The “Ideal” Male Body Through Time

In this day and age, many people are health-conscious and rightly so. However, an ever-increasing amount of people are also anxious about physique, failed countlessly by fad diets and generally fed up of not resembling the models we see on the catwalk. I feel you.

Prior to 1920 (especially from 1870 into the 20th century) men were fashionably large. Style’s main concern was within the materials being used, as opposed to what was being worn. The wealthy were the fashionable, purely because they were the aspirational. These men were, frankly, just large. A sign of status was that these men could afford to overfeed (which, obviously, is not a very sensible diet to sustain – and often lead to gout). Consequently the fashionable man was overweight, and tall – as a general sign of dominance.

By 1920, food had become less expensive, meaning more people could eat nutritiously post-war. This, combined with the war efforts meant that the ideal aesthetic became one of youth, strength and practicality; men were still fashionably tall but more rectangular. The British fashion icon of 1920 was actually The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII).

There was little change to the ideal physique in the 1930s, except for a slightly leaner figure and higher muscle to fat ratio, because of the same excruciating labour of the ’20s, with less food and luxury. However, by 1940 America had begun to leave behind “The Great Depression”, and began its emergence as the style capital of the world. The ideal body came from Hollywood, with tall and slightly more muscular, though not toned, men such as Montgomery Clift. Due to the tensions of war, in the early forties, fashion was more of a practical matter than aesthetic, and materials were often rationed. Paris and Italy suffered particularly at this time, and consequently many fashion powerhouses in Europe closed.

Following the end of WWII fashion really started to become closer to the contemporary. This was marked partly by Ford Models, established in 1946, and the reopening of Paris’ fashion houses in 1947, which became essential in turning modeling from a hobby into a profession. However, men’s fashion was still not represented in the modeling industries. Men looked up to the celebrities for their inspiration, and quite naturally, the charming Frank Sinatra provided much of that inspiration: a slight, tall body with notably less muscle than the men of the early forties; likely due to a decline in the need for exercise and increased access to processed foods.

By 1950, fashions had begun to diverge: “Teddy Boys” had been born out of Saville Row, Elvis Presley had exploded in the USA and beyond, and Italy had started making lighter suits with a narrower, more hemmed cut. This blurring resulted in the ideal man being slightly shorter than before; and slightly stockier in the USA, but more petite in the UK and Europe.

In the 1960s, The Beatles were dictating all culture here and in the USA, and their turn towards the free love and hippy style meant a wild change into hippy fashion – the beat generation in the USA with their free-spirited ways also helped to change this. As a result of adopting the nature of the movement, more so than by plan, trendy became skinny, undernourished and over-drugged. An iconic change to the ideal, certainly – but by no means a health conscious one!

In the 1970s, much of this movement had died out and a real sense of urgency regarding the pool body came into play, along with a more practical but still relatively informal fashion style. Big names included Bob Menna and Jeff Aquilon. Bob Menna showed a relatively slim but healthy physique, with little definition but plenty of tone – like a long-distance runner of today. Jeff Aquion was also slim, however, he had broad shoulders and a bit more muscle – he was a man who took pride in the fact that he hit the gym and ate well.

In the 1980s, the ideal man became ‘ripped’. It was the decade of the body builder and muscle definition like no other. Prime Hollywood actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone echoed this in their builds. Bodybuilding is not unhealthy if it’s done through legitimate means, however, it’s important to have a solid diet and exercise plan in place before even starting to aim for this body type, as serious damage can be done with a lack of care.

In 1990, the muscular man became less trendy. Male models were reaching levels of female models and Calvin Klein was well established as the brand using underwear models that ‘all men’ wanted to look like. Mark Wahlberg was their poster boy in the early ’90s. He was notably leaner than men of the ’80s but still packed serious definition and tone. However, towards the end of the ’90s, Wahlberg’s equally influential successor Michael Bergin brought lean-muscle dominance into the modeling community. Of course, models have always been tall, but now they were conscious about physical shape and their bodily health.

This continued into the 2000s, however fashion industries were more precise with their models, choosing the types of bodies that suited their style in a campaign. Although this encouraged differing body types, it also made for dangerous competitions where models attempted to bulk-up or slim-down to make the cut for a campaign. A man who was prominent in the 2000s though was Noah Mills, who had a build that was simply athletic, neutral but refined and modestly chiseled.

Since 2010, ideal body types have been a conscious talking point within modeling. Extremities that models are pushed to are seen through media, from size zero aspirations to plus sized models, both in male and female modelling. Models are required to have extreme physiques to be perfect for specific roles. None of these physiques are easily achieved, and the grueling processes models go through are sadly left very much without scrutiny.

For all the positive reasons, I’d propose David Agbodji as the ideal for men today. David is an incredibly productive model, often representing Bottega Veneta and Calvin Klein, and many other household names. David is the epitome of refinement; there is not a carb wasted in his diet and he exercises professionally – the result is a look that is simply respectable, semi-achievable, and healthy. Therefore, he has become a prominent figure in the industry; he’s the perfect medium.

Rhys Thomas

Image Credit: adifansnet via Flickr – License.

Follow @ImpactStyle on Twitter or like the Impact Style Facebook page for more updates on Impact Style.



Leave a Reply