Initially, inspiration for menswear came from British Guard Officer’s overcoats. Their shoulder line spread past the natural shoulder to line up with the bicep. Shoulder pads helped keep the angular shoulder shape. The coat than angled down to the waist creating a V shape from neck to waist. Sleeves repeated the V shape by starting out very roomy at the shoulder and narrowing down to the wrist.
Even more V shapes appear on 1930s men’s topcoats and suit coats with the appearance of very wide pointed lapels. Covering half the width of a man’s chest the lapels extended down to not the first, but the second set of a 4 button double breasted closure. The elongated lapels again emphasized the V shape.
Overcoats had one unique feature that suit jackets didn’t share. The pockets were large, square, positioned rather high on the coat and closed with a button. See the topcoat above and notice how big and baggy it appears. It’s designed to beef up the man inside and make him appear larger and more masculine.
Trousers also spread farther up the waist, about 3 inches or so above the naval and hung down in long column like shapes. Pant legs cuffed at the bottom for more causal wear and were straight hemmed for more professional attire. A strong pressed pleat down the center completed the look. Most 1930s trousers were quite wide compared to today’s slim fitting trend.
Formal suit pants matched the suit jacket. They came in solid colors like grey, brown, navy blue as well as patterns of stripes and plaids. For casual wear pants had more diversity. Larger plaids, stripes, and checks were popular with the youth. Lighter tans and white were perfect for summer while darker shades of deep navy, chocolate brown and black were ideal for winter.
Shirts and Sweaters
Dress shirts were not very different in the 1930s than they are today. They button down with french cuffs and a straight pointed collar. Because suits lapels were wide so were shirt collars. Dress shirt colors came in tonal stripes, plaid, checks, windowpane and solid pastel or medium tone colors. Shop 1930s style men’s shirts here.
While the classic button down dress shirt remained a staple in a 30’s mens wardrobe, a new casual shirt started to make headlines. The Polo shirt came into vogue and they haven’t left the fashion world since.
Bush shirts were another new invention although they had been around for many years. Indiana Jones explored tombs and caves in this style of shirt along with safari hunters and jungle adventurers. Bush shirts were white with
short sleeves and had 4 patch pockets on the front. A wide belt was worn around the shirt at the high waist. The most similar modern day Bush shirt is the Guayabera shirt- very popular in Latin American countries.
While sweaters were enjoyed most by the lower class, young men of the 1920’s the 1930’s saw sweaters as a refined fashion element. Knitted double breasted sweaters with v necks, no collar, and 4 button closures were the classic style. Housewives took to knitting their husbands a new sweater every winter- a perfect Christmas gift for the handsome 30’s man.
Flat Caps, also knows as Ivy caps and newsboy caps among other names became popular in the 1920’s and remained popular through the 1930’s.Everyone from young boys to working class men and casually dresses upper class men wore Ivy caps.
Tweed and Herringbone patterns were the most common. Another popular more business like hat was the classic Fedora. Classic ageless style fedora’s came in all shapes of black, grey, tan and green’s usually to match your suit or at least not clash with it. Straw hats in the same shape as felts hats were worn in late spring and summer. Learn more about the history of 1930’s mens hats (and shop for hats too:
1930s Shoes and Socks
1930’s mens shoes continued in the tradition of the 1920’s with classic toe cap oxford, two toned oxfords, and wingtips with brogue detail (tiny holes punched in the leather). Brown, brown/cream, black/white and others usually matched men’s suits. What was new to the 1930’s were causal shoes like moccasins, loafers, and rubber soled Keds! Men wore these at home, on casual summer days and at sporting events.
Silk socks in all sorts of colors and patterns emerged in the 1930’s. Patterns of check and stripes were the most common just like their suit counterparts. However socks never had to match the suit. It was perfectly normal to wear bright green and blue check socks under your business grey suit! The influence of casual fashion affected everyone in whatever ways it could.
Day and Afternoon Differences in 1930s Men’s Suits
Very formal morning dress for men included a black jacket (like a tailcoat) grey stripe pants, wingtip shirt, dotted tie, top hat and gloves. It was resevered for upper classes at formal day time events. It became too formal for most of the 1930s and quickly went out of fashion.
Morning time dress (before noon) for a 1930s man consisted of a Harris Tweed Double Breasted Overcoat worn with a 3 piece single breasted suit with a mid sized stripe or small cheviot pattern to it. A colored tie, cuffed pants, tan leather gloves and a cane or umbrella accessorized the morning dress.
By the afternoon men’s dress (before 6pm) became a bit more business like:
Black double breasted overcoat, 3 piece double breasted suit in Navy, Brown or Grey, white silk shirt (or optional Bastile shirt), turndown collar, light grey sailor knot tie, straight hemmed pants, polished oxford shoes with a tongue and a bowler hat that complements the suit color.
If you were really going to go to a business meeting then a business suit was in order: 6 button double breasted or 3 button single breasted suit in blue or dark grey, steel grey or speckled grey. Pants were straight hemmed. A matching vest to the suit was a nice formal touch.
For your very formal evening occasions (after 6pm) a black double breasted 6 button dinner jacket with long broad pointed lapels and square shoulders was a classic style. The coat cut was high on the thigh with straight vent-less tails. Trousers were long and column like- they fit well, not baggy at all. For even more formal occasions a thin fitting tuxedo tailcoat was all the rage. Fred Astaire wore one dancing across the silver stage and every man wanted to copy him.
Summer and Winter Suit Materials
Summer fabrics were much more unique the the plain winter choices. Herringbone, chine, bird eye, vertical stripes and diagonal stripes were all common weaves. Glenn Plaid or Glen Urquart check was the most popular spring/summer pattern by far.
Stripe suits came in a variety of styles from 1-3 stripe sets with bold or faint lines, dot or fleck lines, thin chalk stripes, or shadowy chalk stripes. Choosing a stripe style was a matter of aesthetics. Thin stripes elongated a shorter man, while thicker stripes made a thin man appear less fragile. Everyone wanted the superman look and the right striped suit could help make that happen.
Summer beach suits (the palm beach look) feature single breasted jackets (dark or light) with notch lapels, and fabrics in seersucker, chantung silk, or linen. Tan gabardine was ideal for mid to late summer. This is a fun look usually characterize by yacht or cruise passengers in the Golden Age of Hollywood movies. Learn how to dress in 1930’s Summer style with clothing from your own closet.
Americans had a more casual take on summer fashion then their UK friends. Summer suits were mismatched sets of navy, green, tan, cream, and buff jackets were worn over opposite colored trousers. Wasn’t the Millionaire on Gilligan’s Island dressed like this?
Winter fabric patterns were much more dull then summer ones. A typical winter suit was brown with cheviot, stripe or herringbone pattern in subtle hues.
The 1930s Gangster Style
1930s Gangsters / Mafia / Racketering gentlemen all had a unique and bold style to their fashion. Striped double breasted suits worn with monogrammed shirts were a must have staple. Accessories such as charm bracelets, a signet ring, and grey felt fedoras with wide ribbon bands in almond, green, dove, lilac, petrol blue, brown or dark grey identified just which mob you were a part of.
1930’s Mens Bespoke Fashion
This 10 minute video is an excellent look at men’s bespoke fashion
Men’s 1930s Swimwear
In the 1920s swimwear for women and men made dramatic changes. In the 1930s the beginning of the decade still embraced the one piece wool swimsuit which looks a like like a modern day wrestling uniform. Large armholes, deep round necklines, and open back, and short shorts made the bathing suit minimal yet still modest. A two piece look was achieved with a striped top and solid color short and belt.
As with all other fashions in the 1930s, a well built body couldn’t hide behind a tank top for long. Men’s swimsuits went shirtless. Now swim trunks, high-waisted shorts, with a white webbed belt were the new style. As the decade progressed the trunks lost more leg coverage until they resembled underwear- or superman’s briefs.
Creating Your 1930s Look:
Want to dress like a 1930s man? Vintage clothes can be hard to find but well chosen modern clothing can give you the same look and feel. We frequently dress in 1930s clothing for various themed events in our area. We started out by shopping at thrift stores to save on money. Gradually we replaced our wardrobe with higher quality and more accurate new classic men’s clothing. In the future we hope to budget for a complete reproduction clothing set ($$$) but for now we are very happy with our inspired looks.
Finding the exact wide shoulder, high waist, wide leg 1930s suit in used or new clothing is not going to be easy. We recently found a 1970s suit that is close (minus the bell bottom pants!) otherwise we get most of our clothes online from Paul Fredrick or Jos. A Bank.
For example the summer suit on the left is a mix of vintage and new clothing. I used the illustration on the right for inspiration. The pants are 1950s vintage (still wide leg and high waisted.) A pair of classic fit pants (no skinny or low rise) with pleated waist will work just as well. The sportcoat is a windowpane plaid single breasted jacket from Paul Frederick which I then took to a tailor friend at my local Jos A. Bank who added two layers of shoulder pads and took in the back to give it a more tailored fit with iconic 1930s broad shoulders. You certainly don’t have to go the extra mile with custom tailoring but it can be done (and worth it IMO.) Most tailors wont have a clue how to adjust for a 1930s suit so bring in several pictures to help them. You may need to get a jacket one size up to allow room for the extra shoulder pads.
Here are some other 1930s looks I have:
(Left) This is a working class business men’s look using entirely new (used) clothing. You may notice nothing matches. This was normal for the 1930s since the depression created a need for economy in men’s dress.
Brown single breasted suit coat, with lighter brown 6 button vest, and a greenish pleated pant make up the suit. A plain white straight collar french cuff dress shirt and blue, navy and gold print tie coordinate with the gold pocket square. (If you clothes can’t match, at least your accessories should.) The final touches are two tone shoes and a straw fedora hat.
The next look (right) was for a summer day at Lake Tahoe so I wore my summer whites which consisted of a white dinner jacket (slightly too formal but where else can you get a white jacket?), tan pants, blue striped shirt from Paul Frederick, gold tie and straw panama hat. A straw boater hat would have been another good hat to wear with this look.
For a casual or sporty day look I often wear Guayabera shirts over wide leg pants, two tone shoes and a straw hat or flat cap. It is a vintage 1930s look but doesn’t look out of place in our modern casual world either. I will get a picture up here soon.
Now that YOU have the knowledge and some inspiration go out there a create your very own 1930s inspired wardrobe. Use the links within this article and the 1930s menu above to put together your look. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me anytime, otherwise happy shopping.