THE explosion of colour and shockingly outrageous styling that hit the London menswear scene in the 1960s was seen as a breakthrough for male attire long captive in sombre formality.
Yet viewing some of the examples of this style revolution at a new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum one has to wonder what happened to all that promise of new freedom and male peacock-ery.
Despite the much vaunted casualness of modern male dress and repeated efforts at dress-down clothing for work, the truth is that the classic business suit in all its traditional glory remains as firmly entrenched in international business circles as ever.
Seeing the cream brocade suit and a multi-coloured seersucker striped version presented in the V & A display, one could perhaps understand why. These creations, so outré at the time as to prompt one of the wearer's to be asked to leave Annabel's nightclub (not such a fashionable place after all then) look decidedly silly and effected in the light of today. One had all the appearance of an outfit made out of curtaining, the other a razzle dazzle number to wow them on stage.
But the '60s undoubtedly succeeded in breaking the old rules. Colourful shirts, mix'n match jackets and trousers, lighter cloths and new patterns became acceptable, even if largely confined to the casual dress category. From the 60s on, men's clothing became much more interesting, varied and relaxed.
So it is clearly a testament to its intrinsic wearability, practicality and global style that the classic suit retains its pre-eminence for business wear. Savile Row tailors would say they 'could have told you so' if they weren't far too polite.
For those interested in fashion, the exhibition, featuring women's as well as men's wear, is well worth a visit – it is on until next January. Names such as Tom Gilbey, John Stephens (King of Carnaby Street) Mr Fish (of Kipper tie fame) John Michaels and Lord John remind us of the Swinging decade, which the V & A curator maintained sagely was a period of "spectacular creativity". Would that we could have a smidgin of that now.