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Menswear: Vintage postcards from Tom Phillips

18 September 2012

A beautiful Norfolk jacket

When Tom Phillips, the author of Menswear: Vintage People on Photo Postcards, first put together this collection, he expected to see conformity across menswear in the roughly 40 pre-WW2 years it covered. What he got was a cornucopia of quirks and affectations.

The image below demonstrates this particularly well. Seven young lads are on a day out at the seaside. All are overdressed by today’s standards, but they are also dressed in variety of different cloths, colours and cuts. A three-piece suit or an open-necked sports shirt; cream flannels or voluminous knickerbockers: there are relatively few ‘rules’ on display here. Such it always was, with casualwear in particular. The other seven images continue that theme, in different ways.


Most of these shots were taken in one of the new studios that sprung up at the turn of the century, taking advantage of the Post Office’s new service that allowed both a message and an address to be printed on the back of a card. Men popped into such a studio – carefully arranging a particular image of themselves – examined the image after a short delay and had as many cards printed as they wished.

The book, including 200 such images, is available from October 3 and features a nice introduction from Eric Musgrave. It is published by the Bodleian Library, Oxford and priced at £15, $25.

What sportswear should be likeAll formal, but in different permutationsThe volume and the thickness. The presentation suggests a boy trying to look older than his yearsLove the waistcoat and collarInteresting spacing and height of the jacket buttonsMy favourite ensemble, from the jacket pockets to the shiny boots to the winsome grin