Category Archives: Men’s Formalwear & Evening

Fashion Plates (for Men and Women) from the Met Costume Institute

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

The Metropolitan Museum continues its generous policy of sharing images online; “Fashion plates from the collections of the Costume Institute and the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art” are now available (and searchable) at http://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15324coll12

Click here, and scroll down for a lengthy list of sub-collections of fashion plates: menswear, children, wedding, women, headgear, etc., organized by date or range of dates.

What really excited me is the large number of men’s fashion plates, many dated very precisely, like these tennis outfits from 1905-06.

Men's tennis outfits, 1905 1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates collection. Plate 029.

Men’s tennis outfits, 1905-1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates Collection. Plate 029. For full image, click here.

If you need to skim through a year or a decade of men’s fashion, this is a great place! It’s also going to be very helpful to collectors who are trying to date specific items of men’s clothing. Sometimes the date range given is very narrow (e.g., 1905-06) and sometimes it’s rather broad (e.g., 1896 to 1913) but menswear is neglected by many costume collections, so this is a terrific resource.

Vintage vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help to date them from reference materials

Vintage evening vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help the collector to date them from reference materials.

In addition to full outfits, like these evening clothes …

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

… individual items like vests can also be found:

Men's vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category "1900-1919 men"

Men’s vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category “1900-1919 men.” The vests on the left have five buttons.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons instead of six.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons and one has six. You could probably date them from the Met’s Fashion Plate Collection.

Men's vests 1896 to 1899. The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves.

From “Men 1896 to 1899.” The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves. The red one with vertical stripes may be a footman’s or other servant’s vest. This plate is dated February 1898.

Of course, fashion plates that have been separated from their descriptions in text are less useful than a complete magazine or catalog. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the chance to see these rare collections, especially because the men are not forgotten.

This delightful plate reminds me of an Edward Gorey vamp — like the ones dancing through the credits on Mystery on Public Television.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Collection Fashion Plate.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Institute Fashion Plate.

I’ll add a link to the collection to my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar. (There are other treasures to explore there….)

 

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1830s -1860s fashions, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1930s, Children's Vintage styles, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Early Victorian fashions, Exhibitions & Museums, Late Victorian fashions, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Mid-Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers, Suits for Men, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Wedding Clothes

A Gentleman’s Morning Coat, 1930’s Weddings

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers) Best man (?) and usher. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair; the man with the blazer and red carnation is presumable a guest. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

Formal Wedding Party, Daytime Wedding, Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

The "morning coat", or "cutaway" is the most formal daytime outfit for men. "Morning coat" refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

The “morning coat”, or “cutaway” is the most formal daytime outfit for men. “Morning coat” refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

In the Spring and Summer of 1934, Esquire magazine ran several articles about wearing the morning coat. The morning coat, or “cutaway” had long been a correct choice for formal daytime events, but in 1936, by royal decree, it officially replaced the “frock coat” as formal daytime clothing in the English court. (I found this date  in Diana de Marly’s book, Fashion for Men. )

In the early 20th century, in spite of the acceptance of sack suits for most business purposes. . .

What the sack suits looked like by 1934. Double breasted or single breasted, they were standard business clothing. Esquire, Feb. 1934.

What sack suits looked like by 1934. Double breasted or single breasted, they were standard business clothing. Esquire, Feb. 1934.

. . . the frock coat was still correct formal daytime wear for diplomats and other men for whom a casual appearance was not acceptable.

A little background on the frock coat:

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861. He wears a frock coat, vest and trousers. Photo by Mayall, courtesy of V and A museum.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861. He wears a frock coat, vest and trousers. Photo by Mayall, courtesy of V and A Museum.

The frock coat — and the man’s three piece suit — can be said to have originated with Charles II of England, who abolished the clothing worn at the French court . . .

A french courtier, 1660, from costumer Nicole Kipar's archives.

A French courtier, 1660, from costumer Nicole Kipar’s archives.

and commanded, in 1666, that the more manly “Persian” suit of clothes be worn in his presence. Eventually, the combination of knee length coat, breeches, and vest evolved into normal business wear for men. The 19th century frock coat really did resemble the full-skirted dresses of the 1820’s and 30s….

Frock coat in French Fashion Plate, 1829. Courtesy of V and A Museum/

Frock coat in French Fashion Plate, 1829. Courtesy of V and A Museum

Frock coats, 1828, Journal des Dames. Thanks to TwoNerdyHistoryGirls for finding this plate.

Frock coats, 1828, Journal des Dames. Thanks to TwoNerdyHistoryGirls for finding this plate.

Young lady with gentleman in Frock coat, London, 1861. Courtesy V & A Museum.

Young lady with gentleman in Frock coat, London, 1861. Courtesy V & A Museum.

The photo below, from the early 20th century, shows the King of England, George V (at left), wearing a frock coat, which he favored for official daytime menswear. It was worn by lawyers, bankers, and other successful men, not just at court. He is with his son, Prince Edward (b. 1894, later the Duke of Windsor), who is wearing a formal black or dark gray cutaway.

Left, King George V in Frock coat; right, Edward Prince of Wales, wearing a cutaway or morning coat. Photo: Flash and Footle .

Left, King George V in frock coat; right, Edward, Prince of Wales, wearing a cutaway or morning coat. Photo: Flash and Footl

During the few months when he was king — before abdicating — Edward, who really preferred to wear a sack suit, abolished the frock coat at court in favor of the cutaway, or morning coat. By the 1930s, the bands of braid on the cutaway had disappeared. (Around the turn of the century a cutaway could be part of a casual three piece suit.)

During the early 1930’s, Esquire treated its readers to at least two articles about the morning coat — timed for the Summer wedding season. (On June 3, 1937, Edward, now the Duke of Windsor, was married — appropriately, in a morning suit.)

This ad from men’s clothier Rogers Peet shows attire for a wedding:

Rogers Peet ad for menswear. Esquire, April 1934.

Rogers Peet ad for menswear. Esquire, April 1934. (The curvature of the page distorts it.)

Esquire, April 1934, p. 126.

Esquire, April 1934, p. 126.

The Floorwalker at a posh department store. He says, --and think of us when you think of panties," while handing an elderly lady her package. Esquire, April 1934, p. 32.

The Floorwalker at a posh department store. While handing an elderly lady her package, he says, “–and think of us when you think of panties.”  Esquire, April 1934, p. 32.

Esquire felt obliged to explain that — even though classy store employees wore them — there really was justification for a gentleman to buy a set of morning clothes.

Reasons to won a morning suit, Esquire, April 1934.

Reasons to own a morning suit, Esquire, April 1934.

The "morning coat", or "cutaway" is the most formal daytime outfit for men. "Morning coat" refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126.

“Morning coat” refers to the entire outfit, which includes striped trousers and a vest, etc. Esquire magazine, April, 1934, p. 126. Illustration by Fellows.

Article from Esquire, April 1934. p. 126. It refers to the image at top of this post.

Esquire morning coat article, April 1934.

Esquire morning coat article, April 1934.

vest 1934 april p 126 wedding morning coat clothes formalwear color image fellows illus

In June, Esquire spelled out the groom’s obligations regarding gifts to the ushers, flowers, and how to avoid blunders when dressing for a formal daytime wedding — with many choices of gray, white, or natural linen waistcoat, and a variety of collars and ties.

Wedding Etiquette and Dress Article by Sturart Howe, Esquire, June 1934.

Wedding Etiquette and Dress Article by Stuart Howe, Esquire, June 1934.

Illustration accompanying Esquire's June article on clothes for a formal wedding, p. 139.

Illustration accompanying Esquire’s June article on clothes for a formal wedding, p. 139.

Which man wears wears what at a formal daytim wedding. Article from Esquire, June 1934.

Which man wears wears what at a formal daytime wedding. Article from Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 138.

I believe that the man with a mustache, standing left of the bride, and wearing a white vest and stiff wing-collar shirt, is the groom, partly because his boutonniere is lily of the valley, rather than a white carnation or gardenia.

The groom is responsible for flowers worn by the usher, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

The groom is responsible for flowers worn by the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Gifts from the groom to the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Gifts from the groom to the ushers, et al. Esquire, June 1934, pg. 138.

Waistcoats/vests to wear to a wedding with your cutaway or morning coat. Esquire, June 1934. p. 138.

Waistcoats/vests to wear to a wedding with your cutaway or morning coat. Esquire, June 1934. p. 138.

Wedding guest in cutway coat and spats. Ad for Talon zippers, Esquire, April, 1934.

Wedding guest in cutway coat,with spats over his shoes. Ad for Talon zippers, Esquire, April, 1934.

The wedding party wears spats, too:

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers) Best man (?) and usher. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair; the man with the blazer and red carnation is presumable a guest. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

Groom, bride, guest (in checked trousers & shoes with light colored tops). An usher in white-striped trousers. Is that the best man wearing herringbone trousers and a wing-collared shirt? Esquire doesn’t mention him. I think the father of the bride is the beaming man with white hair and two-button cutaway; the man in the blazer, solid gray trousers, and red carnation is presumably a guest, not part of the wedding party. Esquire, June 1934. Pg. 139.

For the man whose social schedule did not include participating in the Easter Parade, attending Royal Ascot or signing treaties, there was another occasion, besides weddings, when a morning coat could be worn:

Cartoon by Hoff, Esquire, June 1924.

Cartoon by Hoff, Esquire, June 1924.

There is an excellent history of the morning coat at the Morning Dress Guide blog, with the added advantage of a European point of view (and photo collection) from its author, Sven Raphael Schneider.

Even in the thirties, when many men owned a tuxedo to wear to dances, nightclubs, dinners, concerts, and the theatre, morning dress was more  likely to be rented than purchased, in spite of Esquire‘s advice.

P.S. What would costumers do without Stacy Adams shoes? This company still sells black shoes with white tops, although they have snaps, rather than buttons…. The Gentleman’s Emporium has a surprisingly wide selection of spats.

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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Haberdashery & Accessories, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Shirts for men, Shoes, Shoes for Men, Suits for Men, Uniforms and Work Clothes

A Gentleman’s White Dinner Jacket, 1934

An off-white, double-breasted dinner jacket worn with tuxedo trousers. Esquire, July 1934.

An off-white, double-breasted dinner jacket worn with tuxedo trousers. Esquire, July 1934.

In 1934, Esquire magazine reminded readers that for summer and resort wear, the tuxedo was not the only option for “black tie” evening dress.

"A Few Suggestions for Saturday Night;" Black tie options for August, 1934, from Esquire magazine.

“A Few Suggestions for Saturday Night;” Black Tie options for August, 1934, from Esquire magazine.

“White Tie” describes the most formal evening dress for men; “Black Tie” is less formal, and less uncomfortable, since a starched bib-front shirt, white vest, and scratchy, rigid collar were not necessary with a tuxedo.

The Tuxedo was named after a resort called Tuxedo Park, but according to one club member, “I was brought up believing that no one called it a tuxedo. It was always called a dinner jacket.” From a history of the tuxedo in Wall Street Journal.

In the late 1800’s, the outfit we now call a tuxedo was worn only when ladies were not present, or at family dinners in the era when men and women “dressed” for dinner. But, by the 1920’s, many men wore “black tie” to dances, nightclubs, and fine restaurants. This illustration shows three black tie variations from 1934:

Left, a double-breasted tuxedo in dark navy blue,; center, and single-breasted black tuxedo worn with a cream vest (a black vest was more common, but this was for summer.) Right, an double-breasted "white" dinner jacket, also double-breasted. Esquire, August 1934.

Left, a double-breasted tuxedo in midnight blue; center, a single-breasted black tuxedo worn with a light colored vest (a black vest was more common, but this was for summer.) Right, a white dinner jacket, also double-breasted. Esquire, August 1934. Both peaked lapels and shawl collars were acceptable.

The wider bow tie, called a bat tie, went with a soft-collared shirt.

500 text top three1934 aug saturday night p 122

“Palm Beach” was a brand name; it indicated a summer fabric that was washable, and could refer to the cloth or to a suit made from it.

Ad for a Palm Beach suit, Esquire, July 1934.

Ad for a Palm Beach suit, Esquire, July 1934.

Palm Beach label, July 1934 ad.

Palm Beach label, July 1934 ad.

White double breasted dinner jacket, Esquire Aug. 1934.

White double-breasted dinner jacket, Esquire Aug. 1934. There are four buttons, but only the bottom buttons are fastened.

The white dinner jacket was illustrated as an essential part of a wardrobe for a weekend in the country, Esquire, Aug. 1934.

The white dinner jacket was illustrated as an essential part of his wardrobe for a weekend in the country, Esquire, Aug. 1934. Also essential: black patent shoes or pumps for “dress-up time.”

A single-breasted white dinner jacket shown in an ad for Skinner Linings. Skinner made suit linings and, in this case, the cummerbund worn with the dinner jacket. Ad, Esquire, July 1934.

A single-breasted white dinner jacket shown in an ad for Skinner Linings. Skinner made suit linings and, in this case, the cummerbund worn with the single-button dinner jacket. Ad, Esquire, July 1934.

The white or off-white “dinner jacket” was usually worn with black tuxedo trousers.  Often the dinner jacket was a warm-weather choice because it might be unlined, or half-lined (rather than fully lined) in back, and because it was not worn over a vest. [Esquire recommended double-breasted business suits for summer in 1934, because they could be worn without a vest, unlike single-breasted suits, which were usually three-piece.] The cummerbund, in black or in maroon, was coming into fashion, perhaps left over from the brief craze for wearing a waist-length mess jacket for evenings on cruises or at resorts.

White dinner jacket from an illustration on cruise or resort wear, February 1934. Esquire.

White dinner jacket from an illustration of cruise or resort wear, February 1934. Esquire, Upper left. This double-breasted jacket only has buttons at the waist.

Mess jacket from an illustration of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

Mess jacket with starched shirt and a black cummerbund, from an illustration of cruise and resort wear; Esquire, Top center, Feb. 1934.

Text for illustrations of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

Text for illustrations of cruise and resort wear, Esquire, Feb. 1934.

There had been an early thirties’ fashion for wearing a white “Mess jacket,” which was cropped at the waist like a military evening uniform (hence its name — as in “Officers’ Mess,” or dining room.) As explained at the excellent  Black Tie Guide site, the white mess jacket was soon relegated to servants, barmen, and waiters.

The cummerbund, however, has been with us as a “black tie” accessory ever since; originally only worn as resort wear, in the 1930’s it slowly replaced the tuxedo vests worn in the 1920’s and was acceptable in town by the 1940’s.

Black tie worn with a vest or with a cummerbund, Esquire, August 1934.

Black tie worn with a vest or with a cummerbund, Esquire, August 1934.

500 text btm 1934 aug saturday night p 122

Black patent evening pumps or lace up evening shoes for men Aug 1934 Esquire

Black patent evening pumps or lace up evening shoes for men; sheer black stockings with stripes or red clocks. Aug. 1934, Esquire.

The “white” dinner jacket was not necessarily stark white; natural linen colors were also chic, as can be seen in this ad for Arrow dress shirts.

Ad for Arrow dress shirts, shown with an off-white dinner jacket. Esquire, Sept. 1934. The shirt on the right has a "regular", i.e., stiff, detachable collar. The one on the left has a new, attached collar.

Ad for Arrow pleated dress shirts, shown with an off-white dinner jacket. Esquire, Sept. 1934. One shirt has a “regular neck band” worn with a stiff, detachable collar. The other shirt has a new, attached collar.

The pleated fronts distinguished “dress shirts” from business shirts.

Esquire ran a regular series of illustrations which used actual fabric cut into the shapes of coats, shirts, etc. This one shows the off-white color and linen-like texture used in some “white” dinner jackets.

A creamy white dinner jacket worn with a pure white shirt, plus blue bachelor button in the lapel. Esquire, July 1934.

A creamy white dinner jacket worn with a pure white shirt, plus blue bachelor button in the lapel. Esquire, July 1934.

The off-white tone of the classic dinner jacket — darker than the shirt  — can be seen in this amusing clip from the movie The Lady Eve (1941.) Henry Fonda plays a wealthy but awkward herpetologist who hasn’t been in close proximity to a glamorous woman for quite some time — a situation that fortune-hunter Barbara Stanwyck corrects in this shipboard scene. Her bare-midriff dress and high heels are wonderful, too.

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Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Haberdashery & Accessories, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shirts for men, Shoes for Men, Uniforms and Work Clothes

Men Bare Their Chests at the Beach, 1933

One man has a bare chest and one wears a swimsuit with a top in this 1937 illustratioin from Woman's Home Companion. July 1937, p. 74.

One man has a bare chest and one man wears a swimsuit with a top in this 1937 illustration from Woman’s Home Companion. July 1937, p. 74.

Nude bathing for men was an accepted tradition in Victorian times. (A stretch of river called Parson’s Pleasure was reserved for this purpose at Oxford University until 1991.) But as “mixed” bathing became popular near the end of the 19th century, both men and women were expected to cover up from breastbone to knee.

Man's bathing suit from Sears catalog, Spring 1910.

Man’s bathing suit from Sears catalog, Spring 1910. Sleeveless swimming suits for men were also for sale.

1920’s bathing suits were clinging, but very similar for both sexes.

Bathing suits from the Sears catalog, Spring 1925.

Bathing suits from the Sears catalog, Spring 1925. The swim suit worn by the seated man is not very different from the woman’s suit.

Practices varied from place to place but, at public beaches and pools in the U.S., men were usually required to wear suits that covered their nipples until the mid-nineteen thirties.

Men's swim suits from Sears, Spring 1935.

Men’s swimming suits from Sears, Spring 1935. Left, an elasticized “Speed Suit” suspended from the shoulders. Center, trunks with a separate tuck-in shirt. Right, a “two-purpose suit” whose top attaches with a zipper.

The “Speed Suit” (left) has attached trunks and “elastic-ribbed fabric.” The “High Waisted Trunks” at center are shown with a separate all-wool shirt which tucks into the suit at front and back. The “two-purpose” Zip Top Suit” at right has a zipper in front that allows you to remove the “shirt” part.

By 1934, it was becoming acceptable for men to swim bare-chested, but rules for public and private beaches and pools differed, so bringing an optional top would save embarrassment. (Speaking of embarrassment, I wonder: when the trunks were not suspended from the shoulders, was a belt necessary to support the weight of water-logged wool knit trunks?)

This vintage suit, from Macy’s, has a similar zipper front and a rather bare X back:

Man's swim suit from Macy's, circa 1930s, with slide closing detachable top.

Man’s swim suit from Macy’s, circa 1930s; the detachable top connects to the trunks with a large metal zipper.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/whc-april-1937-p-3-nmen-bathing-suits-tans-illus-cordrey-500.jpg?w=500

This illustration from Womans’ Home Companion, 1937, shows that some men — in this case, two out of three — continued to wear the top even when not required to do so.

Men's bathing suits with tops, WHC February 1936 illustration.

Men’s bathing suits with tops, WHC, February 1936 illustration.

The older man is wearing a more conservative, covered-up swimsuit.

According to Esquire magazine in 1934,

Esquire, July 1934, page 118.

Esquire, July 1934, page 118.

This implies that shirtless swimming was permitted on some public beaches in 1933, and earlier [1932] at some private beaches and pools.

Esquire, July 1934, p. 118. Men's swimming trunks without chest coverage.

Esquire, July 1934, p. 118. Men’s swimming trunks without chest coverage. The punning caption read: “Even the Public Beaches Embrace the Nude Deal.”

The man at left is wearing a shirt tucked into his trunks.

Esquire, July 1934, p. 118.

Esquire, July 1934, p. 118.

In the same July 1934 issue, this ad for Mansco Sportswear shows several conservative looks:

Ad for Manhattan Mansco sportswear and swiming trunks. Esquire, July 1934.

Ad for Manhattan Mansco sportswear and swimming trunks. Esquire, July 1934.

However, this ad from Gantner and Mattern Co. shows much tighter-fitting trunks — and no top.

Ad for Gantner "Wikies" swim trunks, esquire, July 1934.

Ad for Gantner “Wikies” swim trunks, Esquire, July 1934.

Gantner Wikies man's swim trunks. Ad, Esquire, July 1934.

Gantner “Wikies” man’s swim trunks. Ad, Esquire, July 1934. A “Snapper Shirt” top for Wikies was available separately, presumably to snap on at beaches where swimming with a bare chest was still not permitted.

The Wikies’ high waist reflects the high-waisted men’s trousers then in fashion. Wikies’ snug fit was probably possible because of the recent [1931] invention of Lastex yarn, which even appeared in men’s suit fabric in 1934 ads.

Lastex ad, Esquire, March 1934, p. 8.

From a Lastex ad, Esquire, March 1934, p. 8. “Lastex, the spun elastic yarn, is now weaving comfort into everything a man wears — into his business suit, Tuxedo, sportswear, bathing suit, riding clothes, shirt, …underwear, pyjamas….”

The Lastex company ran a series of advertisements in Esquire magazine showing men’s suits, tuxedos, etc. which were made with stretch fabrics — in 1934!

Beach and resort wear, including "pretty snug" men's swimming trunks, worn bare-chested. Esquire, August, 1934, p. 133.

Beach and resort wear, including “pretty snug” men’s swimming trunks, worn bare-chested. Esquire, August, 1934, p. 133. L. Fellows, illustrator.

1934 aug p 133 beach and resort wear swim text swim

This editorial illustration appeared in a women’s magazine in 1935:

Illustration by Warren Baumgartner, May, 1935.

Illustration by Warren Baumgartner, Woman’s Home Companion, May, 1935.

Perhaps the acceptance of bare chests had something to do with Hawaii:

A surfer in a Dole Pineapple ad, May 1934. Delineator.

A Hawaiian surfer in a Dole Pineapple ad, May 1934. Delineator.

I can’t help noticing that Esquire chose to use men “of a certain age” to model swimsuits in its editorial fashion articles. The women’s magazines, however, pictured younger, athletic-looking men wearing swimsuits in their illustrations, just as Esquire favored voluptuous women in its cartoons….

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Bathing Suits, Men's Formalwear & Evening, Men's Sportswear, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Zippers

Men’s Fashions in Color, 1933

A typical page of men's fashions from the first issue of Esquire magazine, Autumn 1933.

One of many pages of men’s fashions from the first issue of Esquire magazine, Autumn 1933.

A good costume designer is just as interested in men’s clothing as in women’s, with good reason: There are far more parts for men than for women in plays, movies, and television.
But dating men’s 20th century clothing is difficult for a number of reasons, among them a slower rate of change (men don’t buy a new suit for every new occasion, but wear them for years) and the subtlety of the changes (a quarter inch in the width of a lapel or a necktie, two versus three buttons, etc.) And not many theatres can afford a full-time tailor.

Men's suits from Sears, Spring 1938 and 1948.

Men’s suits from Sears, Spring 1938 and 1948. Click to enlarge.

Often, for budgetary reasons, “close is good enough” on stage because the audience probably won’t know the difference between men’s suits from 1938 and 1948 — although the difference in women’s fashions from those years would be clear.

Women's suit patterns, 1938 and 1948. The silhouette is very different.

Women’s suit patterns, 1938 and 1948. The silhouette is very different. Click to enlarge.

I feel bad about neglecting men’s fashions in this blog. However, this month I came across the very-first-ever-issue of Esquire magazine. Considering that it appeared in the depth of the Great Depression, when other magazines were becoming shorter (not enough advertisers) and eliminating color pages to save printing costs, who would expect to find 14 full-color pages of men’s fashion in Esquire’s premier issue?  But there they were — along with cartoons in color! (Fashion illustrations by L. Fellows.)

"This Our New York, cartoon by Howard Baer. Esquire, Autumn 1933.

“This Our New York,” cartoon by Howard Baer. Esquire, Autumn 1933. Public transportation brings together a range of ages and ethnicities — all wearing hats and gloves. His flashy clothes (and appraising stare) imply that the man on the right is not a gentleman.

The first issue was a quarterly — Autumn, 1933. In 1934 Esquire became a monthly magazine. Like Delineator magazine, Esquire aimed at a middle-to-upper class reader. Just as Delineator focused on what was worn in Paris, Esquire was focused on successful, East Coast, Ivy League, business and professional men — and those who wanted to imitate them. Many of the clothes are illustrated on older men of distinction; illustrations of sportswear (riding, skiing, and spectator sports like racing) assume that Esquire readers are far removed from breadlines and soup kitchens.

New Looks for Men in 1933

Some trends described as new to men’s fashions in fall of 1933 were the appearance of brown suits in business settings, rougher-textured and harder-wearing wool suits and coats (a nod to the Depression), and the shirt collar fastened by a pin. Colorful — and patterned — business shirts with white collars and cuffs were pictured often. It’s not certain that every fashion Esquire suggested became mainstream — just as few people actually wore Vogue editorial fashion. But the opportunity to see 1930’s color combinations, including advice on coordinating hats and shirts and ties, socks and suspenders and handkerchiefs, makes me very happy! Here’s what I learned from just four pages:

The Lawyer

Navy double-breasted suit and accessories, Esquire, Fall 1933, p. 82.

Navy double-breasted suit and accessories, Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 82.

This traditional double-breasted, navy blue suit “will never get you into the headlines as the Beau Brummel of your time,” but for the man who is not sure that his “taste in colors [is] to be trusted, sticking to plain blue is the most reliable way” to look smart. “You may not be resplendently right, but a least you can’t be clamorously wrong — you can wear almost anything with a blue suit.” Esquire recommends a colored shirt with white collar and cuffs. The one he’s wearing has bold stripes. Colored pocket square.

For wear with the navy suit, "self-figured" ties, gray Homburg hat, and a blue shirt with white pique collar and collar pin. Esquire, Autumn 1933.

For wear with the navy suit, “self-figured” ties, gray Homburg hat, and a blue shirt with white pique collar and collar pin. Esquire, Autumn 1933.

“The white pique collar that comes with the shirt should be of the new model that provides eyelet openings for the collar pin.” You can wear any of the self-figured ties sketched in the panel of accessories.” “The hat is the correct gray Homburg.”

500 navy homburg 1933 autumn esq color p 82 navy suit image“The newest thing in braces [suspenders] is the double braid in contrasting colors.”

500 navy suit suspenders1933 autumn esq color p 82 navy suit shirt tie suspendersThe full-legged, sharply creased suit trousers taper to a cuff.

Cuffed tapered trousers, 1933. Illustrations are by L. Fellows.

Cuffed, tapered trousers, 1933. They are exactly the right length to flow smoothly without a “break” [wrinkle] over the instep. Illustrations are by L. Fellows.

I find it interesting that the man in the navy blue suit is shown pleading a case in front of a jury; in Dress for Success (1975), John Molloy recommended that trial lawyers wear navy blue suits, because surveys showed that working-class jurors distrusted men in gray suits (too much like bankers.)

The Architect

Brown worsted checked 3-pc suit, blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, polka dotted or printed satin tie. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 81.

Brown worsted checked 3-piece suit, blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, and polka dotted or printed satin tie. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 81.

This young architect is wearing a three-piece brown suit with a small windowpane check. (For comparison, click here to see a 2016 three-piece checked suit — vest sold separately. The fit is very different, and the jacket very short.) Like the 1933 navy blue suit, these rather full pant legs are tapered and cuffed.

Tapered, cuffed suit trousers, Esquire, 1933.

Tapered, cuffed suit trousers, Esquire, 1933.

His matching vest has a lapel. His two-button jacket has flap pockets (including a small “ticket pocket.”)

Esquire showed two brown suits in city settings; “Catch the average American in anything but a blue or grey suit and you will detect a trace of the same self-conscious look that is otherwise reserved for those who wear evening clothes on street cars;” Esquire blamed this on the “superstition that blue is becoming to everybody” while brown is not. “If you’re one of those blue suit boys, try combining a brown worsted suit and a shirt with blue body and white pique collar. (The newer shirts come in very flattering deep blue.)” All four suits have very broad, padded shoulders.

Two button suit with matching collared vest; worn with blue shirt, white collar, and a selection of ties. Autumn 1933.

Two button suit with matching vest, which has a lapel; worn with blue shirt, white collar, and a selection of ties. Note the collar pin. Autumn 1933.

“The bold polka dot tie shown on the figure is smarter than the printed satins shown at left, …but lots of men like them.”

Monogrammed braces (suspenders.) 1933.

Monogrammed braces (suspenders.) 1933. Note the striped business shirt and rep tie worn by the older draftsman.

“A pair of monogrammed braces like those sketched can be obtained for less, this season, than you would have had to pay for plain ones in the recent past.”

The Doctor

A doctor wears a rough brown wool suit for a more informal appearance. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 87.

A doctor wears a rough brown vested wool suit for a more informal appearance. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 87. Wide, tapering trousers and very wide shoulders.

More outdoorsy brown suits were recommended “for men whose business or profession makes an easy informal appearance helpful. The doctor, for example…. [Brown suits] resemble, as little as possible, the costume of the average undertaker.”

“With the new trend toward rougher textures, brown suitings … rough weaves, rough almost to the point of shagginess… have come to town.” [As opposed to being reserved for country wear.]

The doctor illustrated is wearing a “two button notch lapel modified drape model.” Notice the high waist and low crotch on the trousers, which are sharply creased and are cuffed at the tapered hem.

Two-button suit with matching vest, high-waisted trousers with cuffs, and "clipped figure" shirts. Esquire, Autumn 1933.

Two-button suit with matching vest, high-waisted trousers with cuffs, and “clipped figure” shirts. Esquire, Autumn 1933.

“The accessories … are selected as being especially well suited for wear with the rough suitings. The clipped figure shirting, long outside the pale of fashionable preferment, has come back with this new suiting trend, the slightly raised appearance of the fabric being especially appropriate with a soft rough suiting.”

"Spitalsfield" ties, 1933.

“Spitalsfield” ties, 1933.

“The Spitalsfield [sic] tie is another revived favorite. In a tie of this type you can get away with bright colors without … gaudiness.”  [London’s East End district of Spitalfields was famous for its silk weaving, thanks to an influx of Protestant French refugees after 1685.]

500 doctor snapbrim1933 autumn esq color p 87 rough texture doctor brown suit image

As for hats, the snapbrim is the only suitable model, but to be up to the times it ought to have the rather high tapered crown shown in the one sketched…. It is good in green or brown with a greenish cast.”

The Stockbroker

Gray double-breasted herringbone suit,without cuffs and with a ticket pocket. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 93.

Gray double-breasted herringbone suit, without trouser cuffs and with a ticket pocket. Esquire, Autumn 1933, p. 93. Men’s waists were high.

This gray herringbone double-breasted suit is not quite traditional. “Town clothes… are undergoing many changes. Here we have the omission of cuffs on the trousers and the addition of a ticket pocket placed just below the line at which the draped model gives a slight waist suppression…. The herringbone pattern is enjoying renewed popularity with the trend toward soft rough fabrics in suitings for town and business wear. A plain shoe, in black or briar brown … with a simple toecap and no punching or pinking…”

With this gray suit, he wears a horizontally striped shirt with white collar and cuffs; solid or foulard printed neckties. 1933

With this gray suit, he wears a horizontally striped shirt with white collar and cuffs; matching solid necktie. 1933. Is that a glimpse of a matching herringbone vest?

“… a demi-bosom shirt with cross stripes worn with a low front white laundered collar [detachable collars were still being worn]; and a dark solid-colored tie with a plain pearl stickpin — that rounds out … this formula for appearing to good advantage during the daylight hours. [For] men who have formed the habit of wearing foulard ties twelve months in the year, the new printed satin ties “have foulard prints, but wear much better.”

“Vertical striped hosiery” goes well with the suitings in rougher textured fabrics.

Trousers without cuffs (or "turn-ups") worn with striped socks and suspenders ("braces") with clips to attach to your shirt.

Trousers without cuffs (British “turn-ups”) worn with striped socks and suspenders (“braces”) that have “brace clips” to attach to your shirt. 1933

“Brace clips, attached to elastic cords, keep one’s shirt down.”

The number in his lapel, the slips of paper on the floor, the hurrying messenger — all are signs that this man works in the stock exchange. This photo confirms the background scenery, and this one shows exchange members with numbers in their lapels.

More 1930’s menswear to come ….

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