Out with white, in with color! In the 1920s, men’s underwear, pajamas, robes, and socks became just as colorful, if not more so, than women’s. The most intimate of underwear remained white as a sign of it being sanitary. The concern for heath in the 1920s was the underwear manufacturers’ new platform. Ads touted lighter fabrics like linen, silk, cotton, and breathable rayon as healthier and more versatile from summer to winter. Colors came out in pajamas, robes, socks, and the newest late ’20s invention – boxer shorts.
Men’s 1920s Underwear
Men’s 1920s under clothes had been the kind of underwear men had been wearing for nearly 100 years. They were still the preferred style throughout the ’20s with a few modifications. Wool, long sleeve, long leg, union suits with drop seat flaps were the standard style for traditional men and colder climates. In summer — and year round for the younger trendier man — came the short leg and either short sleeve or sleeveless union suit. The preference was for half sleeve, short leg/half leg/knicker leg suits worn in summer in white gauze, silk, or rayon. Swiss dot, exclusively used in women’s lingerie, made a short appearance in men’s underwear, too. Winter varieties were the same the cuts in heavier knits, wool/rayon blends and full lambs wool. Americans gradually preferred separate shorts and undershirts for underwear, whereas the British preferred the one piece union suit.
Boxer shorts in color were a new trend, although slow to catch on. Popular colors were blue, mauve, and peach in silk or cotton. In 1929, clothing companies introduced rubber in the waist band of loose undershorts rather than a tie string. At the same time, they also introduced a fly that opened to the side.
Men’s 1920s Pajamas
For going to bed, men had two choices. The traditional nightshirt was ankle length, long sleeved, and had a button up military collar made of cotton, wool, or flannel. The newer trend from the 1910s onward was the two piece shirt and pants called pajamas. Some were really one piece pajamas with the top and bottom attached.
Everyone wore vertical stripes unless they were boring and only wore white. Pajamas in percale, crepe, and silk replaced flannel nightshirts with even the most conservative men. Shirts either buttoned up straight, with either a military collar or a mandarin style collar with overlapping panels like the one the left. Many fastened not with buttons but with Chinese frog clasps. Some also had Japanese Kimono sleeves and soft round mandarin collars. The Asian influence was all over men’s sleepwear.
Men’s 1920s Robes
The typical house robe was made of thick blanket cloth or wool blends in winter and lighter flannels in summer. They came very long in plaids, stripes, and geometric prints with a shawl or notched collar and tasseled silk cord ties.
Knee length smoking jackets, made of wool or camel hair cashmere with a tasseled cord, became fashionable attire for men. Many were also made entirely of of silk, brocade, velvet, or had a silk body and velvet shawl collar. The body and the collars often contrasted colors or textures. Solid colors of rich gold, black, or maroon were the most common, but the Asian influence hit again and prints and embroideries of dragons and other Asian arts covered many.
After a suit jacket was taken off, a man would not fully undress but instead just put on his smoking jacket and sit down for a good read or cigar break. Movie stars all wore them, so men at home would, too, although they were more of an upper class luxury.
Since men’s night clothes and robes were now more handsome, colorful, and fashionable, it wasn’t enough just to wear them in your bedroom, but out in the rest of the house and even in mixed company. Also, with the public-ness of lounge clothing came etiquette on how to to wear sleepwear:
“With a dressing gown, a man should hold himself over his hips, legs wide, feet pointed outward, because the folds of the falling fabric must be maintained. The chest is held flat the abdomen pushed forward and one walks slowly with long strides.”
“One should walk quickly legs outstretched and close together, with chest and shoulders understated to make the neck appear longer.”
Men’s Socks and Garters
Socks in the 1920s were much less hidden, like white underwear. Shorter pants/knickers exposed a man’s legs much more than previous decades. Patterned socks of blue, brown, tan, and grey made of cotton, silk, rayon, or wool replaced dull solid colors of the teens and early twenties. Patterned socks were common in sportswear first, then were standard wear to the end of the ’20s.
On the golf course or in the country, gentlemen were wearing big plaid, geometric, or argyle pattern socks with their knickers or plus fours. Argyle socks, a style that originated in Scotland, are knitted in a diamond or diagonal plaid pattern using two or more colors. Women loved these pattern socks so much that many sporty flappers wore them instead of stockings. By 1927, men’s half-hose (a standard-length stocking that ends halfway between the ankle and the knee) were becoming more available in patterns.
Men’s socks lacked the stretchy knits and elastic blends of modern socks. Sock supporters helped them stay up until rubber or elastic started to be added to ribbing in 1929. They were called hose garters (socks were actually called hose in the ’20s) and made of leather or striped elastic that bound around the upper calf and clipped into the sock. It was trendy to have a matching set of sock garters and suspenders, although both were rarely seen underneath men’s clothing.
Learn more about the history of men’s socks.
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