1920s men’s fashion
Feb 20, 2015 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
I embarked on my first trip to the local outlet mall last weekend and made a few discoveries: one, novelty prints can still be found in modern pencil skirts; two, the 1960s silhouette does suit me; and three, I don’t know squat about men’s fashion. I was waxing poetic with my male shopping buddy about certain fashion trends and realized I could only comment on the female end of the spectrum. As someone who admires the stylish and smart look of Hercule Poirot, it’s high time this ignorance changed. So I decided to start in my favorite era – the jazz age filled with flapper girls. Time to discover what their chaps were sporting – join me as I take a peek into 1920s men’s fashion.
This was the era of technology and personal/artistic freedoms. WWI had ended and men, like their female peers, wanted to carve out their place in the world. Fashion was a key component to a person’s re-invention (and during this post-war jubilation, you had to have something nice to wear out for a night on the town). Just as women’s fashion took a more casual, free-spirited turn, men’s fashion became less formal. Athletic clothes were embraced and the highly formal daywear of the previous years went to the way side. Keep in mind too, that this was a time when having the latest trends was paramount. Stars like Clark Gable or the suave Rudolph Valentino inspired men (and wowed the women). Most sources cite two distinctive periods during this decade: the early ’20s were marked with high waists, narrow lapels and trousers, whereas the late ’20s were all about natural waists and width. What I find most interesting about this time is that it marked the birth of the modern suit.
Suits were still a part of the day to day and the double-breasted vest under a single-breasted jacket was the bee’s knees. Just like the cuffed trouser that was popular, shortness was in vogue, so you’ll see short suit jackets for the dashing gent. Trousers had a crease down the front of the leg for the first time and the fashionable set accented with a pocket watch, cuff links, bow tie, and a folded handkerchief in the breast pocket. If the setting was formal, the jacket would get longer and the shoes would get shinier. If you could travel back in time and look in the closet of a 1920’s guy you’d be drowning in a sea of tweed, wool, and neutral tones. But there was one particular exception.
The Oxford Bag was to men’s fashion what the drop waist dress was to women’s style. These extra-wide-legged trousers marked the beginning of the second phase of 1920s fashion. The pants naturally get their namesake from the University of Oxford, but their popularity quickly spread to America. The wider leg was a direct affront to the older generation. Young men usually paired their Oxford bags with a turtleneck sweater or a jacket (Charles Lindbergh’s star power made the leather jacket highly prized). While typically made of flannel, they could be found in a near rainbow of colors. Perhaps nothing summed up the foolhardiness of youth better than these trousers and something of their magnitude wasn’t felt until the advent of the 1960s hippie movement. To put it in perspective, President Coolidge stated that he wouldn’t be caught ever wearing Oxford bags. Isn’t that extraordinary? Could you imagine a modern leader taking the time to comment on current fashion?
As the saying goes, the clothes make the man, but in the 1920’s the hat was the best clue as to status. Many rules had been lifted and changed, but class distinction through fashion was still alive and well. If you were in the upper class, a top hat or a homburg was your topper of choice. As you can see from this portrait, the Homburg is an oldie but a goodie.
The fedora and bowler hats were the mark of a middle-class man and the newsboy hat (one of my personal favorites), was the choice for the working-class chap on the go. The only hat that blurred the line was the straw boater (what Douglas Fairbanks is holding in our first image). This summer hat was worn by both the upper and middle classes.
One of my favorite 1920’s icons, F. Scott Fitzgerald, captured the coolness of this decade best. Everything about him embodied the jazz age male: intellectual, handy with a typewriter, always up for a cocktail, and dressed to the nines. I’ll leave you with this fun post on how to dress like Gatsby.
For our readers: how would you compare 1920s fashion between the genders? Do you think women took more freedom with expression through style or men?