The Critical Writing in Art & Design area at the Royal College of Art show looks fantastic! Here are some images of the space and of the final publication that I produced focusing on contemporary menswear entitled Menswear in Motion.

You can access the digital version of the show catalogue here, and find writing from Critical Writing students and graduates here.

Critical Writing Jay McCauley Bowstead Menswear in MotionCritical Writing RCA



The essay below was conceived as an exploration of form and craft: here the form and manufacture of garments (and garment details) is emphasised, but the essay also seeks to draw attention to its own formal properties.

The jetted pocket is characterised by the simplicity of its appearance. Often found in tailoring, it is employed to provide a neat, reinforced finish to pocket openings.


But the apparent simplicity of this small and modest detail, two narrow bands of fabric divided by a slit, belies the complex operations required in its manufacture. This process, in which strips of reinforced cloth are required to pivot, with acrobatic deftness, through a slashed aperture requires both precision and patience, but the result is worth it, seeming to communicate – silently if not inexpressively – a sense of elegance, modernity and perfection.

Interface a fabric of your choice with medium-weight fusing.

The dimensions of the jets are ~3cm longer than the desired opening of your pocket and 2cm thick. Cut two jets from the interfaced fabric.

The process of making a jetted pocket seems disconcertingly complex at first, but with practice, the very protractedness of its manufacture becomes part of its charm. Like the ritual production of mandalas in Tibetan Buddhism, repeated circumscribed actions bring with them a sense of calm: the machine’s rhythmic thud as its needle pierces the cloth, the steam of the iron. Making, so long as it is going well, is a glorious thing.

And so it seems I have become addicted to jetted pockets, applying them to whichever garment I am making irrespective of their appropriateness or necessity. They satisfy the modernist in me by obeying Constructivist designer Varvara Stepanova’s edicts: “do not add ornament to the garment, allow the seams and elements of construction to give it form” (Stepaonova, LEF 1923). Secretly, my attachment to the jetted pocket exists entirely independently of function and I have been known to apply them without a pocket bag rendering them entirely decorative and useless.

Interface the wrong side of the fabric with light-weight fusing no more than 3cm either side of the pocket. Fold your jets in half lengthways (with the fused sides together) and press flat. They are now 1cm thick.

Despite the iconic nature of the jetted pocket in tailoring, frequently applied to dinner jackets and other formalwear, the first written reference to one comes curiously late in 1866. The Gazette of Fashion, a journal devoted to the needs of tailors and cutters, records the jetted pocket in a list of average time requirements for the completion of finishings, in this case one and a quarter hours.

On the right side of the fabric place the two jets either side of the line marking the slit so that the raw edges of the jets are butted together
Mark 1.5cm from the edge of each jet on both sides. Draw a horizontal line to mark the centre of the jets.

Gazette of Fashion2Gazette of Fashion

Starting 1.5cm from the edge, as marked, stitch a horizontal line (along your drawn line) and stop 1.5 cm from the end as marked, back-tack at the beginning and end of the line of stitching. 

It is possible that prior to 1866 jetted pockets were widely used but were either too common a detail to warrant mention, or were referred to by a different name. Examining early 19th century uniforms in the National Army Museum’s handling collection, however, I was struck that none featured a jet: pockets forming narrow slits were instead placed in the centre of seams with the pocket-bag attached to the seam allowance. Perhaps then, the popularity, if not the invention of the jetted pocket, is owed to the revolutionary power of the first commercial sewing machines patented in 1856: This innovation meant that details requiring multiple operations of stitching – rather than deft cutting or applied ornament – became much more economical. In this sense, there is an argument for seeing what Flugel describes as the “male renunciation of ornament”, as well as the tendency of early 20th Century modernist dress-design to draw attention to “elements of construction” as closely related to the sewing machine. Fastenings, plackets, pockets and seams with their requirements for extensive accurate sewing, became more complex in manufacture displacing hand-applied ornament which had previously predominated.

Military jacket

With tailors chalk or a coloured pencil mark the dimensions of the finished jetted pocket onto the area of the garment where the jetted pocket will sit. Your paper pattern should feature four small holes to indicate the dimensions of the finished pocket. Mark these onto the wrong and right side of the fabric. On the right side mark the centre of the jetted pocket with a horizontal line to indicate where the slit will be. Draw two triangles pointing towards the centre of the pocket at either end, with the point of the triangle 1 centimetre from the edge.

With small scissors or a scalpel cut along the line of the slit stopping at the point of the triangle, cut along the two innermost edges of the triangles.

And yet, what was lost in this transition to more mechanised production? The uniforms of the 18th and early 19th century are notable not only for their applied ornament but also for the relationship between this decoration, the form of the garment, and the three-dimensional structure of the body: Seams engineered the cloth to cleave to the figure while simultaneously mapping and describing its contours. Embroidery, frogging, gold and silver lace emphasised the breadth of the shoulder and taper of the waist: nowhere was the garment conceived as a back and front, but as a unity, a fully three-dimensional object. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly given my affection for both overt decoration and modernist design, the jetted pocket with its perfectly rectangular form and machine finishing is part of the tendency toward a greater flatness, squareness and standardisation in dress which found its expression in Ernesto Michahelles’ Tuta, Varvara Stepanova’s Prozodezhda, and more prosaically in Levi’s jeans. Born of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, each of these iconic garments, in its own way, symbolised the spirit of democracy. But it is in the tiny details, as much as grand aesthetic narratives that the essence of the age expresses itself, the countless anonymous craftspeople who despite their anonymity created the material culture that defined its époque.

Now, push your jets through the slit to the wrong side of the fabric so that, pivoting on the line of stitching, the two folded edges of the jets face one another. The small triangles should also be turned through, the opening and jets may be pressed at this point so that they liflat. On the wrong side of the fabric sew the two triangles to the jets so that they are secured in place. 

Menswear is an increasingly exciting area of design. Innovative up-and-coming designers and an expanding market share have combined to improve its status, alongside womenswear, as an important creative discipline. In this post I’m trying to describe some of the major tendencies in contemporary menswear and their wider cultural significance.

Men’s fashion in the last decade has been characterised by a style, pioneered by Hedi Slimane, of closer fit; an emphasis on fine drapey fabrics, shrunken tailoring and touches of androgyny. This aesthetic comprised of rocky and punky influences mixed with a kind of louche dandyism, the defining look: skinny jeans with a tailored jacket.[1]

Dior Homme by Hedi SlimaneDior Homme Hedi Slimane

Now a new menswear aesthetic appears to be emerging. Fashionable brands such as Our Legacy, YMC, Bleu de Paname and Folk are exploring a look with a strong emphasis on traditional fabrication, detailing which heavily references workwear, and hippyish folk-inspired touches, particularly in knit.

I would contest that while both of these styles are associated with particular designers and labels, their origins lie in fashionable dress as worn on the street. In both cases, models for these styles existed before their reproduction by designers: these were creative people who mixed second-hand, customised, and reclaimed garments to achieve their own look.

For me, this shift in menswear is intriguing. If we accept (as I do) that the clothes we put on encode meaning, we can suggest that this transformation reflects broader cultural and attitudinal changes. A desire to engage with the process of manufacture or make, strikes me as central to this folky-workwear aesthetic. Magazines such as Inventory, an early adopter and innovator of the style, spend as much time explaining to their readers how garments and accessories have been crafted, as discussing their inherent qualities. Equally, this is a look that favours texture (and even coarseness) over smooth, lustrous or drapey fabrics: there is a sense in which the consumer wants to see evidence of how the fabric has been woven or knitted.


It is surely laudable that consumers wish to know how, where, and by whom their clothes were made, with the concern for welfare and craft that implies. Nevertheless, there is (at least for me) an uneasiness about clothing that gives one the appearance of a 19th Century industrial or agricultural worker, but which costs many hundreds of pounds. To quote a friend “it’s as if people want to have things which are home-spun without spinning them themselves”. While it is easy to critique this consumption of craft as a co-option of something authentic by commercialism, it could be argued that it points to more radical instincts and aspirations in which work is meaningful, productive and celebrated.[2]

While the shift from rock-dandy to folky-proletarian may seem quite profound, I would suggest that both form part of a wider and more significant trend in which menswear has become more diverse and creative. Nor do I think that the styles pioneered by Hedi Slimane have become irrelevant, even if they are increasingly superseded by more contemporary interpretations of menswear. He remains for me one of the great innovators of modern fashion: in revisiting tailoring, exploring silhouette, and playing with the semantics of iconic menswear garments (the dinner jacket, the motorcycle jacket, the jean) he expanded what was deemed possible in menswear. The huge increase of interest in men’s fashion and the increased economic importance of the sector points to developments in male consumption and indeed in the consumption of masculinity(ies) which are worthy of further exploration.

[1] Some of us (hardly dinosaurs) entering fashion school in the first years of the 2000s remember how radical and indeed “contested” this new aesthetic was. Hedi Slimane’s collections for YSL and then Dior Homme started to attract positive attention at the same time as magazines like Arena Homme Plus were styling shoots with reinterpreted, nipped-in tailored styles, mixed with denim and leather. The process of the adoption of this look by the mainstream was slow, but by the end of the decade it had filtered right down to the high street.

[2] These problems and contradictions aren’t new of course. William Moriss and Arts and Crafts manufacturers came up against similar pressures in the 19th Century. I would also argue that as in Moriss’ day, they point to wider dissatisfactions with the model of market capitalism which prevails.