The US Government Guide to Shirts

Apparently, if the internet were around in the mid-20th century, the US Government would have had a great menswear blog. Not too long ago, our friend CrimsonSox found a US government guide to quality suits, originally published in 1949. Today, he found a government guide to quality shirts, originally published by the US Department of Agriculture in 1939.

Like with the guide to suits, there’s some advice in here that’s still useful and some that’s a bit outdated (although, still fun to read). It’s still true, for example, that dress shirts are generally considered better made if they have mother-of-pearl buttons and fabrics woven in high thread counts. The section on detachable collars, on the other hand, is pretty much useless since shirts almost only come with attached ones these days. Back when this guide was published, men still had a choice between the two, and the advantage of detachable collars was two fold. First, you could just wash the part that most easily got soiled, rather than washing the whole shirt. Second, you wouldn’t have to throw your entire shirt away once the collar got frayed. Those advantages, of course, are pretty much moot as shirts have become cheaper and laundering easier.

My favorite piece of anachronistic advice might be the bit about how men should look for full cut shirts. The guide does make an exception, however. As it notes, “some brands of shirts are made especially for slender men, and should not be confused with cheap, skimped garments.” Thank you, US government, for acknowledging my existence.

Lastly, as with the guide to suits, there’s a nice section in here on fabrics. If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between broadcloth, oxford, chambray, etc., this is a good place to start. Just note that madras today mostly refers to the very colorful plaids that come out of India, not the plain stuff shown here.

The US Government on Suits

StyleForum member CrimsonSox recently found this fascinating guide on how to buy a suit, surprisingly published in 1949 by the US government. This 24-page book covers everything from suit quality to proper fit, and gives a level of sophisticated detail that would be hard to find in many men’s magazines today. 

There are some things here, however, that limit this book’s practicality for today’s use. For example, there’s no discussion of fused suits, which today makes up much of the market. The tips given for how to discern quality also seem like they mostly apply to the extremes. That is, it’s like telling someone how they can tell if they’re looking at a Kiton suit vs. something you’d buy at one of those shops that sells five suits and a beeper for $200. Most people probably don’t need a guide for that - they’re usually trying to discern the quality between two very similarly priced garments (which is very hard, if not impossible, to judge). 

Still, it points to some things that go into making a suit jacket, which is fun to know, and the guide on how a suit should fit is pretty good. Best of all, the first eight pages has a great overview of fabrics (especially pages 6 and 7), which is useful if you’ve ever wondered what words such as gabardine, serge, covert, and tropical worsted mean. 

You can download the book by clicking on the “gear icon” button, located at the right hand side of Google Book’s site. To read more, you can check out the other guides the US Department of Agriculture published as part of their Home and Garden Bulletins. Here’s one on how to mend men’s suits, for example, and here’s one on the fitting of women’s suits and coats