There was an intense period of change in social, political, and fashion spheres during the 19th Century. Men increasingly adopted a penchant for dark coloured attire; most notably black emerged as a favoured choice of colour among all sectors of the male population. Trends in clothing towards functional simplicity became prominent in the early 1800s. The turn of the century also brought along an up-and-coming group of ultra-fashionable males known as ‘dandies’, the most renown being Beau Brummell. The de facto first English dandy said that pretentious apparel and the wearing of outstanding colours and fabrics for the purpose of drawing attention was an improper way to participate in society.
“Rather he should exercise rigorous restraint in his dress,” as Baudelaire suggests. Another important factor to consider is the bourgeois ethic which surfaced against a backdrop of gender equality struggle. Cultural theorist Flugel supports Baudelaire in his argument that there was a dramatic cutback in the male sartorial wardrobe. Men renounced the desire to be beautifully and elaborately dressed, endeavouring instead to be merely practical and functional. The emergence of the three-piece suit was an example of such changes in sartorial ideology. The austere and ascetic forms of sombre attire were deemed socially ‘correct’. The advancement of aesthetic fashion was left almost entirely to the female population.
In a previous era, royalty signalled their proximity to power through expensive jewels and fabrics. Later on, simplicity and minimalism became a fixture of American ideological discourse. The mass produced suit progressed to symbolise virtuous American polity. A very important phenomenon which took place during the great masculine renunciation was the transformation from brightly coloured sartorial garments to dark and undistinguished clothing. Black was originally only used for ecclesiastical attire or military uniforms. However by around 1830, black trousers and pantaloons were the rule. The result was a 19th Century that bore close resemblance to a perpetual funeral. Nevertheless, black was powerful. There was a close association of black dress with democracy, a bourgeois ethic, and potentially more equality between different classes through the elimination of individuality.
The key idea behind the great masculine renunciation is the desire by all to give an impression of sober propriety, an illusion for gaining respect. An important development which affected fashion was the Industrial Revolution. The inescapable fact of social emulation led to a copying in dress sense of families which prospered in manufacturing industries, caricatured as tall dingy men with a look of hostility behind black hair, clothes and faces. Moreover, clothes were made to a greater extent by machinery rather than labour, facilitated by the mechanization of the sewing machine; this instigated the standardization of male attire.
Breward points to the notion that during the great masculine renunciation, men embraced a sexual, psychological and physical release of the body from Victorian constraints, a denial of human nature. The endeavour for utility over style was predominantly caused by political changes in the period. The tendency towards more indistinctive dress was a result of a new …