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Men’s style books: Sex and Suits by Anne Hollander

Conversations about menswear writing kept coming to the same book: Anne Hollander’s Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress. Though led by a promising title, the content comes as something of a surprise. While enlightened enough to realize that a woman can, possessed of inherently fresh perspective, put together a men’s style book, I wouldn’t expect it to take this form. Sex and Suits has less in common with Cally Blackman’s highly visual 100 Years of Menswear, which primarily shows, than with Nicholas Antongiavanni’s thoroughly textual The Suit, which (in the male manner) primarily tells. Yet like fashion historian Blackman, art historian Hollander has an interest in the evolution of dress, and like Antongiavanni, she centers her analysis around what we today call the men’s suit: how it came about, how we wear it now, and what may become of it in the future.

We live in that future, since Sex and Suits came out in 1994. A curious age: the suit hardly enjoyed a heyday in mid-nineties America, nor do we look back to that era for high watermarks in other areas of men’s dress. But Hollander acknowledges writing at the suit’s low ebb, seizing the moment for Gauguin-ish reflection: where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? She asks not just on behalf of male dressers, but for females as well, dealing with both sex and suits by tracing the relationship of men’s and women’s fashion from the seventeenth century to the then-present, a tale of separation, envy, imitation, and, finally, a new exchange. She establishes early on her sense of “something perpetually more modern about male dress that has always made it inherently more desirable than female dress.” She cares not about its supposed status or power, but “a certain fundamental esthetic superiority, a more advanced seriousness of visual form.”

Read the whole thing at Put This On.

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