For a evening out to the opera, getting married, dancing at a formal ball, or attending a lavish dinner party meant it was time for men to dress in their finest. 1920’s men’s formal wear kept the traditional top hat and tailcoat as well as added a option for a dinner jacket called a Tuxedo coat today.
1910’s men’s formal wear consisted of a black fitted jacket with long ‘swallow’ tails in the back, a white vest, trousers with silk stripes on the sides, and a white bow tie. While this “white tie” look continued to be in fashionable in the 1920’s it was gradually losing favor.
Formal suits were almost always black, but dark navy blue saw a resurgence too. The dark blue suit cut down on the appearance of dust, fibers and pilling that are problematic with black suits.
1920’s Tuxedo Jacket
The dinner jacket or tuxedo jacket replaced the tail coat as a more casual and comfortable attire for many formal occasions. The exceptions were traditional weddings and the most formal of wealthy parties.
The tuxedo jacket of the 1920s was still fairly long, falling below the hips. Thin notched or peaked lapels were the most fashionable, but even they got wider as the decade progressed. Some jackets were cuffed at the wrists too, sometimes with contrasting material, such as shiny satin or faille. They were mostly single-breasted with two button holes on either side of the jacket held together by a coat link. The coat link is similar in appearance to cuff-links.
A double-breasted dinner jacket became popular in America in the late ‘20s. It was worn without a vest and eventually in the 1930s with an early form of a cummerbund. Two flap pockets were usually found on the front, and a slit breast pocket made room for a white pocket square.
1920’s Formal Trousers
Matching pants were worn with the both tailcoats and tuxedo jackets. They were very high-waisted, coming above the natural waistline, and held up with suspenders. The trim on the side legs varied with the dress. For tailcoats the trim was either two slim single or one wide double strip of silk braid. With dinner jackets a single narrow braid was the only trim. Satin strips were the slightly less formal and more affordable trim.
Trousers had thin legs and cuffs turned up at the high ankle. Formal pants were worn very short – men’s black silk socks were visible, even while standing up. A sharp crease down the center gave a polished look to the relative informality of evening wear.
1920s Formal Shirts and Vests
The formal dress shirt traditionally was a white cotton or silk bib front button up shirt with detachable wingtip collar. Bib front shirts were starched stiff and smooth. Dress shirts button up with shirt links made of white mother of pearl or black onyx. On the double cuffs (french cuffs) were a pair of initialed cuff links.
By the end of the 1920’s some young men (mostly American’s) tossed out the stiff bib front shirt in favor of a silk night shirt! These soft shirts with smooth or pleated fronts certainly were more comfortable and casual. They were only considered acceptable for summer time semi formal occasions although plenty of young men worn them to formal events too.
Over the shirt came a single or double breasted white or ivory waistcoat (vest) that hung over the top of the pants. The double breasted waistcoats were rounded along the bottom. A single breasted vest usually came to two points over the trousers.
White waistcoats were for the most formal occasions whereas ivory was the most common for everything else. Less prone to showing dirt they were the more economical option and especially popular with a dinner jacket.
The prince of wales made the backless vest very popular in the late 20’s. It attached around the back with just two straps. The lack of back fabric made it cooler to wear in warmer climates. Fred Astaire copied the prince’s new fashion who also found the backless vest to be cooler while dancing.
1920’s Formal Accessories
A silk tie or bow tie was worn over the shirt collar in white. The bow tie went from narrow to fat during the decade. Wingtip collars followed suit to accommodate the chunkier look.
White kid leather gloves were worn with formal suits but they were always removed during dinner.
Black patent leather slip-on pumps were the evening shoe of choice, with a small stacked heel and a slightly pointed round toe. Patent leather lace-up versions (oxfords) were becoming more and more popular throughout the decade. Shoes were often worn with white or grey spats – shoe covers. They were made from cotton canvas or linen and buttoned up the side. For evening, the buttons had to be elegant in silver, gold, or shiny black onyx.
A black silk or satin top hat completed the formal wear look. The hat was quite tall and narrow with an inch or two thick brim.
Dressing in 1920s Formal Wear Today
If you are attending a formal 1920s evening then you will need a 1920s style tuxedo. Here are some tips to help you use readily available clothing for your 20’s look.
1. You can get either a modern a tailcoat or tuxedo jacket. Tuxedos should have notch or peak lapels with a single button closure. Avoid shawl collar tuxedo’s.
2. Bib front dress shirts are hard to find. A plain white wingtip collar dress shirt will be a bit easier to find and look just as well. Avoid pleated tuxedo shirts.
3. White or ivory waistcoats are also hard to find, especially double breasted. A single breasted backless vest will be the most comfortable, just don’t remove your jacket while wearing it.
4. Tuxedo pants with braids are impossible to find. Flat front tuxedo pants with satin stripes on the sides will work well. Order one size up if you want a higher waist line and hold them up with black suspenders. Avoid pleated tuxedo pants and very stretchy elastic suspenders (they stretch too much and your pants will fall down.)
5. Go the extra mile and add a white bow tie, pocket square, patent leather shoes, white gloves and a top hat to your look.
You can find all of these formal clothes for sale here.