"Virility in design": advertising, Austin Reed and the "New Tailoring" during the interwar period in Britain

Paul Jobling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The first half of the twentieth century was undoubtedly one of the most fecund and complex periods in both the history of advertising and the promotion of men’s wear in Britain. This was a time when vast sums of money were being dedicated to the production and circulation of advertisements promoting men’s clothing; between January and September 1933, for instance, nearly fifty-six thousand pounds (the equivalent of just over three millions pounds in 2001) were spent by nine outfitters on press advertising space alone. This article concentrates on one of these companies – Austin Reed, which not only had a sizeable publicity budget (between January and September 1933, for instance, it spent £40,820 on press advertising) but also pioneered inventive ways of advertising men’s wear in poster and press campaigns from its foundation in 1900 until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Pandering to a predominantly upper middle class clientele, press advertising for Austin Reed appeared in the likes of the Times, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Radio Times and Punch during the 1920s and 1930s (all of which had a solid Class A, B and C readership at this time, or those with gross annual earnings of between £250 and £1,000 and above). But in promoting ideas of class and status, Austin Reed also espoused modernist graphic aesthetics in both its poster and press campaigns that involved the simplification of shapes and forms, photographs, sanserif typefaces, and white space. In this regard the contribution of the commercial artist Tom Purvis and the copywriter W.D.H. McCullough was pivotal in elaborating visual and verbal rhetoric that transcended ‘reason why’ advertising, which emphasised the use value of any product, and tended instead to suggestive or atmospheric forms of promotion that transformed ‘simple use into an experience of the mind’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-83
Number of pages27
JournalFashion theory
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Gender studies
  • advertising
  • fashion history
  • graphic design history


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