Men's Style

‘Male Plumage’ Then and Now: The Changing Face of Men’s Fashion

On November 25, 1968, just days after Richard Nixon was elected and John and Yoko posed nude together on the album cover of Two VirginsNewsweek dedicated its cover to—believe it or not—menswear. The cover design featured a cookie-cutter American man with an assortment of the day’s most flamboyant designs—from fur vests and printed pants to turtlenecks with medallions—arranged around him in a mouth-watering orbit of sartorial possibility.

The article inside declared that “the once securely buttoned-down fortress of male fashion is clearly under heavy siege.” It illustrated a deep, and swelling, sea change in American fashion: things were getting wild. “Seldom has male fashion switched, and twitched and distorted itself with the urgency of today … ‘It used to be that the son sneaked in to borrow his father’s tie,’ said James K. Wilson Jr., president of Hart Schaffner and Max Clothes. ‘Now the father is sneaking in to borrow his son’s turtleneck.’” The trend welcomed the hip-length Nehru suit, turtlenecks for formal occasions (especially preferred by auto magnate Henry Ford III), Byzantine medallions, and slim-cut suits. As the article notes, “Canada’s colorful Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is apt to appear at the doors of Parliament in his custom-made otter fur coat.” Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman, represented the U.S. in the Vietnam peace talks in a pair of “snug-fitting Pulitzer pants sporting a turquoise-and-white bulldog pattern.” Flamboyance was a signature of the professional athlete, too—such as Red Sox slugger Ken Harrelson (who “favors powder blue Nehrus”) and Joe Namath (who “purchased a $5,000 double-breasted mink coat.”)

It’s hard not to read the article and think how men’s fashion has evolved. Fashion, as they say, is a sign of the times—and where better to look for evidence of its evolution than on the recent men’s runways in Paris, London, Florence, and Milan. Below, see items on the cover of Newsweek in 1968 next to looks from the men’s Spring/Summer 2014 collections—which debuted this week in London, Florence, Milan, and Paris—to understand just how far “male plumage” has come in the past 45 years.