Fashion books tend to be hit or miss with me and very often texts devolve into a series of photographs with simple captions that tells the where and who, but not the why behind the garment. 100 Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman is an exception to this trend and a lively breath of informative air that not only catalogues men’s fashion throughout the 20th century but also examines fashion in a highly accessible and absorbing manner.
The book itself is cut into two large sections, one of which deals with 1900-1939 while the second handles 1940 to the present. Within each heading are categories in which Blackman delves into the depths of men’s fashion and is able to chart the course of this particular subgroup rather than examining the evolution of men’s fashion in much more broad strokes and having the difficult chore of comparing and contrasting menswear from different fields of use.
Section one contains the subgroups Suit, Worker & Soldier, Artist & Reformer, Good Guy-Bad Guy (movies), Player (sports), and Dressing Down-Dressing Up. The latter section contains the headings Rebel, Peacock, Media Star, Culture Clubber (1980s counterculture), Stylist, and Designer.
I found this breakdown and compartmentalization of men’s fashion to be a boon for readers unaccustomed to texts dealing with fashion. Not only did each section contain lush photographs for reference, but keeping categories self contained allows for a better sense of chronology when dealing with men’s fashion.
Furthermore, each photograph contained plenty of relevant information, in the form of quick and concise captions, which was related to the garment in question rather than being a general tidbit of knowledge about fashion. This keeps things topical and focused. While some details were better than others or pretty common knowledge, enough insight and research is demonstrated by Blackman to elevate her text above other coffee table books.
The book’s closing section isn’t as informative as Blackman begins to comment on the way designers have imposed their views on fashion rather than letter fashion evolve from the bottom-up. Needless to say, contemporary fashion designers may enjoy this part more than a casual reader interested in history.
Regardless, this is an outstanding book on menswear and a highly recommended read.