Haute Historian: Land Sharks

August 20, 2012 • Haute Historian, Magazine

The Discovery Channel just finished up commemorating its 25th anniversary of Shark Week. A week, much like its moniker suggests, that honors the king of the ocean – the shark – by airing a slew of television shows depicting anything and everything shark related, including clips from the movie Jaws and building a functioning, life-like and life-size, prehistoric shark robot called Megalodon (look it up, it’s pretty terrifying). After 25 years of airing Shark Week, you’d think people would become bored watching sharks leap out of the water and into the air in the attempt to snatch a nearby seal or that the people at the Discovery Channel  would  run out of new ideas for fresh content. But the thrill of seeing it and learning more about the majestic fish is still there after these many years. Because, let’s face it, sharks are pretty badass and when things are cool and have an air of mystery and have more than a bit of fierceness, people respond.

How most things go in popular culture, a trend is often adapted across multiple genres. The fashion industry’s response to sharks? The sharkskin suit. Unlike other animal skins that are used in clothing and fashion, a natural sharkskin suit uses high quality, ultra fine wool and silk threads and are tightly, woven together, criss-crossing each other in order to imitate the iridescent hide of a shark, but doesn’t actually use the shark’s skin. The fabric has long been in use, dating as far back as the 1700s. In its history it’s been used in clothing and in the household as curtains and furniture since it has a nice drape and is wrinkle resistant. Unlike the shark’s skin, which can actually be very rough, so much so it can be used as a sort of sandpaper (fact courtesy of the Discovery Channel’s Myth Busters show) the sharkskin fabric is actually very smooth, making it the ideal suit fabric and has been used by bespoke tailors. It’s not actually known if the fabric was made to imitate the shark or if the fabric just resembles it and was given its name. But what donning the suit has accomplished for its wearers is looking nearly as badass as the sharks. At its height of popularity, the suit was worn by the Rat Pack, Elvis and others in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the epitome of cool.

The sharkskin suit has had highs and lows and has even acquired knock off versions that are cheaper and use rayon and polyester instead of natural fibers. Many a country western star is seen sporting the cool look. And for a fabric that was used predominantly in male apparel, in recent years women’s fashion is seeing its use more and more. Mui Mui’s fall 2012 ready-to-wear collection is almost strictly sharkskin suits, all shiny and sleek but in varying colors.  From the ocean to the runway, the sharkskin suit is sure to be a cool addition to a working woman’s wardrobe this fall.

1. Shark, wikipedia.org
2. Rat Pack in Sharkskin Suits, early 1960s, quora.com
3. Miguel Adrover Spring 2003 RTW
4. Richard Tyler Fall 2011 RTW
5. Miu Miu Fall 2012 RTW

–Bonnie J Brown

Image Layout: Joey Payson

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