By Guest Blogger Joy Bennett
1920s men’s fashion was the start of menswear as we know it today. The postwar era was full of classic sophistication with a splash of fun, a combination that was unheard of in the earlier Victorian Era. Men’s clothes in the 1920s were mostly neutral with patterns, but accessories were pops of bright color.
The essential part of a man’s wardrobe in the 1920s was his suit. At this time, men wore suits everywhere! The three-piece suit with wide lapels and high rise cuffed trousers became incredibly popular in this decade. The suits were often patterned in stripes, plaid, tweed, or plain wool. For the upper and middle class man, suits were worn for day, evening, work, or parties. The blue-collar workers, sport players, and college men were certainly the exception for the suit rule.
These suits were mostly made of thick wool, be they tweed, mohair, flannel, or corduroy, and they were much heavier than today’s suit material, yet lighter than in previous decades. The suit jackets were either single or double breasted with 3-4 buttons up the front. When buttoned, jackets would completely cover vests, leaving only the shirt collar and necktie exposed.
The suit style of the 1920s also included two sets of flap pockets, which we don’t see in suits today. The colors of the fabric were similar to previous decades; browns, blues, dark green, grey, ivory, and even the occasional pastel pink! However, unlike we see in gangster movies, men never wore black suits. Black was a color dedicated to mourning. The black pinstripe suits frequently worn by Hollywood gangsters on film were responding to the trends of the 1940s and1950s when grey and black suits were in vogue, and to make it clear to the viewer who the ‘bad guy’ was.
In the early 1920s, the suit fit snugly in a slim fit, after 1924, the style changed to a looser boxy fit. The suit jacket lapels grew wider each year of the decade, and the slit pocket became a new feature in the later part of the decade. They also embraced more unique colors in suits as the decade wore on, including pink, light green, lilac, blue-grey, and green-grey.
White suits in lighter fabrics were ideal for summer and vacations. Ivory trousers paired with a navy blue blazer was common attire in the summer for yacht owners, and ivy leaguers. A captain’s hat and two-tone oxfords rounded out this look.
As for trousers, the first half of the 1920s featured narrow pant legs, and they gradually widened as the decade progressed. College men took the new wide-leg styles to heart and began wearing “Oxford bags,” which had leg widths up to 16 inches! They were designed to be word over knickers, which were banned in classrooms.
The trouser was a high rise, and came up to the natural waist with a deep seat, giving lots of room in the rear. The fit was full around the hips and tapered down the leg in early years, but widened as the decade progressed. To keep their trousers up, men used button-on suspenders. The pants were also a bit shorter, exposing the socks, which were either plain, striped, or argyle patterned and worn high up the leg calf and secured with sock garters. No elastic in socks at this point!
Men did have different attire for sports. For golf, knickers, aka plus fours were the preferred attire. These ballooned out around the knee with tall plain or patterned socks to cover the calf. A bold patterned sweater or sweater vest, button down shirt, tie and a newsboy cap completed the outfit.
After World War I, knitwear was incredibly popular. Casual, stretchy knit sweaters and cardigans were worn instead of country jackets. The knit fabric was flexible enough to make sports like golf more comfortable, and it was cheap enough to appeal to lower classes as everyday attire. Sweaters could be plain, fancy weave, or printed. Both pullover and button down sweaters for men featured huge shawl collars, though the turtle neck did make its appearance during this decade.
In the 1920s, men had to wear hats. It was only proper. Felt hats were worn year around, though they were typically replaced by a straw boater hat in the spring and summer.
Men’s fashion adjusted with the times, and has gotten both more casual, and more outrageous as time has passed. However, I think we can all agree that very few men look terrible when wearing a well cut suit!
Joy Bennett is the Curator and Archivist of the Hancock Historical Museum, and has worked there for nearly 9 years. She graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2011 with Masters degrees in 20th Century American History and Public History. She loves the history of fashion, classic movies, and reading.