Susannah Frankel: 'As an observer of humanity, Tom Phillips's thoughts are second to none'

 

This week I have stumbled upon the perfect gift for the sartorially discerning man. Menswear: Classic Style From the First Half of the 20th Century is a new book comprising a collection of photo postcards, dating from around 1900-1945, that brings together images of men of style in formal or not so formal fashions and/or circumstances, all edited from the collection of the fine artist Tom Phillips.

Today's obsession with photographs capturing so-called 'real people' in their clothes, as pioneered by i-D in the 1980s and today a more glossy affair courtesy of, say, Scott Schuman (aka The Sartorialist) in fact has its roots here.

As photographic studios in the 20th century proliferated and cameras were mass-produced, it was possible for 'ordinary' folk to have their portraits taken then replicated as a postcard for only a penny. And so here we find men wearing everything from top hat and tails to hunting, shooting and fishing wear.

The foreword is written by Eric Musgrave (formerly of Drapers) and is as scholarly as it is entertaining. The introduction is written by Phillips himself. "No one is, so to speak, less well suited to write about men's fashion than I," he claims. "Indeed I have not owned a suit since my brief singing career ended 50 years ago. At formal events I get by with artistic licence and a wooden bow tie…"

He may not be the archetypal fashion plate, but as an observer of humanity in all its guises and, in this instance, as communicated through wardrobe, Phillips' thoughts and the anthology that goes with them are second to none.E

'Menswear: Classic Style From the First Half of the 20th Century', by Tom Phillips, Bodleian Library Publishing, £14.25

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