck a symbol of white-collar daring and ingenuity. The garment eventually gained prominence in boardrooms across America.

Return of the Turtleneck

Recent years have seen a revival of 1990s fashion trends and the advent of normcore. This new style allows adherents to express their individuality by wearing unassuming, everyday clothing. Both of these movements have effectively fostered the return of the turtleneck.

Today’s turtleneck offers wearers a timeless look that’s sleek, sophisticated, and even a little bit sexy when paired with the right wardrobe essentials.

Grace and Poise: Meet the Tutu

Does the word “tutu” evoke visions of slim dancers in puffy, pink skirts? It may surprise you to learn that the tutu was originally designed as a long, elegant ballet costume.

Practical Evolution of the Tutu

The first tutu appeared in Paris in 1832. Marie Taglioni wore a costume designed by Eugène Lami for her performance in La Sylphide. This costume featured a tight bodice that left the neck and shoulders bare. Its long skirt hung above the ankle and was made of a heavily starched cotton muslin called tarlatan. The “Romantic tutu,” as the new costume was called, quickly became a staple on the European ballet scene.

It soon became evident that the tutu would require further refinement. The long skirt with its five layers of fabric posed a fire hazard to dancers navigating the gaslights onstage. Also, although the tutu’s skirt featured sheer fabric, dancers were reportedly dissatisfied with its construction. They wanted to show more of their poses and footwork.

Thus, the skirt was shortened to fall above the knee by 1870. Meanwhile, ruffled drawers were added to create the famously flared effect of the “classical tutu,” which previously featured 10 layers of tarlatan.

Dancers Immortalized in Art

The French Impressionists at the close of the nineteenth century were dedicated to capturing profound moments in day-to-day living. Ballet proved to be an inviting subject for some of these artists. Edgar Degas produced paintings and sculptures depicting the reality of life for ballerinas in the Paris Opera Ballet. The ballerinas in his works are shown wearing short tutus with ruffled skirt layers.

Twentieth-Century Innovation

The early twentieth century brought some design changes to the classical tutu. Tulle made from stiffened silk or synthetic material replaced the original cotton tarlatan. This, along with the addition of wire hoops in 1940, made the skirts flare out from the dancers’ hips. These innovations supported important changes in the ballet industry. Tutus were increasingly designed to fit the unique performance styles of the modern era.

Styling the Tutu Today

To this day, the tutu remains an essential part of any ballerina’s costume. It has spread to modern popular entertainment, as well. Icelandic musician Björk turned heads when she wore the designer Marhan Pejoski’s “swan dress” on the red carpet at the 2001 Academy Awards. The tutu-style skirt topped by a mock swan’s head and neck ruffled feathers, but it was later copied by Valentino to great acclaim.

More recently, performers such as Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift have worn tutus on the stage and in music videos, inspiring a new generation to wear this showstopping garment. Among the sweetest — albeit impractical — interpretations of tutus are the handmade skirts for young children using strips of tulle knotted around elastic waistbands. 

Because the tutu has a history in professional dance performance, it isn’t often the first choice for making a fashion statement away from the stage. However, the grace and poise of the original version provide plenty of styling ideas for the modern-day trendsetter.

The Zoot Suit: More Than A Fashion Trend

The zoot suit is an iconic fashion trend from the 1940s that continues to capture the public imagination. So, what makes zoot suits so fascinating?  

Unique Design

The zoot suit is big and bold in nature. It’s hard to miss, with its characteristic shoulder padding, oversized lapels, draping fit, and wide-cut pants that taper to the ankle. In its heyday, zoot suits were made of brightly-colored fabrics. The men who wore them frequently accessorized with wide-brimmed fedora hats. While it was possible to buy a zoot suit in a store, many people chose to purchase oversized suits and amend them at the tailor.

Jazz Origins

The zoot suit was born in the jazz clubs of Harlem during the mid-1930s. From there, the trend spread to minority communities across the country.  African-American and Mexican-American men, perhaps influenced by the likes of popular jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Cab Calloway, adopted the style in many American cities. Zoot suits could be seen in Chicago, Memphis, and Los Angeles. By the 1940s, the fashion trend was so well-recognized that it was featured in an episode of the cartoon Tom & Jerry.

The Political Significance of Zoot Suits

The extravagance of the zoot suit is one way disenfranchised communities used fashion to assert their identities during a period of upheaval. Famous activist Malcolm X wrote about the importance of the zoot suit in his autobiography. After the United States entered World War II and rationed the use of fabrics, donning an oversized suit became even more controversial.

In 1943, tensions erupted in Los Angeles between primarily white American servicemen and so-called “zoot suiters” (Mexican-American men who donned the suits). Later, a committee appointed by the Governor of California determined that racism was the central cause of the Zoot Suit Riots.

The Zoot Suit’s Cultural Legacy

Although the zoot suit craze faded in the 1950s, its legacy lives on in music and movies. The song Zoot Suit Riot by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and the costume worn by Jim Carrey in the film The Mask are two well-known examples. Unfortunately, today, it is very difficult to find authentic zoot suits from the 1940s. Zoot suits are so rare that in 2011, a Los Angeles museum paid $80,000 for an original suit!

The Waistcoat: Stand Out Like a Noble

The waistcoat (or vest, as Americans tend to call it) has gone through several transformations since its introduction in the 17th century. While both shape and size have changed considerably, so has the garment’s association. It has gone from being a flashy show of opulence to a more muted display of somberness and back again. Today’s waistcoats are typically reserved for special events or for those with high-profile careers where dressing formally is an everyday requirement. 

Let’s take a closer look at the many ways this garment has been used over the years. 

King Charles II Kicks Off the Trend

King Charles II was facing a dire time in his reign. His people had undergone the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, and it did not seem appropriate for the king to be decked out in flashy lace while most of his subjects were in mourning and recovery. The French court was known for its excessiveness, so he wanted a style that was pared-down, simpler, and would use fewer lavish materials. The waistcoat was a fitted, knee-length garment that had cuff-length sleeves. 

By 1670, nobility across the land wore the trend, but they had forgotten or discarded the king’s initial desire for understatement. Instead, they used the trend to stand out. The designs became more and more lavish. At the same time, the shape and size began to change. It grew shorter, and collars and sleeves became less common as well. 

Waistcoats for Sporting Men and Women

By the 18th century, British waistcoats were popular for both men and women, particularly for sporting activities. This trend continues to this day as the waistcoat is considered a staple of British “country” clothing. The most iconic of these waistcoats is the tweed variety. 

While waistcoats are primarily considered to be men’s clothing, women have similar garments. Women’s versions became more popular in the late 19th century. These short bodices would be worn over a full evening gown, giving the silhouette a sharp contrast. 

The Men’s Suit Evolves

At one point in the evolution of the waistcoat, it was popular to wear one under a jacket with a sash or buttoned girdle around the waist. This may sound familiar as it is the precursor to today’s modern men’s formal suit, complete with cummerbund for the most formal modern events. 

While today’s version is mostly associated with weddings, there was a time when the three-piece suit was considered everyday wear for just about every man. The reason? They had to know what time it was, and the waistcoat provided a convenient pocket in which to store a watch. As the trend moved to wristwatches, though, there was less need for a waistcoat, and it ceased to be a widespread daily piece of attire. 

In the 1960s, the waistcoat was again adapted, this time to fit the needs of the countercultural hippie subgroup. Their version was still form-fitting and buttoned up, but it was longer—often reaching to the knees. They also added the colors and patterns that have come to be associated with hippie culture including floral designs and patchwork in bright colors. 

The Dolce and Gabbana spring 1993 line took influence from these hippie versions of the waistcoat. Female models walked the runway sporting chokers adorned with peace signs and colorful versions of suits and vests. The brand continues to play with suits (including waistcoats) for women as an androgynous and chic display of fashion. 

Today, the waistcoat is not considered an item of everyday wear except for in elite circles. While some high-level executives and lawyers may don a waistcoat on a daily basis, most people see them as special occasion attire. Even on these special occasions, they tend to be more muted in color and style and rarely have the flash and detail that they had when associated with nobility. However, the waistcoat has seen many different twists and turns in its evolution, and maybe we will one day see a return to the bright and flashy versions of yesteryear.  

Bohemian Dress: A Revolutionary History

In reference to fashion, many people think the word “Bohemian” refers to the style’s origins in the central European area once known as Bohemia, but this is a common misconception. In fact, bohemian dress earned its name because the early 19th century artists, intellectuals, writers, and free-spirits with which the fashion was affiliated were assumed to be gypsies, who were mistakenly thought to come from Bohemia in central Europe. Today, the term is associated with anyone or anything that is socially unconventional or offbeat, especially in an artistic way. The bohemian style reflects this with its flowing lines, gauzy fabrics, loose silhouettes, and unconventional artistic prints, but it emerged as a way of taking even the simplest of fashion to new artistic heights.

The Emergence of Bohemian Dress

As Elizabeth Wilson notes, bohemian dress emerged in post-Revolutionary France at a time when the status of fashion, much like the status of the artist herself, was evolving. Bohemian dress signaled a new way of thinking wherein one’s clothing reflected the inner self rather than simply signifying social class or profession. Art and fashion were interlinked for bohemians, who used fashion to extend art into everyday life. By using themselves as canvases upon which clothing became a work of art in its own right, bohemians resisted being seen merely as impoverished artists, no matter how humble the garments themselves might be. Today, the label “bohemian” has become a catch-all term for clothing that is off-beat and reflects artistic leanings. Once considered unconventional, the styles that early bohemian dress inspired are now staples of mainstream fashion in the 21st century.

Romantic Influences

Wilson notes that the emergence of bohemian styles coincided with the 19th-century Romantic movement’s new vision of the artist-as-genius. Rather than just being craftspeople, artists were now seen as possessing special creative qualities that made them distinct from everyone else. To reflect this in their clothing, the Romantics preferred “rich materials and colors, wide-brimmed hats, and long flowing curls,” which became the beginning of the bohemian style.

Additionally, both the stories of Henri Murger and the emergence of male dandyism, in turn, played a role in creating this iconic style of dress. Where Murger’s stories described impoverished artists in disheveled threadbare clothing, Dandyism highlighted the importance of self-expression through dress, especially in ways that later influenced gender-bending styles of bohemian attire. Murger’s stories, the Bohemian lifestyle, and Bohemian dress later influenced Giacomo Puccini’s widely popular 1896 opera La Bohème, which in turn influenced many 20th-century bohemians.

Evolution of Term

In the late 19th century, dress reformers like the Pre-Raphaelites adopted bohemian styles while pushing to make fashion more wearable and comfortable, especially for women. Vasily Kandinsky’s famous Arts and Crafts movement also adopted the style because of their interest in roomier waistlines, greater ease of movement, and less restrictive sleeves for working artists. Aesthetically, bohemians pushed for innovative styles inspired by the artistic counter-cultures that favored them, making them popular with anyone who wanted to go against the grain of mainstream fashion. Over time, bohemianism was increasingly seen as the fashion of rebellion, counter-culture, and non-conformity. By the early twentieth century, bohemianism was also associated with gender-bending fashion and early LGBTQ culture. The term was especially common among American lesbians in the 1930s, who self-identified as bohemians to signify preferences.

Modern Bohemian Trends

The development of mass media after 1945 brought the term into popular use, and bohemian dress, in turn, began splintering into different sub-styles. Beatnik culture, for instance, favored “white lips, black kohl-ringed eyes, peasant skirts, black stockings, and ‘arty’ jewelry.” Later, hippies adopted the bohemian style, adding flared silhouettes, various types of fringe, ethnic-inspired clothing, and beadwork to their repertoire.

Today, the style is most evident in counter-culture fashion like the goth style and in what is sometimes called boho-chic to refer to peasant skirts and tops, flowing hair, and natural jewelry. Boho-chic has been especially popular throughout the early 2000s with celebrities like Nicole Richie, Jennifer Aniston, Blake Lively, and Selena Gomez popularizing bohemian-inspired looks. Timeless, creative, and carefree, the bohemian style has stood the test of time and will likely continue to be around for generations to come.