The Tail Coat

The cutaway coat was a classic piece of 18th-century pragmatism. Developed as a riding coat, it quickly became a must-have for every gentleman, or indeed anyone wishing to pass as one. Entirely utilitarian, it was elegant and timeless – in fact, it was the most sophisticated item of male clothing ever conceived.
What men have always loved is its understated sexiness masquerading as usefulness.
Think Mr Darcy, his tail coat revealing elegantly long legs in skin-tight white pants and shiny black boots, and you can see why it was so popular. Add the sexy swish of the bifurcated back skirt and tantalising glimpses of buttock, and it’s obvious why women adore it too.
Of course, a fashion so long-lived is bound to have its underbelly. We’ve all seen 19th-century cartoons of the cutaway coat that’s come down a social peg or two, worn, second-hand, on the back of artful dodgers and urban ne’er-do-wells. Yet, even oversized, torn and greasy, the tail coat emanates class and confidence.
Both aspects of the coat continue to appeal to designers. In 2003, Tom Ford at Gucci and Ralph Lauren went for the cool sophistication of the 1930s Fred Astaire look. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons – and, later on, Alexander McQueen – made the cutaway coat a very much more street-inspired garment taking its cue from the mean streets of Victorian Limehouse or Whitechapel.
Either approach works wonders, for give a man a tail to swish and his confidence graph goes soaring.
(First published January 2003)

Picture source.
Left. Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring 2010, Sessilee Lopez.. Middle. Todd Lynn, Spring 2008. Nick Hadfield. Right. Junya Watanabe, Spring 2007. Sasha