The Rich History of Menswear

July 1st, 2014

All good design starts with utility in mind. A great designer not only makes something visual appealing, but also functional.

Since menswear is so deeply rooted in tradition and history, some design elements have stuck around for centuries – whether we use them for their intended purpose or wear them simply as a nod to the gentlemen of generations before us.

Here are some fun examples of classic menswear designs that were originally created for a utilitarian purpose, but now are simple aesthetic reminders of the good (and not so good) old days.

Trench Coat Warfare


Trench coats were originally designed during WWI by the British Armed Forces to protect their soldiers – yup, in the trenches.

The D-rings along the belt (which are still seen on many of today’s overcoats from classic brands like Burberry) were originally intended as an easy-access place for soldiers to hang their grenades.

The shoulder epaulets also seen above were invented in the 18th century to prevent cross-body shoulder harnesses (which carried anything from bayonets, cartridge boxes, swords, etc) from slipping. They were also used to attach shoulder ornaments which signified military rank.

The “gun flap” (on the front of the right shoulder – not shown above) had a duel purpose. 1) It overlaid the closure of the coat to prevent water from leaking inside and 2) it protected the shoulder from the harsh recoil of WWI era riffles (some were lightly padded).

Cummerbund Crumb Catcher


The cummerbund was originally designed for royalty to catch crumbs at the dinner table and hold small things like ticket stubs (and probably drugs). Remember this next time you’re wearing one to cover up your waistline at a formal event: pleats facing upward!

The Ticket Pocket


The ticket pocket is pretty straightforward – it was invented by country men as a dedicated place to keep their train tickets. I’m a man of tradition so I still use it to organize my tickets – unfortunately out in LA they’re usually parking tickets.

“Hacking pockets” or simply “slanted pockets” are also a carry-over from old world country living. They were cut on a slant for easier access while “hacking” (or leisurely horseback riding).

Riding Vents & Surgeon’s Cuffs


Speaking of horseback riding, “side vents” or “double vents” were designed to make it easier, and more elegant, for a man to mount and dismount his horse. Today they are the favored back-side of suit jackets for similar reasons. You don’t have to sit on the tail of your jacket, and the back panel remains cleanly draped when you have your hands in your trouser pockets.

“Surgeon’s Cuffs” or “functional sleeve buttonholes” were originally invented so that surgeon’s could literally perform surgery without having to remove their tailored jackets (how about that for dedication to staying presentable and professional!). They would unfasten all of the sleeve buttons, roll them up over the elbows, and get down to bloody business. More recently they were seen as the hallmark of a “bespoke suit” although today everybody, including fast fashion retailers, are using them…so all it does now is limit the amount by which you can lengthen or shorter the sleeves on a RTW jacket.

Lapel Buttonhole Closure


Many people believe the buttonhole on the left lapel originated as a boutonniere holder – which for many it did. However, earlier accounts signify that it’s original purpose was to fasten the front panels (with a button hidden on the underside of the right lapel) and provide further protection from the elements.

Peacoat Passenger Pockets

40 copy copy 2

You know those weird pockets on your peacoat that are awkwardly high to reach? They are not for you. They are for the passenger behind you on your motorcycle, to keep their hands warm as they hang on for dear life. A carry-over from WWII.

There you have it. Want to learn something about menswear? Pick up a history book!

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Shop Custom Menswear Made in America


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  • Tony Bannister

    The outfit in the “ticket pocket” picture is fantastic. Do you have more pics/info of that?

  • Atavist

    Is that a linen tux in #2? If so, from where?

  • JHilla

    Dan, your story about the cummerbund really opened my eyes. I’m gonna start wearing a cummerbund with everything since I’m such a messy eater. I’m just trying to figure out fabric combos. I was thinking either high twist rat ass or shiny fucking silk with skull and crossbones.

    Cummerbunds were used in lieu of pockets when dress trousers didn’t have them TREPANYAAAAAYYYYYY

  • Maxx-Scorpio Uzuh

    Hey Dan and all at TSB Men, just wanted to ask a question. I’ve been subscribed to the blog for a while now, but lately I haven’t been getting the new posts… Just wanted to know if it was occurring with just me or have others brought this to your attention as well. Either way, let me know what I can do to fix it!

  • Cody

    That brown suit is on point. In other news, I just learned about multiple things I never had an answer for. The best being the cummerbund.

  • Gazman

    Informative post – thank you. Functional buttons are a pain in the proverbial, as it makes altering sleeve lengths a problem. Why they bother having them is beyond me. Always worth asking a seller on eBay if the jacket has working or nonworking sleeve buttons.

  • Christian

    In the Lapel Buttonhole Closure segment, it should be “its” and not “it’s.”

  • ♚Maciox♚

    Apart from the Trench coat never did I think of the history behind those menswear

  • Mazilli

    I’ll be sharing these history tips during conversation this coming 4th of July. Thanks, great article

  • Juan

    I second the request for a part II! The more informative kind of posts are always my favorite. I am fascinated by the history and the origins of pretty much everything, and being a huge menswear enthusiast, I love reading and hearing about different kinds of fabric and pieces, and I was literally blown away by most of the facts in this article.
    I obviously knew about surgeon’s cuffs and ticket pockets, but I have a vintage Burberry mac and never questioned myself about that little D-ring on the belt. I actually use it most of the time to “hang” my keys, as the pockets are pretty deep and I find them a bit uncomfortable to use.
    The bit about the peacoat pockets was also pretty eye-opening! Awesome stuff, thanks TSB!

  • Faham Abdus

    cummerbund was originated in india as the name suggests (cummer=waist, bund=something that encloses). And I think it originated to keep coins (wallet is relatively new in India) and conceal the waistline of frock-like pleated undershirt (kurta).

  • Khaled Nasr

    How dope is this article!!! Single best article on TSB! Damn I just learned some cool historical facts! Thanks for this article Dan!! I smiled the whole time reading this!

  • TJ

    Pretty cool article. It combines two things I love, history and menswear. I knew some of these, but definitely learned a thing or two. This is one of the things I really like about men’s clothing and how timeless it can be.

  • Spencer

    What a cool post. Cheers guys, keep it up!

  • LouCaves

    This was an awesome, awesome post.

    I love anything origin related, whether it’s an X-Men movie (lol) or men’s clothing.

    Thanks, TSB.

  • Jeff McAllister

    Very interesting post, and one that certainly made the utilitarian in me smile. Like many here, the peacoat high pocket fact came as a surprise. Looking forward to part two!

  • Shawn

    I knew about most of them but I’m glad I finally know what’s the real utility behind the peacoat high pockets – now I only have to get my motorcycle license!

  • Harrison Krupnick

    Great post. Surprised you didn’t comment on the Barbour Jacket considering its strong history. I’m a firm believer in buying pieces that are not made by fashion brands, rather made by brands for the piece’s intended purpose (even if I’m not using it for that purpose).

  • JM

    I was under the impression that single vents were used when horseback riding, because the two sides of the vent spread out easier across the saddle and across the horse. If you used a double vented jacket, you would just end up sitting on the middle fabric. Single vented are also used earlier than a double vented jacket.

    • AJL (

      The middle flap on a double-vent can rise up and rest on the back of the horse, so that your jacket isn’t splitting to each side when you ride, which might be rough on the seams and would probably need pretty regular adjustment to keep flaring out at the sides.

      • JustAGuy

        Traditionally, the center vent was off set, so that it would sit out perfectly while riding. That’s why if you look at old hunting jackets, they are a single center vent. And the vent is cut at a slight angle. Look at a saddle, the flap from a double vent would rest up on the saddle, creating an unsightly bump.
        Source*:historic and Contempory costumes class

  • Stuart

    Loved the two features that book ended this piece. It doesn’t hurt that the jackets were fresh to death

  • David

    It’s true you learn something new everyday. Didn’t know what those pockets on my peacoat were meant for. I’d be interested in seeing this become a series of posts for sure!

  • Jack

    What material is the “mocha” suit in the surgeon cuff’s section? I love that color.

    • John B

      It’s wool hopsack.

      • Dan Trepanier


        • Rams

          Thank you (Oh enlightened one). Grass-a-hopper very appreciative for the knowledge. Keep up the excellent work. Kudos!

  • David Shapiro

    Great post, really informative and always good to know the past and history of something when looking ahead to the future.

  • Jack

    Interesting post! Keep it up.

  • Mark Smith

    Every day is a school day. Great post, brother.

    • Dan Trepanier

      You can pay for school, but you can’t buy class!!

  • John B

    I knew most of them, but the last one really surprised me! I’d like a part II (or more)!

    • Dan Trepanier

      Thanks John B. We could consider making this a series…