Every year my husband and I attend a handful of 192’0s themed events. We love watching Boardwalk Empire on HBO and are very interested in the clothing men of all walks of life wore in the 1920’s. We were especially drawn to the striped suits, colorful shirts, and two toned shoes a well dressed gentlemen would wear. With recent luck finding a chalk striped suit and using an existing pair of two toned shoes we only needed to find a 1920’s style mens shirt to complete the vintage look.
1920’s Style Men’s Shirts
Locating a 1920s style shirt is quite easy online but rather difficult locally. Men’s roaring 1920s shirts featured contrasting white collars that could be detached or attached and a pair of french cuffs and cuff links. Not all 1920s shirts had white collars but they are the most iconic of the decade. Needless to say these style shirts are not readily available at local department stores. However online the sea of shirts is plentiful.
White shirt collars came in different shapes. In the prior decade it was fashionable to wear rounded collars known as Club collars. This style of collar stayed popular through most of the 1920’s. How they were worn had some differences in the 20’s. With heavy fabric starch they could be stiff and un-starched they were soft and flexible thus more comfortable. For many the soft collars creased and rolled in an un-gentlemen like manner. Collar stays prevented some rolling while fancy gold tie bars or tie pins were worn by upper-class men.
Shirts made for tie pins had two holes on either side of the collar to secure the pin. A tie bar has clips on either side to attached to a Club or pointed collar. Paul Fredrick is the only store I could find that carry eyelet collars with french cuffs- a perfect shirt for 1920’s men.
Among fashion followers there was a great dispute over starched or un-starched collars. Societies were formed taking strong stances on the issue. These disputes raged on until the pointed collar took center stage and the need for heavy starch became obsolete.
The pointed spread collar came into fashion in the early to mid 1920’s. These new collars soon left the club collar out of fashion. That and the increasing popularity of the long tie replacing the bow tie (also know as a butterfly tie.) The long neck tie was worn with a thin sailors knot for many years before the Prince of Wales made the wide Windsor Knot popular. The wide width made the even wider spread collar increase in demand.
The final shirt collar option was to wear no collar at all. Detachable collar shirts have a thin round lip (like a Mandarin shirt.) Its was unfashionable to be out in public without an attached shirt collar however if you were rich enough and notable enough you could do whatever you wanted. The Great Gatsby for instance shocked his friends when he went out in public without a shirt collar. I am sure it didn’t take long before others in his circle went collarless too.
Working Class Shirts
On the opposite spectrum of wealth were working class men who abandoned buttoning collars and wearing neckties altogether. These men, mostly American, were viewed as sloppy and unkempt especially by Europeans. Comfort was more important and comfort was achieved by freeing the neck from all restraint.
Now that we have learned about the collar what about the shirts themselves? 1920’s shirts were quite colorful. Plain white was an option but usually only worn by the lower classes who couldn’t afford the more expensive colored ones. Instead men wore light colored solid shirts in coral pink, apple green, lavender, and light orange. These pastel colors matched ladies day dresses. Striped shirts were even more common than solid shirts. Any combination of colors could be mixed and matched to produce thin stripes, scrolls and plaids. It wasn’t uncommon to see a boldly striped shirt worn with an even bolder striped suit. A clash of colors and patterns added to the vivid life that made the roaring 20’s iconic of fun and freedom.