Happy Presidents’ Day, dear reader!
I thought today a good day to look at three presidents and see where their style may still (or again) be seen in American men’s style today. We often think of men’s style as unchanging, when in reality it does, although often less rapidly and dramatically than women’s fashion. Suit cuts, jacket lengths, trouser types, tie widths and styles, shirt collar styles and lengths, facial hair and hairstyles all change. Sometimes these shifts are slow, but in our current social media age, changes in style for men spread just as quickly as women’s.
A note for my facial hair obsessed sons: Less than 25% of our presidents have sported facial hair. William Howard Taft was the last Oval Office occupant with a mustache, so it has been more than 100 years since a mustache or beard has graced the face of the Commander in Chief.
Our images of George Washington are limited compared to those of more modern presidents as paintings are our source. How accurate, or realistic, these portraits are is always a matter of debate, but his dress is not in question. We have seen President Washington in portrait form, clean-shaven, wearing his wig, long white sideburns, and ponytail. He is either dressed in military uniform, or the white lace ruffled front shirt under his high collared black suitcoat and breeches. I don’t know many men today (except in the theatre) who wear wigs, breeches, or lace front shirts and jabot, but after a style vacation, the ponytail, and long sideburns are again all over the streets today!
Although the first sitting president to be photographed was probably William Harrison, and other presidents after him were extensively photographed, most of us associate early presidential photographs with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln took office a mere 64 years after George Washington left the presidency. In less than three generations, men’s clothing styles had changed dramatically. Think “Abe” and you think beard, short hair (compared to GW’s wig), trouser suit with a long jacket, top hat, plain front shirt, and a bow tie. Nary a wig, ruffled shirt, or pair of breeches to be seen. The only residual is the long suitcoat, but even that is completely different in style, much less shaped and fitted than his predecessor’s. As for his unkempt ‘do, it is said that one photographer neatened up his hair for a photographic portrait, and the President immediately ran his hands back through it to rough it back to its natural state. Today, natural roughed up hair styles are ubiquitous in advertising campaigns, and facial hair has been very popular with men for more than five years. (Interesting note: President Lincoln did have a beard, but no mustache. His lip was clean-shaven.)
A mere 36 years after Lincoln’s assassination, President Theodore Roosevelt took office, and again there had been a dramatic change in men’s fashion. Teddy’s larger than life personality made him a style influencer of the first order. During Roosevelt’s presidency we see the shift from long suitcoats to short. This may be a reflection of his preference for sporting and military styles and from his time in the Rough Riders. His grooming was an interesting mix of slicked controlled hair, and a decidedly non-controlled mustache. His predecessor William McKinley wore bow ties like Lincoln, and also a cravat tied like a modern tie, but Theodore Roosevelt was normally seen in what looks to us like a modern tie (although his was more like a cravat.) Is he partially responsible for the popularity of the safari-look, and it’s younger cousin the camouflage craze? (Maybe the Duck Dynasty gents aren’t all to blame.)
That is a lot of style change in 100 years!
Hope your day is peace-filled and happy… And thank you to Thanks to Catherine at Not Dressed as Lamb for the Link-Up!