Do you know a vintage gent who understands the fashion power of the flower? Floral prints have been part of the sophisticated man’s wardrobe for 100s of years now, and yet many guys still recoil in horror at the thought of wearing floral prints. Inspired by a new collaboration between art nouveau print makers Liberty of London and mod fashion pioneers Fred Perry, George Walker looks into the history of male floral clothing, just in time for summer.

It may be true that floral shirts can be hard to pull off, but that’s no reason to give up you big softies! Floral prints have been worn by men for decades, from the Sixties folk stylings of Donovan Phillips Leitch (pictured left) to the paisley print silk scarves of the mods.

For men, vintage prints that are full of history will always give a strong masculine sense of individuality. Think a blue Liberty print shirt paired with a charcoal grey suit, or a paisley cravat tucked around the top of a slim-fit shirt. It’s a perfect look for summer, when a lighter, brighter take on formal wear is needed.

But it’s not just the warmer weather that’s got me thinking about vintage florals. Fred Perry (the original suppliers of mod garb) have teamed up with Liberty of London (the original pioneers of British floral clothing prints) to make a new range of Harrington jackets, polo shirts and shoes. The collaboration has brought about a brilliant collection which goes back to the roots of these iconic British companies. This may be a ‘new’ range, but it’s firmly rooted in the past.

And now for the history bit. The detailed tear drop motif of paisley print originated in Persia and India. In the early 17th century exotic Indian prints were brought back to Europe – it was a completely alien style of pattern, that was full of mystery in Westerner’s eyes. Apparently there were even certain sea traders who believed the print could ward off demons.

Paisley first got its western name from the Scottish town of Paisley, where the patterned materials were first replicated on the British loom. After soldiers came back from the East with patterned shawls and scarves, a love of oriental art grew.

From the plundering of Indian culture in the days of the Empire, paisley prints continued to fascinate those wanting a touch of exoticism in their dress. The mods wore silk paisley scarves and lined their leather jackets with the stuff; Prince released a song full of psychedelic sounds called ‘Paisley Park’ (complete with paisley cover) and alternative 60s culture adopted the vibrant versions of the print (although this may have been to increase the visual effects of drugs as much as it was a fashion choice.)

Liberty, on the other hand, created its floral patterns in the art nouveau style, bringing the Czech-influenced new trend of the continent to British consumers. The art nouveau fabrics of Liberty became iconic prints for the discerning, fashion-forward man. In the 1890s Arthur Lasenby Liberty became involved with promoting the work of fashion designers in the store, championing the art nouveau aesthetic for the fashionable men and women of the period. In fact, in Italy the art nouveau style became known as stile liberty.

Floral prints have always been, and will always be, one of the best ways for dapper men to inject a bit of playfulness and excitement into their wardrobes. Be it a formal shirt infused with the flowers of a spring meadow or the paisley lining of a smart bomber jacket – vintage floral prints put a dash of summer-loving charm into a seemingly ordinary outfit.


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