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Published: 11 June 2022

By Andy Ross

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Dressing New Zealand men

In the 1950s, menswear was made by manufacturers in New Zealand, partly because of fear. 

The lack of dress-sense amongst the male population of the country had been noticed and commented on, particularly when it came to those occasions when women would buy or make new clothes, only to be let down by a companion who "looks like he had slept in his clothes". The main reason for this was a fear of being seen as a "sock-suspender-wearing toff or worse"!

A common observation was the loyalty that Kiwi men had to heavy three piece woollen suits, garments that were worn whatever the season. In the heat of summer that must have presented a real problem so, in the early 1950s, some manufacturers were promoting summer-weight worsteds. However only the darkest colours were popular.

The lack of suitable attire was commented on by Robert Leek, a fashion illustrator and designer from the Netherlands who emigrated to Auckland and found that men's clothes were more like Northern English apparel than to European fashion or, crucially, the needs of New Zealanders. By the end of the decade Robert had been introduced to Kurt Hager, a shirt supplier, and the pair were creating a range of modern shirts with styling, colours and patterns, but it was an Australian brand, Anthony Squires, that made a real difference to clothes for men. Their single-breasted suits with slim trousers were popular with younger men and quickly other manufacturers took up the style. 

In 1957, the New Zealand version of Vogue magazine had arrived in the country. Fashion for both women and men would never be the same again.