As I delve into the time capsule of the 1920s, I can’t help but be captivated by the era’s extraordinary men’s formal wear.
The Jazz Age, with its glamorous soirées, extravagant parties, and speakeasies, was a period of unparalleled elegance and sophistication.
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The fashion of the Great Gatsby era was not merely clothing; it was an embodiment of a lifestyle marked by opulence and refinement.
In today’s article, I want to embark on a stylish journey back in time to uncover the secrets of 1920s men’s formal attire. From impeccably tailored suits with wide lapels to iconic bowties and perfectly polished Oxfords, every element exuded an air of charm and mystique.
Join me as we explore the allure of this bygone era, delving into the history, influence, and enduring legacy of 1920s men’s formal fashion.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, or you simply appreciate timeless elegance, this article promises to transport you to a world where style knew no bounds.
Men’s Dress Code for the 1920s
While the majority of men today have business attire, casual attire, sports attire, and loungewear, the truth is that 100 years ago, men had far fewer choices.
Unless you did manual labor, a three-piece suit, complete with hat and dress shoes, was considered everyday wear!
Even for men who did manual labor, such as mechanics or carpenters, if you went shopping or to a friend’s house, it was expected that you would wear that 3-piece suit!
The everyday dress code for men would be the 3-piece suit in some dark color (black, gray, or navy blue) or print, such as a tweed, check, chalk stripe, or herringbone pattern,
along with a hat (1920 hat styles varied, including flat caps, but the fedora was common),
a striped shirt or a colorful dress shirt and/or tie with matching pocket square,
and some nice Oxford shoes.
It might seem like a lot of clothing, but this is the true style for all men during the Jazz Age.
What was expected of men for more formal events? Let’s take a look.
Men’s Formal Wear During the Roaring Twenties
While the three-piece suit may have looked snappy, it wouldn’t cut it when attending formal events.
Much like today, the tuxedo was the way to go when a man had to attend more formal occasions, such as a wedding or a party!
Women may have had the pleasure of dressing up ( see more Gatsby styles for women ) and taking off all those layers for parties, showing more skin and flashing those gams, but men still needed to be stiff and formal!
In the 1920s, men’s tuxedos epitomized sophistication and glamour ( see more Gatsby outfits for men here ). These formal garments were characterized by their impeccable tailoring and distinctive features.
Tuxedos of the era featured wide peak lapels, often adorned with luxurious silk or satin facings, creating a sharp contrast against the rich, dark fabric.
The jackets were typically single-breasted, boasting a slender and elongated silhouette. I love this tux! It is so rich that it appears to be made from velvet!
Trousers were high-waisted and pleated, designed to emphasize the wearer’s lean, athletic build.
To complete the ensemble, men wore crisp, pleated white shirts with detachable collars and bow ties. I don’t know too many men who are interested in wearing those detachable collars, but to get an authentic look, be sure to wear a plain, crisp, white shirt.
The 1920s men wore more relaxed dress shirts and casual pants than they did in previous decades. Ruffles and pleats were not on the horizon just yet.
You can pick more colorful shirts, but choose button-down casual shirts in white or other plain colors.
A bow tie was the look of the decade, and a bow tie with a jazzy print would go nicely with that black tux.
These tuxedos exuded an air of elegance, making them the go-to choice for grand soirées and extravagant gatherings during the Roaring Twenties.
Suits, Spats, Shoes, and Swagger
Like most apparel in the 1920s, any man could wear a suit or a tux, but it was the accessories that made the man.
When attending those parties or heading to the opera or play house, men would want to wear shoes that would compliment that elegant tuxedo. Black patent leather shoes were quite common and could be worn with other suits if necessary.
Two-toned patent leather shoes were also a big fashion item, and I must admit that they look pretty snappy.
Men who couldn’t afford a new pair of shoes often wore spats, which made their everyday Oxfords look like the more expensive two-toned shoes.
This is a good way for men today to look 1920s spiffy without the expense of new shoes!
Other accessories that a well-dressed man would wear in the Great Gatsby era would be fancy cufflinks, especially since buttoned sleeve cuffs had not caught on yet. You can go all out with some gold monogrammed cuff links,
but I like this set because you can use it with other suits and for just about any occasion
White gloves were a popular item to wear with your tux,
and for a touch of true elegance, a walking stick was the epitome of high class.
More than the clothing, it was the swagger that went with the outfit that really set men apart. Think of the scene in Titanic where Jack tries to imitate the way the older, very distinguished gentleman looked as he strode across the hall.
The proper clothing will help give you that swagger, and there is one more thing that you really must consider if you want to pull off a genuine look- a hat.
Take a look at men and women during this period. Watch The Great Gatsby movie and you’ll notice that everyone, simply everyone, once they left home, wore a hat of some type.
For everyday wear, men of distinction (businessmen, wealthy men, or men who wanted to appear wealthy) wore a Panama hat.
With or without the feather is your choice!
Many men, even wealthy ones, would wear a straw boater hat for everyday outings.
If you plan on wearing a tux, however, you’ll want to go with a top hat. Now you don’t need one that is sky high, but nothing screams high-class and Roaring 20s like a top hat.
If the top hat seems a bit over the top, so to speak, then go with a bowler hat.
The right shoes, gloves, walking stick, and hat will give you the confidence to swagger into your next wedding, party or Great Gatsby event!
Winter Wedding? We’ve Got You Covered
Anyone who has attended a winter wedding or any formal event in the winter knows that the tux jacket may keep you warm inside, but you’ve got to step outside eventually!
Lots of couples love the idea of a white, winter wedding held out in the garden, but it’s a nightmare for guests who are trying to stay warm.
If your invitation to a Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve Party leaves you feeling cold, don’t worry! All you need to compliment your tux is the right overcoat!
Men’s overcoats were deliciously long, with hemlines that fell at least to the knee and usually past the knee. Think of Michael or Tommy in Peaky Blinders. ( You can ready more about the Peaky Blinder Suit Styles here )
Everyone adores Thomas Shelby’s coat in Peaky Blinders. I think its the velvet collar that gives this overcoat so much style.
Complete the look with a pocket watch and a flat cap.
If you aren’t planning on wearing a tux, you can go with another style and color overcoat, such as this beauty.
When it comes to vintage overcoats, think long and lean. The coat shouldn’t be bulky or have a belt; buttons and even double-breasted coats would work just fine.
It was also common to use scarf ties around the neck of your overcoat. This scarf is usually put around the outside of the collar so it doesn’t fall off, and if the weather required, you would remove it, place it around your neck, and tuck it inside your overcoat.
All the photos I have seen showed men with white scarves, but I suppose you could wear a dark pattern if you wanted. I really like this pattern, and I think it would work well with a tux or any plain-colored suit.
There is no need to fear Old Man Winter as long as you have the right overcoat!
A Word about Grooming
No one wants to ruin a nice outfit by having long, greasy-looking, or unkempt hair or facial hair.
Good grooming was super important in the 1920s, and everyone from middle-class men to wealthy men wanted to appear well-dressed and scrupulously clean.
In fact, good grooming was often a point of pride since working-class men would often be seen as “dirty” and, therefore, not on the same level as men who were clean.
Men’s hairstyles were short but not too short. Five to seven inches on top was the norm, with the back and sides cleanly shaven.
Regular trips to the barber were necessary to keep the hair neat and in place. Sideburns were cut short, and there could not be hair on the back of the neck.
Oil or pomade was commonly used to keep the hair in place. We may call it the wet look, but this was the typical style.
You can part your hair in the middle or slightly off to one side, but slicking your hair straight back was also common, so take your pick.
Mustaches were also very popular. Older men might wear the “handlebar” mustache, but younger men often went for a simple and sparse mustache, known as the pencil mustache, that often ended just past the lips.
The long and bushy Piccadilly whisker definitely went out of style after World War I, and sideburns were shorter than before.
No matter which type of mustache you want to wear or which side you want to part your hair, the point is that you should look very neat, with no flyaway hair or super bushy mustaches, to play the part of a 1920s gentleman.
A Few Tips and Pointers
When creating your men’s high fashion outfit from the 1920s, there are several key pointers to keep in mind.
1. Embrace Wide Lapels and Bold Patterns: To capture the essence of the 1920s, choose suits with wide peak lapels and experiment with bold, geometric patterns. Striped or checkered suits were all the rage during this era and continue to exude a Gatsby-era charm. If you don’t feel comfortable with pinstripe suits, you can always opt for black, brown, or a dark navy suit.
2. Choose High-Waisted Trousers: High-waisted trousers with pleats were a defining feature of 1920s fashion. Seek out trousers that sit above your natural waistline and feature a relaxed, roomy fit through the thigh, tapering down to the ankle.
3. Accessorize with Confidence: Don’t skimp on accessories. A stylish bowtie, suspenders, collar pins, and a pocket square are essential to complete your look. Consider adding a pair of two-tone Oxfords or brogue shoes to complement your outfit.
4. Explore Textures and Fabrics: 1920s fashion celebrated the use of textured fabrics like wool, tweed, and seersucker. Experiment with different textures to add depth and visual interest to your ensemble.
5. Maintain Impeccable Grooming: A well-groomed appearance is the final touch. Keep your hair slicked back or parted neatly, and consider growing a mustache or neatly trimmed beard to further evoke the spirit of the era. A classic pomade can help you achieve the desired hairstyle.
By following these tips, you can effortlessly incorporate the timeless charm of 1920s men’s formal wear into your wardrobe, whether for a themed event or a desire to infuse your personal style with a dash of Gatsby-era elegance.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.