Fifty years ago today the Beatles’ first album was released in Britain – a moment many consider pivotal in the history of 1960s popular culture.
A few months earlier, in December 1962, the Beatles were being toffed up for publicity shots in the wake of the moderate success of their first UK song release ‘Love Me Do’. Douglas (Dougie) Millings, an established Compton Street tailor who had already created looks for other rising music stars, was hired to polish the rocker look off the Liverpool four. Millings created a suit with a collarless jacket that looked very similar to the ‘Cylinder’ jacket Pierre Cardin had shown in corduroy for his first menswear collection in 1960. Cardin’s avant-garde look created a tapered shape that ‘suited’ the younger male physique. Although the suit was not a popular seller, the style opened the door to the influence of trend over tradition in menswear.
Although Dougie Millings never admitted to copying Cardin, his suits for the Beatles were essentially restyled versions of the Cylinder suit. Some of the finishing details were altered – three buttons instead of 5, and the application of contrast edging (typically used in Austrian clothes.) But Millings biggest and most successful change was in making the suits from Italian sharkskin mohair for that touch of ‘La Dolce Vita’. The result was a flashy, youthful, mod style that was uniquely English and popular with the fad-oriented mod culture. However, in typical mod fashion, the style was short lived. By the time of their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, the Beatles were already wearing their next look consisting of V-neck jackets with narrow black velvet collars.