In the past, we have written elaborate pieces on many kinds of overcoats, and today I would like to present to you a very special set of vintage French fashion illustrations from the early 1950s that not only will show you the men’s fashion at the time but will also show you how proportions and aesthetics were manipulated long before Photoshop.
Fashion Illustration & Proportion
Today, magazines spend a lot of money on skilled photo editors who walk a fine line between pure illusion and enhanced reality. Back in the day, fashion illustrators simply drew the models so they would match the Zeitgeist in a more simple “one-step” process. As such, many things were over-exaggerated – the 1930s gentlemen in Apparel Arts were famous for their V-built, broad shoulders and long legs. While ideal proportions have changed over time, they have always remained an idealistic view of what men should look like.
If you look at the illustrations from GIROUD & RIVOIRE Lyon-Paris, you’ll notice that all men have a slim waist, a masculine upper body with manly shoulders and long legs. It seems like tall thin models have always been en vogue and if you think about Victorian times, taller footmen earned more money than their shorter counterparts. Obviously, society has been in favor of tall men for a while and that was reflected in the illustrations. Of course, the clothes these models were wearing enhanced this very effect. While this was a general tendency in men’s fashion advertisements, this set of illustrations is over the top. The heads are surprisingly small, especially compared to the shoulders, while the shoes are huge and the midsection reminds me of the dresses women fancied in the 1920s. The chap in the trench coat inspired overcoat looks almost like he wears a corset and the shoulder-to-waist ratio is enormous.
50s Clothing – Overcoats
That being said, let’s look at the stylistic elements of the overcoats:
Ulster Variation & Trouser Length
First up is this interpretation of a classic ulster coat. Unlike the typical 8×4 button front, it only features a 4×2 front, which emphasizes the length of his torso. The large scale, grey herringbone pattern is very classic and could be easily worn today, just like the soft brown felt hat with a folded brim. The club stripe tie adds a colorful accent to the ensemble. Also, note the cut of the trouser hem: because the leg is rather narrow, the trousers are cut rather short and only feature a light break that reveals a bit of the socks. At the moment, most fashionable men like to wear narrow trousers, yet more often than not, they wear the trousers too long. With a narrow hem, it is impossible to have the back hem touch the heel of the shoe because it is just too narrow. Instead, wear cuffs and go for a shorter look.
Checked Single Breasted Overcoat
While I like the red windowpane overcheck of this coat, I am not too fond of the cut. First of all, it has a sack style which is in line with the overcoats of the time, but I don’t think it is very flattering for a slim person. On the other hand, if you are a big guy this is perfect. The angled slit pockets are not my favorite and overall the buttoning point seems low due to the super long torso. Also, the head is too small, and the hat doesn’t fit the wearer properly. Note, the wearer does not wear black or brown gloves, but a very dark shade of beige. Back then, men wore all kinds of different colored gloves, which adds a unique note to one’s outfit.
The wrap coat is rarely seen anymore. The last time I came across one was at Chris Despos. It is in fact the predecessor of the polo coat, and personally, I think it is a great addition if you already have the basic styles covered. Here it was paired with a large, striped scarf, reddish fox brown suede gloves, a grey felt hat, cuffed light grey flannel trousers and brown derby shoes. Overall, a decent classic color selection which is unique because of the green blue striped scarf. So, even if you wear a very classic fall outfit, one signature item is enough to make the look your own, so experiment with your outfits and see what you can come up with!
Full Cut Coats & Contrasting Socks
As highlighted before, the man on the left wears a trench coat inspired overcoat with a belt, Ulster collar and vertical pockets. His shoulders seem at least twice as wide as the waist. On the right, we have an overcoat with raglan sleeves. Once again, the gloves are never black but brown or grey and surprisingly, the derby shoes seem to feature a double sole and are brown, which reminds me more of Austro-Hungarian shoes rather than contemporary French shoes. Just like in the other pictures, the trouser hems are narrow, cuffed and short enough so you can always get a glimpse of the socks, which are contrasting shade of grey in this case.
The Paletot Variation
It seems like the Ulster collar was very popular back in the fifties because it is shown on almost every overcoat. Apart from the full cut, the most interesting detail here is the subtle half circle pattern of the overcoat fabric. 50s clothing often was tailored from rather heavy, mottled cloth that draped well and was very different from what you can find today. One of the most respected fabric weavers back then was Reid & Taylor. Although the name is still in existence today, the fabrics back then were of a different caliber. Personally, I am a big fan of yellow gloves and in combination with the sunflower yellow and red polka dot scarf as well as the orange socks, this outfit is certainly among the more colorful ones.
Diagonal Twill Guards Coat
A Guards Coat is a very dapper overcoat, yet it is rarely seen anymore today because it features a belted back. This version features a bold diagonal twill fabric in mid grey that is even rarer. I have been looking for a fabric like this for a while, so if you know where to buy it, please let me know in the comments. In my opinion, the diagonal twill is more subtle than a glencheck or a houndstooth, yet more refined than a solid sharkskin.
On the left we see a dark suit in a 4×1 silhouette, which is sometimes also referred to as Kent Fasson, named after the Duke of Kent who popularized that style in the 1930s and early 1940s. Overall the proportions seem off due to the unnaturally long torso. Generally, the buttoning point for this silhouette is below the natural waist but choosing the exact buttoning point can be very challenging because it really changes the whole look. Sometimes, you see dinner jackets with a 4×1 silhouette and a shawl collar, which can also look very debonair. The suit on the right features a typical 50s suit silhouette. The gorge is much lower than today, and hence the lapels are shorter and about 3.5″ wide. Front darts were either not as pronounced or were absent altogether, and the front quarter were rather closed. Also, jackets were worn longer than they are currently. Personally, I don’t find this suit style very pleasing, although I am very fond of the solid dark brown tweed fabric with dark knobs because this kind of fabric adds texture to an outfit and makes an ensemble more casual. If you ever have the chance to get your hands on a fabric like this, make the investment because you likely won’t run across it again. Considering that texture in men’s outfits is very popular once again, I am hopeful that a weaver will pick it up.
What do you think of these fashion illustrations and the 50s clothing silhouette? What details would you like to incorporate to your outfits?