Clothes Make the Man



Gail Cariou, 2003

Frock coat, morning coat, waistcoat, tuxedo . . . All these garments were familiar to every fashionable man in the 1890s. Only the tuxedo (trendy 100 years ago) has endured as a classic symbol of the fashionable man. Today the latest fashion for some men means Versace or Parasuco. For others, it means a favourite motorcycle jacket or beloved Canadiens' hockey jersey. Still, despite evidence to the contrary, few men are willing to admit to more than a slight interest in fashion.

During the 18th century, men's interest in fashion flourished. Fashionable men displayed their wealth, taste and social class by wearing extravagant clothing in brilliant colours. Men's exquisitely decorated coats and waistcoats vied for attention with women's elaborate gowns.

In the early 19th century, fashion became associated with women's interests. Fashion was no longer considered an appropriate concern for men. Publicly, men claimed indifference to fashion, but continued to express power, class, wealth and individuality through their clothing. For the past two centuries, dark colours and severe styles, thought to be consistent with the serious "masculine" pursuits of business and politics, dominated men's wardrobes. Too keen an interest in fashion was considered unmanly, but men still found ways to express themselves through their clothing.

This tour looks at the clothing worn by fashionable, well-to-do Montreal men in the late 19th century. Their wardrobes reveal much about changing attitudes that influenced men's fashion choices.

Definitions of masculinity have evolved, and so have definitions of appropriate clothing for men. As the 21st century unfolds, the role of men continues to change. How will these changes be reflected in their wardrobes? How fashionable is too fashionable--for a man?