The History of Menswear Told Through NYPL’s Digital Collection: Part 3

Earlier this year the New York Public Library shared 180,000 prints, maps, manuscripts, and much more in a digital public domain collection for the very first time. In it, we unearthed menswear ads from over one hundred years ago. In this series, we explore them. Discover part three below, and find part one here, and part two here, in case you missed them.

A Startling Novelty In Shirts by artist John Leech in 1854.

Novelty in dress shirts

This cartoon from nearly two hundred years ago shows that men’s fashion was already a big part of culture. Back around this time, the type of shirt you wore depended mostly on what you did for a living. Suits and white shirts of finer materials were mostly worn by business men, while day laborers wore colored shirts in a much sturdier fabric to hide stains and dirt. Even back then, a gentleman had many shirt patterns and colors available to choose from, including polka dots, double and single stripes, and even plaids.

In this scene, a wife is aghast at the dress shirt featuring skeletons that her husband is wearing. Perhaps she’s most upset that he’s suffering from a case of dress shirt muffin top. When a men’s dress shirt isn’t tailored properly through the torso and is then tucked in, all that extra fabric puffs out around the waist creating what most closely resembles the top of a muffin. This is the most prevalent—and in our opinion, the least pardonable—fit problem. That’s why we addressed it with our 12 new-to-world sizes, so you can enjoy a better fit off the rack.

While we might find ourselves a bit scared by this shirt’s skeleton pattern too, we are in full support of playful patterns, such as those in our popovers which bring the perfect amount of edge to any gentleman’s outfit.

What similarities with today’s menswear do you see in this cartoon?

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