Formal wear evolves from powdered wigs to colored suits

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

With Birthday Ball right around the corner, everyone is hoping to dress their best for the anticipated occasion.

Attendees are encouraged to follow formal dress code, but can also play on the theme for the evening: “Enchanted Forest.”

We’re likely going to see many floral prints and floor-length gowns for feminine-presenting students, as well as a sea of green. For masculine-presenting students, suits are expected.

Men’s formal wear has evolved ever since Beau Brummell switched from court outfits and wigs to a simple dark suit with no wig or accessories.

According to an article for Love To Know by Robin Dutt, “Brummell made formality look simple – challenging the brightly colored costumes in feminine fabrics like silk and velvet for the sharp masculinity of well-cut wool and flannel.”

Up until the 1950s, all men were expected to own a suit in preparation for a formal event.

The male uniform for formal events is a dark, almost black jacket, a white shirt, and a pair of pants the same color as the blazer.

 Accessories like cufflinks are optional, and men are no longer expected to wear a top hat (although if you want to wear one to Birthday Ball, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed).

Over the years, slight changes have been made, but men’s formal wear stayed consistent.

“All attempts to introduce color to male formal attire have failed or have been derided. A shiny, colorful, patterned male evening ensemble is unthinkable,” Dutt writes. “Such is the continuing power and influence of tradition.”

While Dutt believes that men’s formal wear will continue to stay the same, many disagree.

A different colored suit, like blue or green, gives masculine guests more options than just a black suit. They can also embellish their outfits with accessories, or can even include feminine influences in their outfits, like bright colors and patterns.

Changing ideals of gender roles, specifically how male-presenting and female-presenting people dress, has encouraged many celebrities to dip their toes into different fashion styles and trends. Suits can come in a variety of colors and patterns, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some floral suits for the spring.

When it comes to women’s formal wear, changes were made depending on weather and technological advancements.

Undergarments changed frequently, with most women wearing a chemise under a corset for most of the 18th and 19th century.

The modern bra was invented in 1913, and clothing was ever-changing in the 20th century. According to an article by Tim Lambert titled “A History of Women’s Clothes,” “a revolution in women’s clothes occurred in 1925. At that time women began wearing knee-length skirts.”

During the 1900s and 1910s, women wore long dresses and hobble skirts, as they were not allowed to show their legs.

Knee-length skirts grew in popularity during the 1940s and 50s, and were then back in style in the 1980s as more and more women entered the workforce.

According to an article titled “A Brief History of Women’s Workwear,” “during the 1970s [and] 80s, women began wearing trousers as not only a fashion statement but a statement for equality. As power dressing became the ‘it’ look of the time, as more and more women were entering working environments, suits and pant suits really became a staple within women’s wardrobes.”

Similar to a man’s suit, many women owned suits and pant suits during the 1970s and 80s.

Thanks to their popularity during this time period, many women were encouraged to wear trousers and blazers to work, they were no longer confined to long skirts and blouses.

The same can be said for formal events like Birthday Ball.

Although floor-length gowns are expected, formal jumpsuits or pantsuits could also be worn by female-presenting students.

What matters most, however, is making sure you’re wearing something you like and are comfortable in. Following the dress code is important, but not necessary.

Photo by Izze Rios

Featured Photo Caption: Formal-wear has evolved over time. While specific dress code words like “Black tie” and “Cocktail” denote specific attire, “Formal” overall has evolved to hold a more widely accepted meaning in regards to clothing.

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