The notion of ‘style icons’ is not a new phenomenon. It is a term widely used to refer to those who have made a notable impact on the way people style themselves, dress and think. Nowadays, these trailblazers and trendsetters are numerous and varied, but where do we trace the origins of this tradition?
When looking back, the 1920s stands at the crossroads of change where, for the first time, a new cadre of public figures would emerge whose interest lay in their style, good looks and infectious personality. It is here, at the height of the 'Roaring 20s' that we see the mysterious ‘style icon’ emerge into the public domain.
Though many rose to fame alongside the dramatic success of Hollywood ‘talkies’, where the cinema created a (literal) canvas through which the most fashionable, elegant and beautiful actors could be broadcast across the world, the 1920s also saw other public figures such as politicians and royalty acquire the same legendary sartorial status.
It seems that contemporary celebrity culture shares its heritage with classic fashion, and so it’s no surprise that the blossoming of visual media in the 1920s coincided with the birth of the very first style icons.
So, without further ado, let us delve into SJC's top 7 Style Icons of the 1920's:
7. Rudolph Valentino
Who better to start off this list than with Hollywood star Rudolph Valentino. Born ‘Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla,' the Italian American movie star was eccentric by name and by nature.
Despite his humble origins in his native Italy, before moving to New York and then California, Valentino was known to always prefer European tastes in style and cloth, often sporting fur, silk and vibrant shirts and ties - seen as outlandish and feminine when compared with American sensibilities.
At 31 years old, Valentino tragically died in 1926 from a sudden onset of appendicitis. He lived the classic American story of rags to riches, and relished in lavish indulgences. Ultimately, he left a legacy of remarkable personality and style.
6. Gary Cooper
One of Hollywood’s understated men of style, Gary Cooper was, and is, a true 'man’s man'. Cool and collected, he spent his early childhood on the 600-acre family ranch in Montana before being privately educated in the UK - the latter being often attributed to developing his eye for style and his quick-witted and enviable charm.
His career in Hollywood began when he was injured in a car accident, to which he was prescribed several weeks of horse riding as a treatment. His ability to ride a horse was then put to the test when working as a movie extra, before finally scoring his big break as an actor.
The styles of Gary Cooper have as much to do with his nonchalant, laid-back attitude as it does his choice of garments and their combinations. Where other actors strain and struggle, Gary Cooper managed to ease into the role of the charming hero who effortlessly won the heart of the leading lady.
Famous for focusing on the look and form of trousers above all else, he would often plan his own wardrobe for the films he starred in. If that's not Hollywood cool, we don't know what is!
5. Charles Lindbergh
An American aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh made a name for himself by piloting the first continuous flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Born in Detroit and raised in Minnesota, the spirited young Lindbergh was devilishly handsome and unquestionably brave.
In 1927, following the promise of a reward of $25,000 to the man who could fly across the Atlantic, Lindbergh touched down to a hero’s welcome in Paris. After 33 hours of continuous flight, Lindbergh suddenly became a big name in America and was awarded a Medal of Honor.
Charles Lindbergh is one of those few style icons who influenced fashion quite unintentionally. He was responsible for popularising many of the utility garments worn during the days of early aviation. Due to his universal fame and appeal, he would come to characterise the definitive look of an interwar aviator.
4. Sir Ernest Shackleton
One of the great explorers of the time, Shackleton was a man who denied defeat time and time again. Best known for his career in Antarctic exploration at the turn of the 20th century, Shackleton was knighted and received a number of commendations by many of the royalties of Europe, most notably being granted a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by Edward VII.
Though a well-dressed man in regular life, at sea Shackleton would adorn the latest in Antarctic apparel technology. Sporting a submariner jumper, a hooded smock, unkempt facial hair and smoking a pipe, he offers, perhaps more in retrospect than anything else, a rugged appeal that was underpinned by an unwavering sense of purpose.
Given the contemporary popularisation of Scandinavian lifestyle and culture, many modern men would do well to look to Shackleton for his style, courageous spirit and passionate leadership.
3. Anthony Eden
A politician of true gravitas, Anthony Eden’s political career may have been overshadowed by Winston Churchill, yet his achievements should not be underestimated. After fighting heroically in the First World War he went on to pursue study in Turkish and Persian languages at Oxford. Eden would go on to serve as Foreign Secretary in the years during and following the Second World War before becoming Prime Minister in 1955.
Written about in Britain and the US during the 1920s, he is revered among advocates of the ‘classic style’ approach to menswear. Regularly appearing in a well-fitted and well-proportioned 3-piece suit, Eden was curiously modern in comparison to his contemporaries, such as Churchill, who continued to favour early Edwardian attitudes to dress.
Despite his long career in the public eye, his early attitudes to dressing well would continue, becoming a common point of reference of dressing well across the decades. After all, he did teach us that a neckerchief is the perfect spring accessory…
2. Lord Mountbatten
Born Prince Louis of Battenberg and second cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, Lord Mountbatten was considered a true 'Man of Empire'. And how could he not, with a latter career that saw postings as Supreme Allied Commander in the South Pacific theatre during WWII, Viceroy and then Governor-General of India, Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord, before he became Chief of Defence Staff.
Like many bearing similar status and station, Lord Mountbatten enjoyed a glamorous 1920s, marrying his wife Edwina and spending their honeymoon touring and enjoying the company of high society in America and all the royal courts of Europe. He was a polo aficionado, and introduced the sport to the Navy in 1920, having also designed and patented a personal design of polo mallet.
His stoic attitude was mirrored by his career in the Royal Navy which would come to characterise his signature ensemble of a nautical-style double-breasted jacket and cap.
1. Edward VIII - The Prince of Wales
A source of great controversy, much has been said already about how his marriage to Wallis Simpson contributed to his short-lived rule and abdication of the British throne.
Beyond the drama, the Prince of Wales was an important advocate of the British garment industry and was key in defining many future men's style ‘rules’ and guidelines. He sported bold checks, turn-up trousers and is credited with inventing the modern black-tie dress code. His famous portrait sporting a Fair Isle jumper was a moment of male sartorial liberation, encouraging men to explore bright colours and patterns that had otherwise been only popular in women’s fashion.
Despite his disruption to the world of menswear, he would also dress appropriately when required. He is a great example of creating distinction between when style guidelines really matter and when they do not.