Flashback: Retro Ruffled Shirts

1972_flickr_com

I have completed the Black Tie Guide’s Vintage Shirts page which previously only described shirts from the 1930s and ‘40s.  The period covered now extends back to the English Regency and forward to the late 1950s.  I arbitrarily ended the review at the 1960s because that’s when the so-called peacock revolution turned fashion on its head, creating styles I consider more “retro” than vintage (although I’m sure people born after 1990 would fail to see the distinction).

However, it would be shame not to share some of the horrendous images from that era that I’ve got tucked away so I am presenting here a history of the infamous ruffled shirt for your amusement and edification.  If nothing else, let this be a lesson on why you should never take your fashion cues from sources that mindlessly insist anything new is good and everything old is bad.

The decline in formal shirt fashions can be traced back to around 1957, the year that GQ made its first reference to ruffled fronts:

1957_12_Esq

The trend then kicked into high gear when some fashion-forward celebrities wore such shirts to the 1959 Academy Awards.  By 1961 the formal ruffles were sometimes enhanced with coloured edging although they remained relatively small in size:

1961_04_GQ

Pima batiste body, broadcloth bosom, collar and cuffs. Ruffles edges with black and white crochet stitch.

By 1965 the ruffles had grown in size to dominate the shirt front and had even infested the cuffs.  This one is by Lion of Troy, a company that had once offered dress shirts of a distinctly higher calibre:

1965_summer_GQ

In 1967 GQ touted a riot of textures and patterns that included tucks, scallops, accordion pleats, contrasting embroidery and “double ruffles”.  Two of the models were described as pale blue and pale pink, early harbingers of the colour revolution that was to follow shortly:

1967_11_GQ

Lord West models on left, After Six on right.

With the Sixties counterculture in full swing and “formal” now a four-letter word, GQ announced the same year that some celebrities visiting tropical resorts had taken to wearing formal shirts such as this one sans dinner jacket:

1967_Nov_GQ

Dacron and cotton shirt with pleated cuffs.

These groovy shirt styles from 1968 had no need for collars which meant the traditional bow tie could be replaced by the pictured gold-plated “neckpiece” with jade inset:

1968_Nov_GQ

Cotton batiste models “Ruffles ‘n Flourishes” (A) and “Fancy Facade” (B).

Also in 1968 GQ featured this “super blue Prince Ferrari evening shirt with a subtly shaded pink, green and blue lace front.”

1968_02_GQ

Cotton shirt with concealed side buttons and cuffs to match bosom.

Coloured formal shirts arrived in force in 1968 as shown in this pictorial of designer smocks.   (The bright blue number with a back-zippered turtleneck is veering awfully close to qualifying as women’s wear.)

1968_Nov_GQ

Shirt details can be found in the pictorial’s text (which is almost as colourful as the shirts themselves.)

Another example of a shirt being worn without a jacket.  GQ claimed such informal outfits were “host suits”, suitable for hosting formal bashes at one’s home.

White moiré shirt with black and white overlay repeated on the black moiré trousers.

White moiré shirt with black and white overlay repeated on the black moiré trousers.

In case you were wondering if these coloured shirts looked good in context, they didn’t:

1969_summer_GQ

Full-on pirate dress from 1969 aka more jacket-less tropical resort wear:

Shirts of sheer cotton batiste by "Samo of Rome".

Shirts of sheer cotton batiste by “Samo of Rome”.

This 1970 ruffled number is worn with “formal jumpsuit” (two words that should never appear in the same sentence):

Outfit by Oscar de la Renta for After Six, part of the designer's premiere menswear collection.

Outfit by Oscar de la Renta for After Six, part of the designer’s premiere menswear collection.

This 1971 “all-polyester” floral-patterned shirt” is paired with an equally gaudy denim tuxedo:

1971,72_winter_GQ

Outfit by After Six.

A rainbow of bad taste from 1972:

1972,73_winter_GQ
In this 1974 ad After Six proudly proclaims they “banished the boiled shirt” and inexplicably market their replacements alongside plates of calorie-laden food:

1974_12_Esq

More embroidered flowers:

1975_after_six

Yet another twist – ruffles in contrasting colours to match the suit:

1975_after_six
This 1976 ad would be one of the last to promote ruffled shirts:

1976_after_six
The fashion world finally began to return to its senses in the mid-1970s when the hippies of the Sixties began morphing into the Yuppies of the Eighties.  Their developing taste for classically styled menswear was foreshadowed by the 1978 edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette which advised that while off-white or pastel shirts were acceptable, ruffled flouncy shirts were not in good taste “and never were, in the opinion of many.”

10 Comments

  1. David V

    I have only seen 1 “formal jumpsuit.” it was worn by the “hip” photographer who shot our wedding. Eyebrows were raised.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      That “formal jumpsuit” could easily be hide with a close jacket, and become a efficient navel covering, if someone raised as an alternative contemporary, that would be a solution. Different story for that hideous shirt, that garbage has no solution!!!

      Reply
  2. David V

    I remember having to wear a pale green ruffled shirt for my brother’s wedding. Of course, it was imperative I match with the dress of the bridesmaid with whom I “stood up.”

    Reply
  3. guy miller

    Peter: I agree that the ruffle shirts, formal jumpsuits, and light blue tuxedos with clover leaf lapels look pretty silly today. But I can remember renting those tuxedos in the 60’s and 70’s and our customers simply loved the look. I think the thing that is hard to understand about our business is that our customers are males from 15 to 30. They are going to a prom or their wedding and they want to wear the very latest fashion…..not necessarily what is proper.

    I’m 64 and have seen a lot of changes in our industry. I wouldn’t wear these outlandish styles but if you intend to make it in the tuxedo rental business you had better be aware of the latest trends and make them available to your customers..

    Guy’s Formalwear, Inc.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I don’t blame the formalwear industry for making atrocious attire any more than I blame the TV industry for making Jersey Shore and Keeping up with the Kardashians. What bothers me is that there are so many people who crave this kind of crap that producing it is very lucrative.

      I was a young teenager in the ’70s and even at that age I was acutely aware that the fashions were hideous (not to mention really uncomfortable thanks to omnipresent polyester fabrics). I couldn’t comprehend why everyone thought otherwise, especially knowing that people had dressed so much better prior to that time. When the preppie movement brought classic styling and natural fabrics back into vogue in the early ’80s I felt totally vindicated, even knowing that most people were jumping on the trend simply because it was the latest thing and not because they could see its timeless merits.

      I believe this all stems from the the “don’t trust anyone over 30″ generation who bought into their own fallacies so much they developed a permanent phobia of growing up. Now instead of a world where children emulate their parents it is frequently the opposite. Adult values of wisdom and experience are now cause for ostracization while juvenile immaturity and superficiality are celebrated and rewarded.

      And so it is that we are taught to ridicule traditional fashions no matter how aesthetically superior they are, and to embrace the vulgar, self-indulgent antics of the latest Real Housewives cast.

      But that’s just me . . .

      Reply
      1. guy miller

        A couple of weeks ago a father of the groom came by our store to be fitted for his son’s wedding. While he was being fitted he “proudly” showed me a picture from the ’70’s of him in a lime green tuxedo at his prom. He admitted he would NEVER wear it again but that he wouldn’t take anything for his prom night and the lime tuxedo he rented from us. You would be surprised at how many times I have heard this same story over the years. I’m not going to even try to justify formal fashions for the young. It is what it is.

        This is not to say that I don’t agree with your idea about what is proper to wear at a formal event. I very much enjoy your articles and regularly “share” them on our facebook page.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall

          That’s a very interesting insight. Thanks for sharing it (and for supporting the Guide).

          To be fair, I generally give prom wear a free pass when it comes to black tie protocol. Yes, a traditional tuxedo will almost always look better than a trendy alternative regardless of the wearer’s age but high school boys are still growing up and don’t necessarily have the faculties or experience to understand the difference between formal wear and novelty costumes. (My 1980s white dinner jacket and matching burgundy bow tie and cummerbund prom outfit being a case in point!) My beef is when their fathers choose to dress the same way: You’ll note that the pictorials and advertisements above are aimed exclusively at adults.

          Reply
  4. Hal

    There is a certain irony in After Six’s tag line in the last advert – ‘Don’t trust anyone else with your groom’ – seeing the bizarre mishmash of formal evening wear they’ve dressed him in for what appears to be a daytime wedding.

    I have to confess I have a 70s shirt in light purple with a lace front. I have never worn it as part of a formal evening outfit, I actually rather like and have worn it as a party shirt a number of times.

    Reply
  5. William Wright

    I just cannot resist! I first came to Formal Wear in high school-had to wear a lot of it-and the ruffled shirt was the favored shirt of the time. I inherited a white Lion Of Troy model from my aunt Francis and wore it to my DeMolay meetings as well as any other events requiring Formal Wear. It was able to use cuff links and I really liked the collar point length (semi-spread style) as it did not interfere with my bow ties and actually showed them off nicely. Later on, as the need for more shirts arose, I acquired some other ruffled shirts that were trimmed in any color you might name-I guess that was the great coordinated color look at the time-match the bow tie to the shirt ruffle color, but in the end, I preferred to run with black, wine or just good old white in trim assuring that even a wide black velvet bow tie would go with all my suits and the tuxedo I had.
    After high school and my first run at college, I kept on with the wearing of these ‘fashion wonders’ but also started to learn that this was not true Black Tie. While I did have some pleated shirts that were three studs (instead of the four I now wear), I only wore them for really ultra-formal events, and wound up breaking so many studs putting them in, it was a joke. Thank goodness all of those were the cheap rental type.
    I guess my turning point was around 1982, when the attached wing collar came in and it had French Cuffs (yes, wrong but still viable). I went rapidly from looking like a clown to looking manly, learning how to insert mushroom backed and pin back studs without breaking them, coordinating bows and cummerbunds for best advantage (I do believe color can be introduced, you just don’t overdo it), and finally getting really good with tying up bow ties so well, I could do it without looking. All of this later activity was done with a proper tuxedo, tuxedo shirt (pleats), trousers held up with braces (button only) and jewelry that did not break apart. And yes, let’s not forget the mirror image of patent leather for shoes. When I first put on proper Black Tie (around 25 or 26) I could not believe how great it looked and I still cannot believe it today. I’ll don a tuxedo quicker than anybody these days and it’s been that way since high school; but now it’s proper and the looks I usually get indicate that more people approve of being dressed up than just showing up in whatever suits them (jeans, ball cap, casual t-shirt with offensive writing). And if you go to the trouble of dressing in Black Tie you really get commended for your dressing efforts. I’m actually glad the outgrowing all of my high school ‘formal’ clothing actually provided a ready excuse for donating them to a worthy cause and then obtaining all new Formal Wear including three proper tuxedos and a tail suit came when it did. I’m sure I wouldn’t have cared about dressing up at all, if these ‘fashion escapes’ were still with us as new Formal merchandise. It also shows that you cannot trust certain industries and the rental shops to know what true quality Black Tie is.
    As to the bow tie, I’m very glad it went back to a 1.5 inch or 2.25 inch width. Those big ones from the 70’s just did not look like a proper bow tie should look. It also makes it easier to wear a bow tie in the daytime, and yep, I’ve been a bow tie wearing guy all through life, not just a recent convert to it. {and yes, you should do a BTB on that piece of crazy formal wear too}

    Reply
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