At the end of the 18th century there was one of the most significant events in the history of dress. Men gave up their right to all the bright, more elaborate, and more varied forms of clothing. They left all that to the women. Men abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful. They, instead, aimed at being useful in society.
Those who have studied the situation all agree that the causes for these changes were primarily of political and social nature. The also believed that in their origin the causes were associated with the great social upheaval of the French Revolution. One of the purposes of decorative dress was to emphasize distinctions of rank and wealth.
These distinctions, however, were among the chief of those that the French Revolution, with its slogan of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” aimed at abolishing.There were, particularly, two ways in which these new ideals tended to produce a simplification in the dress of the male sex. First, the idea of the brotherhood of man was obviously not going to work with clothing, which by their very nature, emphasized the differences in wealth and station between one man and another.
The tendency to greater simplification was powerfully reinforced by a second aspect of the general change that the Revolution implied. Work had now become more respectable.A major example of such changes was the change in men’s pants. Previously men’s pants were lighter colors, and the pant legs were up to the knees. The men wore stockings and buckled shoes to go with such clothing, and generally was worn by the upper class.
The change came when the pants were changed to go all the way down to the ankles. The pants were also a darker color, did not require fancy shoes, because the shoes were not as noticeable with the longer pant legs.Formerly, all work connected with economic activities of any kind (the production and distribution of goods or services) was considered degrading to the dignity of those who generally set the fashion. With the new ideals of the French Revolution, man’s most important activities were passed in the workshop, the counting-house, or the office. These were the places which had, by long tradition, been associated with a relatively simple attire.The world has become aesthetically poorer for this change, as the result of which brightness and contrast have been replaced by dullness and similarity.
There can be little doubt, however, that the drastic reduction of the decorative element in male clothing has, to some extent, achieved its aim.Two questions came about with these changes in clothing. The first being, why didn’t these influences change women’s costume in the same way as that of men? Taking the history of humanity as a whole, there can be little doubt that men have played a greater part in social life, and have been more easily influenced by social factors, than have women. It can be said that if social and political influences have been the chief factors in bringing about the greater uniformity of men’s clothes, that these factors should not affect the clothing of women.The second question was not as easy to answer as the first. The second question asks how have men been able to bear the sacrifice that the new order has imposed upon them? In general, it would seem that, when a satisfaction is denied, the desires connected with the satisfaction are either inhibited or displaced. Another way to make up for this is that the energy that formerly expressed itself in clothes has probably, to some extent, been successfully employed in other directions.
A greatly increased interest in the external world has been made possible by the fact that work in many new forms has become respectable to members of the fashionable world. Another subtle psychological change may consist in the projection of the exhibitionistic desire on to a person of the opposite sex. A man will usually feel proud when he appears in public accompanied by a beautiful or well-dressed woman.A conclusion can be made that the French Revolution had a large impact on the acceptance of one class of people, rather than subcultures. Although classes are still distinguished today, the simplification of men’s clothing was a large step in the process to eliminate social boundaries.
Manual labor became more respected and well accepted, and the unity of men as a whole became more important after the Revolution.