God Bless These American Style Inventions
We celebrate the Fourth of July with these US style classics – and show you what to wear them with.
Given that it’s 4 July – a day on which we generally tend to focus on what’s good about the US – let’s take a moment to consider some iconic American design. Let’s raise a glass, first of all, to the Jeep, the Weber grill and the martini (a holy trinity of form, function and redoubtable strength). But let’s also consider what the US has done for us in terms of style. There’s a certain unfussiness about the best American contributions in this department. Think, for example, of the Mr Jack Purcell sneaker, or the Brooks Brothers sack suit. It’s no accident, therefore, that the most renowned American men approached dressing with an enviable nonchalance, and still looked terrific. You know the crowd: Mr Paul Newman, Mr Steve McQueen, Mr Gary Cooper. Alright, Mr Fred Astaire was an Anglophile who worshipped at the altar of Savile Row, but perhaps that just shows that Americans are also smart enough to recognise quality when they see it. Of course, many of the US’s own style innovations have gone on to achieve such ubiquity that they have defined new categories in menswear. Here are our top three favourites:
The Baseball Cap
It’s the US’s game, of course, so it’s no surprise that the cap and brim started, according to legend, in 1860, which was at the onset of the American Civil War, to put it in perspective. The hat was referred to as a Brooklyn cap, after the Brooklyn Excelsiors, who first wore them on the field, before others quickly followed their lead. The brim was much shorter then, and the hats were much softer and floppier. But in the ensuing years, the brims became bigger and the teams had their logos affixed to them. Now the baseball hat is so popular it’s worn with no relation to the sport whatsoever. Remember, if you do happen to see a man in a well-worn hat from his hometown team, you know you can trust him. If it’s a New York Yankees hat, however, you should think twice.
The Denim Jacket
Levi’s essentially invented jeans and has dominated the market since the 1870s, which may be the best winning streak any company has ever had. Their first denim jacket was made in 1880. At that time, it was a rigid work jacket meant to stand up to a proper beating by miners, cowboys and railway engineers. The jacket moved into the mainstream when it was worn by Mr James Dean in the early 1950s. But the actual jacket that defines them all is the Levi’s Type III, the so-called “trucker jacket”, which was introduced in 1962. In this variation, the denim was washed to achieve a softer finish, the stitching was orange (it had been yellow), the fit was more tailored. It has since been endlessly imitated and recreated, to the point that the denim jacket has become a core part of almost every brand’s men’s collection. Not bad, eh?
Not every American piece of clothing looks better beaten up. The tuxedo, which dates to 1886, was developed in Tuxedo Park, in New York’s Hudson Valley. Legend has it that a group of socialites, including a certain Mr Griswold Lorillard, were seen attending parties in dinner jackets without tails. The term “tuxedo” referred to that style of jacket until the 1930s, when it was paired with black trousers with silk piping. Some have tried to snatch credit away from its American origins and credit it to a British naval jacket made by venerable Savile Row tailor Mr Henry Poole. But today, we’re giving the US its due. Take the lead from the legendary Mr Humphrey Bogart, who wore his tux with peaked lapels. Mr Bogart knew that was the way it was meant to be done, just as he knew that God intended martinis to be made with gin.
Mr David Coggins’ book Men And Style, (Abrams) is out this October