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The Tailor's Art



Creation of the Man’s Suit
The Suit in the 19th Century
Men’s Dressing Gown and Waistcoat Fabrics
Men’s Accessories in the 19th Century
Neckties and Cravats
Men’s Accessories in the 20th Century
Tailoring for Women
Appropriating the Dandy
Contrast Between the Modern Suit and Feminine Fashion
Mid-Century America: Conformity in Suburbia
Mid-Century Humor: Conversational Textiles
Counterculture Menswear
Contemporary Tailoring for Men
Menswear Fabrics - A Glossary



Western wear remains an anomaly of the male wardrobe. Its most flamboyant manifestation – the “rhinestone cowboy” look – is instantly recognizable. Inspired by country music, western wear was, and remains, a style of dress that is truly American. Also called cowboy couture and rodeo tailoring, it blends the most practical elements of utilitarian work wear with the most extravagant expressions from the entertainment world and, in keeping with the “melting pot” notion of the country, draws its vocabulary of design from Native American, Hispanic, English, and Eastern European cultures. More subdued types of western wear afforded middle class men a kind of creative latitude in dress that was also socially acceptable, while referencing a romanticized and evocative past. It is a look worn by lawmen and outlaws, ranch hands and miners, the mythic “cowboys and Indians,” as well as movie stars and urban wannabes.

The notorious zoot suit, on the other hand, was the ultimate form of antiestablishment fashion. The term “zoot” was in common circulation within urban jazz culture by the 1930s, and described something worn or performed in an extravagant style. Soon, young black and Latino men donned baggy, custom-made suits, with outrageously padded shoulders and billowing trousers dramatically tapered at the cuffed hem.

The zoot suit was extremely controversial during World War II, because its extravagant use of fabric defied wartime rationing. As a result, the zoot suit was viewed by some as unpatriotic. The infamous “zoot suit riots” that erupted in cities like Detroit and Los Angeles in the summer of 1943 expressed the alienation and struggle against racism felt by many young people in the country. In his moving publication, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz wrote: “Rather than disguise their alienation or efface their hostility to the dominant society, the pachuos [a term that defined young Chicanos] adopted an arrogant posture. They flaunted their difference and the zoot suit became the means by which difference was announced.”


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All photographs by Irving Solero, courtesy of the Museum at FIT, unless otherwise noted.