We may dismiss the fashion world as an alien extravagance that has no relevance to those struggling through the daily grind. But while we might pay no attention to the trendsetters, they are paying attention to us. Changing styles, and even the popularity of colours, tend to end up in our drawers and wardobes without us even noticing. Together with Woodhouse Clothing we look back through your closet...
Traditional island life isn’t really what you first think of in the world of male fashion.
The Gansey has stood the test of time in the fishing community, though cheaper and less robust imitations can be found.
Working the land doesn’t really require you to “look the part”. Pragmatism always wins out over tailoring trends. Be you on deck or in ditch, being weatherproof from top to toe is what matters.
But, of course, there are those who don’t brave the elements on a daily basis, earning their living in workshop or office where again functionality wins out over fashion. But does it really?
You only need to look at the adverts that have appeared through the decades in the Stornoway Gazette to realise tailoring tastes have evolved.
And while menfolk can dismiss fashion as the field of the female, that’s simply not true.
Let’s start at the basics, and work our way out – underwear.
While the boilersuit may appear unchanged through decades, the garb beneath has definitely evolved. Of course there are some items of clothing that remain in an individual’s favour but it is probably fair to say the thermal long johns have a smaller, though more devout, following nowadays.
The ‘Y’ fronts and the vest became the essentials for the underwear drawer but how many recall, or retain, their sets of string vests and pants?
They were once all the rage, apparently their latticed network retaining the heat when winter snapped, yet the mathematical and geometric genius of string kept you cool in the blazing heat. The downside, of course, was going shirtless in that heat could produce a tan that gave you the appearance of a fancy recipe eased out of a baker’s oven.
And we won’t mention the visible panty line that made you look like you had become tangled in a tight meshed trawler net while looking for the light that morning.
And then came the boxer shorts and the tee-shirt. An American adaptation that has retained its popularity from the James Dean era to the present day.
And still in the underwear department… what about socks? Any doubts that fashions have changed here can be dismissed with one simple question: “When were your socks last darned?”
From “two pairs for a pound”, the humble sock now teeters on the point of being a disposable item, challenging the merit of investing in a sturdier creation on the basis that they will last longer.
To the shirt: the basic shape hasn’t changed that much though the detachable collar has gone, cuff links are for posh affairs and the average male wardrobe will contain a selection including ‘dress’, ‘casual’ and ‘work’, and in materials from cotton to polyester, linen to flannel.
And once upon a time, not all that long ago, fashion gave us nylon. This was not a quick-dry blessing but a curse. A nylon shirt and nylon pants made you a medium-current walking pylon – the closeness in spelling was surely not an accident. Stripping off for bed was a static challenge before you crackled into your nylon sheets…
There are those who wear their profession around their neck and the simple tie has undergone dramatic changes over the years. All are still available. The bow tie is definitely a statement, the cravat a somewhat unsettling yell, while the bolo (shoestring) is more of a challenge to reach for your holster.
And while the ‘standard’ tie is the most common, it is anything but standard, in length and width. And as for knots. Well, you’re spoilt for choice. There’s the Four In Hand Knot, Half and Full Windsor Knot, Nicky Knot, Kelvin Knot, Pratt Knot, St Andrew Knot, Balthus Knot, Hanover Knot, Eldredge Knot… and so the list goes on.
Since the kilt was emphatically shoved out of favour after the ‘45, let’s browse through the breeks. There are the flannels, the corduroy, the moleskin, the crimplene and every other chemical combination imaginable, and all available in skinny, boot, regular, flare, all neatly folded in the shade beneath the universally popular denim. And now, of course, fitted with zip rather than buttons.
Just a century ago, the denim jeans were almost confined to the Wild West cowboys. Now you can sit atop a designer label with a price tag not far removed from the cost of an actual cow.
And if a pair of jeans is a relatively recent arrival in the fashion world, a newer kid on the block is the pair of trainers.
This footwear phenomenon outshines and must surely outsell every other option to tuck your toes into – the boot, the wellie, the sandal, the sneaker, the brogue, the Chelsea, the ‘Doc’, the moccasin, the winklepicker, the clog...
And on top of all that? Well, Harris tweed is definitely the choice for the discerning dresser’s overcoat but the Great War introduced us to the trench coat, then came the duffel coat, the great coat, the bomber jacket. And we all needed an anorak (to sit over our fleece), or a kagoul. Then you could buy a parka insizes large enough to cover all of the above.
And just before you reach for the door, don’t forget your hat in your hurry. The flat bonnet is an enduring Scottish choice, but don’t erase the city days of the bowler, and even the topper. While the balaclava nowadays seems in popular culture to be the favoured headwear of those making unexpected and unofficial bank withdrawals, the tammy, in all its derivations, has withstood the test of time. But there have been trends in the past – the Trilby Homburg, Porkpie, Panama, Boater...
And of course there’s the Beanie, basically a ‘skull sock’, cheap, cheerful and can be crumpled into your pocket.
Take all of the clothing items above, and in every colour you can imagine, and you’ll see that even if you are not aware of it, constantly evolving fashion sneaks into your wardrobe and wraps itself around you.
In this the 80th anniversary year since the start of the Second World War, Woodhouse Clothing has explored how clothing has evolved through the decades and how the fashion ration affected the trends and colours at the time, as the accompanying illustrations show.
The dark days of the Second World War were so austere that the Government even dictated fashion trends in a desperate bid to save as much cloth as possible. Garments manufactured during the era that met frugality regulations were known as utility clothing – the huge trend we know and pull on today.