Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

Appropriate Attire for the Shipboard Gym (and other occasions) a Century Ago

gym 1910

For the fashionable gym goer in 1910, a suit, collar and tie were de rigeur – for men and women. Riders on these mechanical horses on a luxury liner in 1910 considered a lounge suit to be the height of informality at a time when dinner jackets and black tie at dinner represented dressing down and dress denoted social status.

gym 2023Reconstructing those far off days can be fun for the modern man, unbound by the constraints of antiquated dress codes, but is it not going too far to wear black tie on an exercise bike?

And, as the paintings of George Bellows record, and can be seen in a revelatory and visually fascinating exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, society gentlemen did wear evening dress to attend boxing matches in the 1920s and indeed later. However, black tie and punch bag do not quite go together, however svelte the boxer may have been away from the ring. Brioni suits and boxing rings are not natural bedfellows these days though once the audiences would have included elegant gentleman expensively dressed and slumming it.

gym 2012 2

On a modern cruise ship, anything goes, especially in the gym. There is now no need to dress up, though fashion victims will always have the latest gym wear, the newness of their kit in comparison to the faded shorts and t-shirts of the dedicated gym-goer revealing them as more concerned with show than exercise.

As for the tuxedo, on board ship it has since the 1920s replaced white tie and tails for shipboard formal dining and has always had its place in the cocktail lounge. For a longtime, the more formal tailcoat retained its supremacy but for younger men the informality of the dinner jacket was preferred though very soon it too had become the new ‘formal’.cocktails

And on a more sombre note, on the Titanic, it was suitable attire for the parting of lovers and going down with the ship, a sad tale depicted by the artist Fortunino Matania following eyewitness accounts, a story which I relate in Passage to the World.Mattania



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