The Most Famous Male Style Icons
The Most Famous Male Style Icons

The Most Famous Male Style Icons

D.G. Hewitt - September 15, 2018

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Garibaldi and his men wore loose red shirts that resemble the women’s blouses of today. Wikimedia Commons.

6. Giuseppe Garibaldi looked so good while reuniting Italy that even women copied his baggy red-shirted look

Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi might be best remembered for helping create the unified nation of Italy, but in his day, he was the ultimate fashion icon. What’s more, his appeal was not confined to men alone. Indeed, towards the end of the 19th century, ‘Garibaldi shirts’ were being promoted as the must-have women’s garment right across Europe.

A die-hard republican, Garibaldi was born in 1807. As a skilled military tactician, he swiftly rose up through the ranks of the armed forces and, when the wars for Italian reunification kicked off, Garibaldi found himself in charge of a small army of revolutionaries. Since they weren’t a regular army, his men lacked a regular uniform. As such, they took to wearing baggy, crimson-colored shirts made from thick wool. Garibaldi himself wore one and pictures of him in the bright red garment were soon making waves right across the continent.

Given his dashing looks as well as his daring exploits, Garibaldi soon had female admirers far and wide. In 1862, a popular women’s magazine celebrated the loose-fitting shirts he wore, and before long, ladies were making versions of their own, toning down the militaristic details and making them more classically feminine. According to some fashion historians, these were the earliest versions of the blouses women across the world wear today.

What’s more, a style of beard was named after Garibaldi and was hugely popular in Italy for a short while in the 1870s. The general also had an influence on sporting style. In 1865, the Nottingham Forest soccer club was established in England. They too looked to Garibaldi for style inspiration. They based their red shirts on the uniforms the Italian revolutionaries wore, and the club still wear that kit to this day.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
As a youth Caesar was mocked for his feminine togas but he went on to become a Roman style icon. Wikimedia Commons.

7. Julius Caesar was laughed at for dressing in a ‘feminine’ toga, but soon, other Romans were following his example

As head of the government of Rome, Julius Caesar was the most powerful man in the whole world in his day. What’s more, he’s also widely-regarded as one of the most important figures of all time. Which makes it even stranger to think that many of his contemporaries believed he would amount to nothing, not least because of the way he dressed. For years, he was mocked for his effeminate dress. In the end, however, Julius Caesar had the last laugh. Not only did he become a truly great man, he also became an ancient style icon.

In Rome of 100BC, men’s fashion was simple: togas were to be tight-fitting and relatively plain. As a young man, Julius Caesar preferred to wear his clothes in a looser style. Like the other dandies of his time, he would wear long, flowing togas, with the more conservative members of society bemoaning the “loosely belted” youngsters. According to some sources, he also took care to make it look like he didn’t care: he would present himself as someone who was too important and busy to worry about fashion, though the truth is, his toga was fastened with much thought and precision.

Caesar’s contemporaries presented him as a vain man. He would regularly wear a crown so as to hide his baldness, plus he also allegedly wore high-top boots so as to hide some unsightly veins on his calves. In later years, when Caesar was the most important man in Rome, he moved away from the loose-fitting togas of his youth and instead took to wearing the ‘toga picta’. This was an elaborately-embroidered garment that would have ensured he stood out from the crowd. It’s believed that many Roman nobles copied him and started wearing this style of toga too, much to the annoyance of the more traditional and conservative members of the Senate.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Benjamin Franklin sported a fur hat while visiting France, and the French loved it. Wikimedia Commons.

8. Benjamin Franklin was feted as a true style icon when he visited France in the 1770s

Benjamin Franklin was 70-years-old when he was sent to France by the Continental Congress to seek military help for their revolution. But, just as his age didn’t stop him from being a great statesman or great inventor, neither did it prevent him from becoming a style icon. Indeed, Franklin was warmly embraced by the French public, even if many people were more interested in his hair and his clothes than in his political message.

Franklin was a truly savvy political operator. He knew, for example, that many people in France, including those in positions of power and influence, thought that all Americans were tough frontiersmen. Keen to play up to this image, Franklin arrived in Paris sporting plain clothes and a fur hat. The outfit was a huge hit. Wherever he went in France, Franklin made sure he had it on, and he was shown wearing it in many of the portraits painted of him between 1776 and 1778. And it wasn’t just the men of France who wanted to mimic this style. Women also started adopting the “coiffure a la Franklin”, a wig made to resemble the flaps of Franklin’s trademark hat.

The PR exercise was a triumph. In 1778, the United States and France signed a landmark treaty, paving the way for independence. Notably, at the signing ceremony, Franklin ditched the beaver fur hat that had made him such an unlikely style icon. Instead, he sported a plain white cap. Of course, this became a fashion smash, too. All over France, men started wearing white hats of their own for a short while. Franklin returned to America a political hero and a style icon.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
We might laugh at Hitler’s mustache now, but many German men copied his style. Wikimedia Commons.

9. Adolf Hitler was so loved by many German people that men styled their mustaches to look like their crazed leader

Adolf Hitler’s mustache has long been a source of ridicule – and fascination. For a few short years in Germany, however, it was regarded by many as a stylish form of facial hair. What’s more, in a bid to emulate their charismatic leader, many German men in the 1930s and 40s shaved their mustaches in a similar style. So, why did Hitler have such strange facial hair?

The thing is, the ‘toothbrush mustache’ was not born with Hitler, even though it most definitely did die with him. The style for shaving all of the facial hair except for a small, three-to-five-centimeter strip directly above the lip first became popular not in Germany but in the United States. At the end of the 19th century, a number of men adopted the unique style. According to the thinking of the time, the toothbrush was neat, easily-maintained and nowhere near as fussy or flamboyant as most other mustache styles of the period. After the gentlemen came the comics: both Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy sported a toothbrush mustache, both in the belief that it gave them a comical appearance.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the style was introduced into Germany, most probably brought there by holidaying Americans. It became so popular in the European country that even the Kaiser’s dashing son, Crown Prince Wilhelm himself, was pictured with a toothbrush moustache in 1918. It was probably around this time that Hitler, who had originally sported a bushy, unruly ‘Kaiser moustache’, adopted the style. Quite why, nobody can agree. Some say it was because he needed to trim his ‘tache in order to secure his gas mask while serving in the trenches, while other historians even argue he was copying Charlie Chaplin in an effort to win popularity.

Whatever the reason, Hitler had his iconic moustache from the very beginning of the Nazi rise to power. As he became increasingly popular, so too did his style. Men right across Germany got their moustaches trimmed in a similar style. Even movie stars and sports stars copied the look. But, of course, once the war was over and the horrors of the regime became apparent to all, the style – as with the once-popular name Adolf – fell swiftly, and terminally, out of fashion.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Louis XIV of France was a true style icon, and the French nobles all wanted to look like him. Wikimedia Commons.

10. King Louis XIV was such a fashionista that he lay the foundations for France’s world-famous haute couture industry

Some rulers had wealth but lacked style. Not so Louis XIV of France. The Sun King was fabulously rich and spent huge sums of money transforming his Palace of Versailles into the style capital of the world. He also made himself something of a style icon. In fact, some fashion historians believe it was Louis who kick-started France’s famous fashion industry, with his influence still felt to this day.

Louis XIV ruled for an incredible 72 years. During his time on the throne, he worked tirelessly to make his country the most influential on earth. That didn’t just mean in high culture such as art and literature. He also appreciated the power of style. In 1675, he created the Parisian Seamstresses’ Guild. This effectively gave high-end tailors and designers royal approval, laying the foundations for the haute couture of the 19th century.

As for himself, Louis had a collection of wigs, and in fact is credited with making them popular. He also had a huge collection of ornate overcoats, with a team of courtiers required to get him dressed and undressed every day. He also took pride in his footwear and designed red-soled shoes, to be worn only by nobles – quite literally, these were not just fashion symbols but social symbols too, created centuries before the designer stilettos of today.

Interestingly, some historians also believe that the Sun King’s passion for fashion was not just a matter of vanity and decadence. It might also have been a cunning political tool. Royal courtiers were always eager to gain favor with their king. They would spend huge sums of money, as well as large amounts of time and effort, trying to copy his dress, complete with the latest wigs and red-soled shoes. Since they were concentrating so much on looking good, they hardly had time to challenge the power on the throne, allowing Louis to sit pretty on the throne for more than seven decades – and so avoid the grisly fate that befell his descendants.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Sir Humphrey Davy was famed for his hair just as much as he was for his scientific breakthroughs. Art UK.

11. Sir Humphrey Davy might have been a chemistry genius, but his famous curls and dress sense meant he was often dismissed as a dandy

Sir Humphrey Davy was one of the great scientific minds of his age – and he knew it. Not only was he a genius in chemistry, he was also a natural-born show off, bringing an element of show business to the world of science. By the beginning of the 19th century, Davy had established himself as a pioneering chemist, with a string of notable discoveries to his name. To his detractors, however, he was little more than a dandy.

Born in 1778, Davy was largely self-taught as a child, though family friends allowed him to make use of the laboratory of a Cornish hospital. It was here he fell in love with science and got to work. In 1802, he presented the world’s most powerful electrical battery to the Royal Institution in London, with an incandescent bulb following soon after. Davy would also carry out pioneering experiments with nitrous oxide, discovering ‘laughing gas’ and making significant contributions to the field of anaesthetics.

In London, Davy also gained a reputation as a showman and a man of fashion. He loved performing public demonstrations, with his ‘shows’ particularly focused on any young ladies that might be in the audience. Unlike Lord Byron, who was famous for his long, flowing hair, Davy adopted his signature ‘Augustan curl’, styling his hair after busts of the Emperor Augustus he had seen. Both the ladies and men of London loved him, and many tried to copy his style.

According to George Ticknor, an American visitor who wrote extensively on London in the Regency era, Davy was “one of the handsomest men I have yet seen in England”. However, his dashing good looks and status as a style icon gave Davy’s critics plenty of ammunition. Some argued he was a simple dandy rather than a true scientist. Thankfully, he is now regarded as both a scientific pioneer as well as an impeccably-dressed and coiffured gentleman.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Beau was the ultimate dandy of his day, but his style was fueled by debt. Wikimedia Commons.

12. Beau Brummell was the most fashionable dandy in all of Regency England, even if he racked up huge debts in order to look great

George Bryan Brummell was better known by the affectionate nickname “Beau”, especially among his friend, who included the Prince Regent and many of the most influential men and women in Regency England. In his day, Brummell was famed for his fine sartorial style, his witty and pithy sayings and for his unparalleled network of friends and connections. What made him even more remarkable was that, though rich, he was by no means fabulously wealthy, and his dandy style was largely funded by credit.

Born in 1778, Brummell followed the usual path for boys of the minor aristocracy. After being schooled at Eton – where, famously, he redesigned the uniform – he went to Oxford University before going into the army. It was here that he met the future King George IV. The two became firm friends and, thanks to his royal connection, Brummell rose quickly through the ranks. Within three years, he was made a captain. But when his regiment was sent from London to Manchester, Brummell immediately resigned, horrified at the thought of life outside of the fashionable capital.

It was as a civilian that Brummell really started to make his mark. He took lodgings in Mayfair, the most fashionable part of the city. Wisely, he avoided gambling and drinking, instead spending most of his money on fashion. He declared he needed five hours a day to get ready and eve boasted of cleaning his boots with champagne. Men admired his fine sense of style and many copied his dress, as well as his other ‘vain’ habits such as shaving and bathing on a daily basis.

For almost a decade, Brummell lived beyond his means. His debts were forgiven, or simply politely ignored, due to his friendship with the Prince Regent. When the two fell out over a social quarrel, however, Brummell’s world came crashing down around him. He was forced to flee to France to avoid debtor’s prison. He died alone and impoverished in a French asylum at the age of 61. However, he is remembered as the original dandy, and his flamboyance, as well as his way with words, have been immortalized in numerous books and plays, as well as with a statue in London’s high fashion quarter.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
The Duke of Windsor was a dapper dresser, but not much of a ruler. Daily Mirror.

13. The Duke of Windsor might have been a poor King of England, but he was arguably the best-dressed Brit of the past century

As King Edward VIII, he sat on the throne of the United Kingdom for less than a year. These days, he’s best known for his 1936 abdication rather than his brief reign – and for good reason. When he stepped down in order to marry a twice-divorced American socialite, he caused a huge scandal and even threated the very foundations of the monarchy. However, he got out and lived a long, quiet life as the Duke of Windsor, one of the most stylish men in the whole world.

As the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, Edward was the most eligible bachelors in all of Europe. He was not only rich and handsome, he was also impeccably dressed. This was no accident. Rather than being dressed by others, he took an active role in designing and tailoring his outfits, and he knew exactly what styles made him look good. He opted for zippers instead of buttons on his trousers – a style that was copied by many upper-class men in the 1920s, as did his insistence on breaking the mould and having cuffs on his pants – and he made British fashion, and in particular Scottish tweeds and Fair Isle sweaters, incredibly popular.

As Duke of Windsor, he had a passion for stripes and other patterns. He was one of the first high-profile men to pair different styles of clothes, plus he showed many shorter men how to dress well. He was famously quoted as saying that, rather than being put on Earth to rule, “I was in fact produced as a leader of fashion, with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience.” Modern fashion critics agree, and the Duke of Windsor regularly tops lists of the best-dressed Brits of the 20th century.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Lord Byron was a style icon of his time, with both men and women copying his look. Wikimedia Commons.

14. Lord Byron was not just a famous poet, he was also the ultimate dandy, helping create a new sense of masculine style

The Romantic poets, who dominated the English literary scene at the start of the 19th century, were a flamboyant bunch. But none were as over-the-top as Lord Byron. An original dandy, he was a respected writer, politician and adventurer. Thanks to his quick wit, and his unique sense of style and perfect dress sense, he was a true celebrity of his time, and seduced both men and women as he travelled extensively throughout Europe.

According to one of Lord Byron’s lovers, a certain Lady Caroline Lamb, the poet was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. But still, people couldn’t help but be drawn to him. Much of this was due to his unparalleled sense of style. While many men sported facial hair at the time, Byron was always clean-shaven. What’s more, he also ditched the wax and powder and let his hair flow long, free and natural, a look that scandalized many, but was soon being copied in prestigious universities and the most fashionable parts of London.

Numerous portraits were done of Lord Byron, each helping to add to his legend. He became famous for his fashion sense, and above all for his open-necked shirts and silk robes. According to his friend, the fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Byron was the “most handsome man” in the word, with “his eyes the open portals of the sun…his forehead passing from marble smoothness into a hundred wreathes and lines and dimples”.

Lord Byron’s early death, at the age of just 36, undoubtedly helped add further to his legend. Since he died, alone and in agony, in a small town in a remote part of western Greece, he never had the chance to grow old and unfashionable. He will forever be remembered as the ultimate English dandy.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
General Burnside’s facial hair became more famous than his political career. Wikimedia Commons.

15. Ambrose Burnside’s facial hair has been copied by everyone from the Kaiser to the King

Ambrose Everett Burnside was a soldier, businessman, inventor and politician. For many, however, he was simply a facial hair pioneer. After all, this was the man who gave the world sideburns. Even to this day, men around the world follow Burnside’s lead and craft their beard like he did. Indeed, over the years, his distinctive style has been copied by everyone from Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany right through to Elvis Presley.

Of course, it’s likely that Burnside himself would have preferred to have been remembered for his other notable achievements. The Indiana native, who was born in 1824, graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1843 and then served south of the border. After a largely-unsuccessful spell in business, he re-joined the army and led Union troops as a general in the Civil War. After that, he went back into business, mainly in the railroad sector, and then into politics.

It’s not clear when exactly Burnside started developing his iconic style of facial hair. However, his sideburns were prominent in photos taken while he was in political office. He served three terms as the Governor of Rhode Island, from 1866 to 1869, and then one term as a Senator. Throughout this, he sported his sideburns – indeed, some observers noted that, since they were almost purely white, his whiskers made him look much older than he actually was.

Burnside died in 1881 at the age of just 57. By the time of his death, the facial hair style he sported was still called ‘burnsides’. Many men, especially those who regarded him as a Civil War hero, copied the look, keeping their chins smooth while joining the hair from the ears to the mustache area. Within a few years, however, the syllables were reversed, giving us the term sideburns, which is still used to this day.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
King Charles II started wearing wigs to hide his hair loss, and he started a fashion craze. Wikimedia Commons.

16. King Charles II’s vanity made wigs the must-have fashion item of 17th century London

At some point in the 1650s, King Charles II started losing his hair. Even though he was still in his 20s, it’s possible that he was just balding prematurely. However, it’s far more likely that he was actually suffering from syphilis. Afraid that he would be mocked, he tasked his courtiers to find him the best wigs money could buy. Satisfied with what they brought him, Charles started wearing a wig every day – and a new trend was born in England.

However, Charles was not the first monarch to inspire his subjects to start wearing wigs. Across the sea, King Louis XIV of France had done so a few years before. He too suffered from syphilis and wanted to cover up some of the most obvious symptoms. The Sun King as he was known reputedly hired 48 wigmakers and kept a huge collection of hair pieces. Eager to win his favor, French nobles started wearing wigs, too, even spending large sums of money on pieces made by the same specialists that supplied the court.

In England, as soon as Charles stared sporting a hairpiece, aristocrats started following suit. It even became fashionable among the wealthier members of the middle classes, despite the fact that a new wig cost the equivalent of a week’s wages. Unsurprisingly, people used the fashion craze to show off. Over time, wigs became bigger, more flamboyant and more perfumed. The term ‘bigwig’ was coined to describe someone who was able – and indeed willing – to spend a large sum of money on a wig they didn’t even really need.

Even when both Louis and Charles died, the fashion for wigs refused to go away. In fact, it endured for another 100 years. This is because many people realised that, as well as being trendy, wigs were practical, too. Unlike real hair, they could be taken off and deloused – a big advantage in a time when almost everyone was infected with headlice.

The Most Famous Male Style Icons
Nelson Mandela’s shirts were widely copied in 1990s South Africa. Wikimedia Commons.

17. Nelson Mandela made Indonesian shirts a massive hit in his native South Africa

In the 1990s, men across South Africa started sporting a new kind of shirt. It was known as the ‘Madiba shirt’ or ‘Mandela shirt’, in honor of the freedom fighter, then President, who made the style so popular. Even now, Nelson Mandela’s formidable legacy can be seen everywhere in his native country, including in the clothes its people wear.

Upon being released from prison in 1990, Mandela worked for reconciliation, not revenge. Four years after being freed from the island prison cell he had called home for 27 long years, he was President of South Africa. World leaders wasted no time in congratulating him, with many sending him gifts. The leader of Indonesia sent Mandela a brightly-colored shirt made from batik cloth, a popular garment in the Asian country. The elder statesman was delighted – and he adopted that type of shirt for his everyday dress.

Over the years, Mandela wore hundreds of different versions of the shirt. Some were patterned to celebrate South Africa’s rich flora and fauna, others in bright colors. Sometimes he wore them to greet national leaders, eschewing the usual suit and tie. He famously even wore one for his 90th birthday party. By the late-1990s, Mandela had become a style icon and bright batik shirts were being sold – and worn – right across the newly-democratic country.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Did Hitler Invent the Hitler Moustache?” Slate Magazine, May 2013.

“The Wardrobe of Winston Churchill.” The Rake, January 2018.

“Prince William, Harry and Phillip don the majestic Windsor Uniform.” Daily Mail, May 2016.

“Garibaldi Shirt.” Victoriana Magazine, June 2014.

“Ambassador in a hat: The sartorial power of Benjamin Franklin.” Early Americanists.

“Fury’s fashion people: Louis XIV, the power dresser.” The Independent, July 2013.

“How the Duke of Windsor became a style icon.” The Gentleman’s Journal.

“Science and celebrity: Humphry Davy’s Rising Star.” Science History.

“Ambrose E. Burnside and His Sideburns.” George Washington University.

“Why Did People Wear Powdered Wigs?” Lucas Reilly, Mental Floss, June 2012.

“Indonesia: Mandela the batik fashion icon.” BBC News, December 2013.