Exploring Menswear: Chapter 3 – Neo-Modernist

Sharp tailored suits, with crisp, clean lines, cut from luxurious materials in sombre tones, this wardrobe subverts tradition. The 21st century Neo-Modernist is defined by his ability to look backwards and forwards, to the street and the salon.


French poet and modernist Charles Baudelaire:

“For the perfect dandy…enamoured as he is above all of distinction, perfection in dress consists in absolute simplicity, which is, indeed, the best way of being distinguished.”

Charles Baudelaire

The nineteenth-century definition of modernity was beauty inspired by industrialization and an urban context, with a rejection of ancient ideals of the exquisite.

The twentieth-century definition of modernity expanded to include an emphasis on the use of contemporary technologies and the higher order of structure and function, which was influenced by Bauhaus architectural modernism.

The clean lines and sober formalism of Bauhaus architecture

Another important development within modernity at this time was the emergence of the teenager.  Modernity blended with youth culture at the arrival of the zoot-suited hipsters who set the tone for teenage rebellion across the western world. The notion that “dignity and a resplendent, stylish appearance are incompatible elements of masculinity” were challenged by the Zooties.

Soldier inspecting a couple of zoot suits at the Uline Arena

East Coast Modernists (inspired by Gil Evans and Miles Davis “Birth of Cool” 1950) favoured a pared-down look, modern, sharp, slim and fitted, “a look that stylistically mirrored their music” (Cicolini 2005, 42).

The British Mods came next and “transformed the style into a religion”:

“college-boy smooth cropped hair with a burned-in parting, neat white Italian rounded-collar shirt, short Roman jacket very tailored (two little vents, three buttons), no-turn-up narrow trousers with 17inch bottoms absolute maximum, pointed-toe shoes, and a white mac folded at his side” (Colin MacInnes 1959)

British Mods


  • Working class English youth
  • West Indians
  • Innovation and creativity in the 1950s Caribbean style
  • Savile Row
  • Hollywood
  • East Coast Modernists

The Mod signalled his isolation from middle-class England through his leisure choices (drawing on international urban culture):

  • American burger bars
  • Jazz and R & B
  • Italian cafes and scooters
  • French clubs, films and haircuts

Mod culture rose and fall through to the twenty-first century with the most notable development being a more graphic, Op Art-inspired feel on top of the slim-fitted silhouette of previous years.

Alexander McQueen's take on the Op Art influence of the mods SS2010

Ben Sherman claims to be the original British Mod brand

In twenty-first century England, clean lines and muted colours once more afford relief from the riot and parody of Postmodernism that has dominated British fashion since Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano.

The Neo-Modernist style blends the major concerns of each modernist movement:

  • Contemporary abstraction
  • A focus on structure and materials
  • An internationalist outlook

It also draws on established sartorial traditions, subverting them through materials, form and function.

Cicolini claims that Alexander McQueen epitomizes a Modernist perspective on Savile Row tailoring traditions, in particular his collaboration with Huntsman (one of Savile Row’s most established bespoke houses) in 2002 to create a capsule collection redolent with Modernist influence.

Alexander McQueen now has his own menswear collection which he shows each season and which he defines as ready-to-wear at Savile Row standard,

“The construction and architecture of the pieces employ the core techniques I learned during my four-year apprenticeship on the Row. You have to fully understand the construction of clothes before you can begin to manipulate them. What I’ve done is to take these traditional techniques and inject modernity.”

Some of his looks from various collections

His collections draw on inspiration as varied as: “Sombre morning suits and Jewish ceremonial dress, Mod and Skinhead crombies and blazers, slim-legged Mod trousers and one-button jackets, and 1970s romantic rock’n’roll. What I want to achieve is clothing for individuals, a focus on quality over trend.”

This gives me an idea of what sorts of things inspire other designers, and maybe I’ll start to be drawn to a few different areas myself. I love London designer Kristian Aadnevik’s look, see below.

www.kristianaadnevik.com He only designs womenswear but it is worth taking a look at, some of it is breathtaking. Love this illustration of his.

Kristian Aadnevik


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