Men's Sportswear in the 50s and 90s Term Paper

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Men's Sportswear In The 1950s And 1990s

As a form of cultural expression, fashion always reflects the deepest concerns of society. But unlike literature, music or art, fashion communicates indirectly - employing a language and logic of its own. Fashion's power, to capture the present and even to predict the future, is only revealed with the passage of time (Font 2003).

In the 1950s, ready-to-wear clothing was the big deal, and styles began changing very quickly. It was not socially acceptable for women to work; a woman's "place was in the home" (Bosak 2003). Women wore pants around the house, but still wore skirts when they went out. Tight-fitting dresses and shorter hemlines were popular, but so too were the circle skirt, Bobby Sox, and a sweater set.

For men, previous to 1950 they wore both single-breasted and double-breasted suits. Fashions changed very little for them. In the 1950s, many men switched to single-breasted suits, with narrow lapels and natural (i.e. unpadded) shoulders (Bosak 2003). They also began wearing colored shirts with business suits. Teenagers began wearing different clothes than their parents (the term teenager was first used in 1953), and everyone started to wear blue jeans. Marlon Brando, in the 1954 movie The Wild One, gave birth to the black leather jacket (Bosak 2003).

The relaxed attitude toward dressing during the 1990s was evident in trends like see-through blouses for women.

Business casual became widely accepted. Fashion and corporate logos merged. Designer names were everywhere. There were many who argued that the North American obsession with fashion, youth, and beauty had gone too far. Images of beauty were constantly thrust in front of us through billboards, TV, movies, and magazines. Most of these images had been computer-enhanced (Bosak 2003). A wide range of fashions was available - yet strangely, everything looked much the same.

Sportswear in the 50s and the 90s

It wasn't long ago that a professional man's uniform - a conservative suit and tie - was bland, predictable, and practical. In 1950s sitcoms - "Leave it to Beaver," "Father Knows Best" - dear old Dad wore that suit to work and didn't so much as loosen the tie when he came home for dinner (Keller 2000). Back then, the chaste morals of commercial television didn't show couples in bed. But if it had, one suspects that Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson would have hit the pillows clad in their sharkskins and houndstooths, neckties cinched tight as the lights went out.

Joe Serino of J.Crew states:

The past of purchasing a complete suit now has alternatives. Suit separates give the customer options on buying the jacket, pant or both. Mixing separate pieces puts men in the arena where women have been for years. (Keller 2000)

Even during the disco-wracked polyester-clad 1970s, there was the memorable photo of Richard Nixon strolling the beach at the "Western White House" in San Clemente, California - in suit and tie (Keller 2000). How times have changed.

Part of the casual style in the 1990s appeared to be to look casual, if not sloppy (Historical Boys' Clothing 2003). Popular sportswear for males in the 1990s was plastered with the manufacturers name, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, the Gap, and others. The trend began in the 1980s and continued unabated in the 1990s. The meaning of the desire of boys and girls to serve as living billboards was difficult to assess (Historical Boys' Clothing 2003). It is almost as if the proliferation of shifting public signage, slogans, logos, and the deluge of print advertising, meant that the words on your clothes were now what certified your physical existence (Historical Boys' Clothing 2003). Or at least demonstrated that you were in the swing of popular culture. The media was (and continues to be) so important to our society that it appeared to be critical to proclaim your knowledge and acceptance of the latest trends.

As society entered the 1990s, a new manufactured cellulosic fiber, Tencel lyocell, was being promoted by Courtaulds ( 2003). With a manufacturing process that was self-contained, it did not add to pollution. In fact, the environment was having a big impact on all consumer textiles in this new decade. On March 25, 1990, the connection between environmentalism and the textile and apparel industries was noted on the front page of the New York Times with the headline "The Green Movement in the Fashion World" (qtd. In 2003). Consumers could now buy naturally colored cottons, natural cotton (i.e., processed without chemicals), fabrics dyed with natural dyes, and polyester products made from recycled soda bottles.

Of course the environmental movement did not begin in 1990, and it may be that the strong interest in the 1980s in garments made from natural fibers had been at least partly stimulated by environmental concerns. But even with expanded consumer interest in natural fibers, polyester claimed fifty-five percent of the domestic market in 1990 ( 2003).

With the micro fibers of the 1990s, the manufactured fiber industry also had a new product that fit in very well with a strong interest in active wear. Active wear was a new term applied to apparel worn for active sports and working out, popular activities growing out of a new awareness of the importance to health of keeping fit.

For many years Hawaii has had the tradition of Friday being aloha shirt day, a day on which men can wear the traditional and informal aloha shirt to work. By 1994, the notion of "casual Friday" had taken root on the mainland to such an extent that on July 15 the front page of the New York Times announced, "Nowadays, Workers Enjoy Dressing Down for the Job" (qtd. In 2003).

McCall's magazine noted that based on a recent poll, sixty-four percent of their readers worked in an office with a day policy.

The old notion of one predominant fashion was gone; instead the apparel industry was serving a far more diverse public with products aimed not at general, but at specific audiences. On the other hand, the household textile industry had become much more fashion oriented. Constantly expanding information sources, including news, entertainment media, and the Internet, help to spread information about these stylistic changes more rapidly to ever-larger audiences ( 2003).

First, came casual Friday. Then, a lot of companies extended that to casual Monday through Friday. Traditionalists may bemoan the trend, but they can take heart in this: Casual office attire is gradually becoming less casual, according to some fashion observers. Eric Hertz, executive director of the Fashion Association, purports, "I think we're going away from the extreme casual - what I call the grunge casual - to a more sophisticated casual look. It's a natural swing of the fashion pendulum" (qtd. In Keller 2000).

The suit won't disappear entirely from the workplace, Hertz says. In fact, it may become a component of the classier casual look he predicts will catch on. The difference is that some men may wear a mock turtleneck or even a T-shirt with a suit or sport coat, if they aren't already doing so (Keller 2000).

The bottom line: Men's clothing increasingly looks casual-dressy or dressy-casual depending on where and how it's worn. Another thing fashion watchers agree on: The casual trend won't fade like your favorite pair of jeans (Keller 2000).

Even Vice President Al Gore, in many campaign appearances, has opted for a look right off the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalog. Alpha casual. Nixon might sooner have become a Democrat than commit such a sartorial sin.

And at some law firms, attorneys are getting a dressing-down, donating their business suits to charitable organizations. Serino determines:

Business casual' attire should be a way of life, ranging from clean, crisp looks to more casual, yet neat looks. It shouldn't be confused with sloppy attire. The type of shirt and sweater - fabric, color, style - will give the appearance of less- to more-casual. Just because he's no longer required to wear a suit, doesn't mean a jacket can't look smart without the tie or with a sweater. The situation or day's agenda at work should also predict the level of 'casual.'

The key component to all of this is for the companies to issue guidelines that don't allow the wearer to look sloppy or in any way unprofessional. Some in-house presentations should be a requirement. (qtd. In Keller 2000).

That's a problem some companies still must address, many say. They simply don't have a clear policy on what attire is acceptable and what isn't. There has to be a certain amount of common sense. As most of us know, common sense isn't that common.


With employers scrambling to find enough workers to fill positions in today's tight job market, a casual-clothing policy has become an integral part of some companies' pitches to prospective employees (Gottschalk 2003). If the employee can save money on attire, that's a recruiting and retention incentive. The comfort factor may figure into the allure, too. "By…[continue]

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