Even the buttonhole on a lapel originated because of weather considerations. Here: the famed Cifonelli lapel “Milanese” buttonholes on a Yak Sport Coat
As a kid, I would watch my Grandfather take his Hemingway journal in hand with a coal-black fountain pen, click the top of the fountain pen up and down a few times, and then religiously record not only the temperature outside, but strange details like the phases of the moon and how many centimeters of rain filled a wide-rimmed metal cup that stood alone in a level open field.
I never asked my grandfather why he journaled such details, and still wonder if he was trying to compare or predict the weather, or maybe unlock a few gardening secrets…or whether it was just the culture at the time to pay attention to such things.
A Man Writing by Candlelight. The lost art of journaling gives way to a loss of observation and of paying attention to details. Terbrugghen, Hendrick, Dutch (1588 – 1629).
In taking a look at history, it is easy to notice that at one time, men made style choices according to the weather, and seemed to look forward to doing so. But, decades rolled on, and the flair for dressing for the outdoor elements was reduced to considering whether to wear a coat or not and how heavy or light a suit fabric happened to be.
At some point, no longer did style and function work together as it did in the past and no longer was there much notice about weather in regard to style choices. Other than being annoyed with heat, rain, or snow, regard for the weather became more of a subject to talk about during awkward silences.
THE MEDIEVAL ERA — TEN CENTURIES OF BEING TOLD WHAT TO WEAR
When we take notice of the medieval era ranging from the 5th to 15th century, we see a time in some parts of the world when clothing choices were often dictated according to a type of caste system and a person’s clothing held real meaning to the point that a man’s attire told a story about the person wearing the clothes. Aside from the dictates, a peasant wearing clothes perceived to be worn strictly by the elite, would be seen as an imposter. And so, style and design decisions were based on social status at this time, but clothing design was also tied into weather considerations.
“Starting in the 12th century, knights wore a long surcoat over their armour. The surcoats were often sleeveless and extended mid-calf with slits in the bottom front and back. Historians believe that the practice of wearing surcoats was borrowed from the Turks during the crusades, and their purpose was to reflect heat, thus protecting maille from direct sun, which heated the maille and the soldier inside. The surcoat also serves in areas of poor weather to keep the rain and muck of battle away from the easily corroded maille-links. (Wikipedia)”
THE ARRIVAL OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Flash forward to the time of the 15th century Italian Renaissance ( 150-year period ) when freedom of expression lead to exciting and new ways of communicating elegance. The beret was invented, delicate embroidery was introduced and “fabric cutting” borne of high craftsmanship became an art form. Fabrics that felt tactilely pleasing could be embellished with jewels and dyed in expressive colors. And while the quality of clothing indicated success and prestige, something new happened…men of all classes could now work towards expressing their inner elegance with no limitations placed on what they could or could not wear.
As centuries followed, a respect for nature also held strong as interest in astronomy, astrology, gardening, and observation remained important.
Moroni Prospero Alessandri (1560) wears the iconic jerkin, a short, close fitting jacket, often worn without sleeves (perhaps a predecesor to the waistcoat?). Later, it became stylish to unbutton several top vest buttons in order to create a narrow waisted silhouette. Jerkins were issued to British Soldiers in WWI as a measure to protect against the cold, but still allow freedom of movement. Leather jerkins can still be found on the style-front today.
THE PERIOD OF THE CLASSIC SUIT — 1800s – PRESENT DAY
In the late 1800s, details of tailoring began to merge more with the details of the weather and function met style in full glory. One of the finest examples of the function and style union is the working notched lapel with a buttonhole.
The Notched Lapel With Buttonhole
The seemingly decorative lapel notch and buttonhole was originally a functioning buttonhole, that made it possible to button two lapels together to shield the wearing from harsh wind and cold weather. Still, in this 1810 portrait of Ingres of Marcotte d’Argenteuil, we see that Marcotte has embraced the idea of adorning his button hole with a decorative red button pin.
Tailors began offering trousers with turnups (cuffs), that raised the pant legs just enough to avoid rain, snow, and mud from soiling the fabric at the bottom of the trouser legs. I can’t help but think that the fairer sex must have noticed what a clever gesture it was for men to don their tailor made trouser turnups during rainy, snowy or muddy days. Such a gesture stirs the spirit of forethought and the visual pleasure of small details.
At this point in time (1907), trouser cuffs were worn on rainy days to avoid getting the trousers wet. Notice the additional touch of the Boater Hat, designed specifically for sultry warm days. Frank Eugene Stieglitz and Emmy.
Channeling History … Trouser cuffs and umbrellas, a perfect combination. Hackett-London RTW
The Boater Hat
Between around 1880 and 1940, the boater hat was the go-to hat during the most heated summer days. Venetian gondoliers paddled down the canals of Venice with heads smartly topped with these breathable, lightweight straw chapeaux, unabashedly wrapped with a wide-ribbon around the hat-rim. And, other men around the world channeled this spirit of staying cool, shaded and comfortable, but at the same time–stylish, especially during the dog days of summer.
The boater is a fairly formal hat and signifies the onset of summer. In Philadelphia, Straw Hat Day kicks off on May 15th.
Gaziano and Girling Brogues
Perhaps the most astonishing story about the evolution of men’s style and how it relates to the weather, is the rags to riches story of the Brogue shoe.
In the Scottish Highlands, farmers needed a good outdoor walking shoe. They had grown tired of walking through wet and treacherous earth, and then waiting for days for their shoes to dry out before they could wear them again. These farmers looked to boot makers to craft special Brogue shoes with working “perforations” to drain excess moisture out of the shoe and to accelerate the drying time of the shoe at the end of the day by increasing the breathability of the raw materials. Around the same time, Irish boot makers began producing functional Brogues as well.
These perforations (actual small holes) in the Brogue shoe had a fascinating mass appeal. Apparently, a real affinity for the design of the perforations on Brogue shoes ensued, to the point that the perforations themselves became an art form. At some point the “holes” on brogues became “faux holes” which served only as a design element of the shoe, with little functional benefit in place.
In a matter of time, elegant gentlemen began to take a fancy to the look of the brogue shoe and in a few short decades, the brogue evolved from a simple countryside shoe to a male semi-formal shoe, while creating a ”rage” for women’s brogues at the same time.
A CERTAIN SPIRIT
In looking at historical features like buttonholes on lapels and perforations on brogues, it sometimes brings meaning to know the story behind the gestures. And it is somewhat strange, compared to the way clothes are designed today, to imagine that in days past, fine clothes and shoes were designed for performance (and these performance features often became style elements later on), as well as for good fit and aesthetics. But, somewhere along the way, the consideration for garment performance became negated in favor of mainly style considerations.
Some say that everything is in the details. Waking on a rainy morning and knowing that this is the day to wear the suit coat with extra lapel buttonholes, cuffed trousers and brogue shoes makes the spirit of a rainy day a little lighter. And,even if the brogue perforations and the lapel buttonholes are not functioning…still, you know the difference. You know the story.
Sonya Glyn Nicholson. Senior Editor.