How did young men and teenagers dress in the 1920s? This was a question emailed to me by Heather a few days ago. Specifically, she is looking for information about dress suits for a high school man, about 17 or 18, in 1925. What would he have worn to his high school graduation?
Boys’, teenager’s, and young men’s clothing in the 1920s did not differ drastically from that of grown men. For special occasions, church, and urban high schools, a suit was worn daily. They looked like a smaller version of their father’s suits with a few minor differences.
For one, color. The younger generation wanted more color and appealing patterns in their clothing. Vertical stripes, diagonal stripes, checks, Glenn plaid, and solids came in lighter shades of blues, grays and tans than men’s versions. The tailoring of the suits was softer too. Hard square edges on jackets and lapels were replaced by rounded lapels, sloping shoulders, and extra loose fitting trousers. The general trend of the ’20s was “everything soft.” Soft collars, soft tailoring, soft colors, and soft materials.
Suits were almost always wool, even in summer, but wool flannel and wool cassimere were softer and easier to move in, making them ideal for active teens. With the exception of business suits for young men that worked, they also preferred the single breasted suit over the double breasted. Same with vests — single breasted matching suit vests were more common than double breasted.
For a casual suit, a vest could have been forgotten altogether, and instead a pullover knit vest would have been worn in its place.
Besides colors and materials, the other change in suits throughout the 1920’s were the pants. In the very early ’20s, the skinny “Jazz Suit” was still popular with teens. As the decade progressed, pants grew wide and loose with large cuffs or turn ups at the ankle. As you can see in the picture above, by 1927 the pants were very wide legged, whereas the picture below from 1924 shows legs that were about the same width as most classic suit pants are today. Pants in 1925 would be classic width.
Dress shirts were almost always white with soft round “club” collars or the new pointed shirt collar. For casual wear, a colorful shirt would have been preferred, made of stripes in an array of blues, greens, and pastels for summer. A colorful tie would have been worn. Red, blue, gold stripes, paisley, or small prints were the most traditional for the ’20s for both men and teens. Teens probably preferred the bolder colors.
I like to read the captions from clothing catalogs to get a good feel for the clothing:
1923 – Pencil Cut Cassimere Suit (above): We are confident that this good-looking belted model of good quality Wool Mixed Cassimere, in pencil striped Brown or Dark Green, will more than please the High School Youth who wants distinctive style. Two button, single-breasted style with all all-around belt, slanted flap pockets, upper welt breast pocket and inside pocket. Good lining. The vest is collarless, finished with the usual pockets and details. Trousers have two side, two hip and watch pockets; belt loops; suspender buttons. Straight or cuff buttons.
1924 – (above): Stylish, well-tailored Suit of fancy mixed All-Wool Cassimere in the latest shades of brown and gray. Semi-form fitting coat in single-breasted style and fully lined with tropic weight All Wool Alpaca. High cut vest. Two pairs of long trousers with your choice of plain or cuff bottoms.
1927 -(above)-Designed for young men who desire “something different.” Exceptionally well tailored in the newest weave All Wool Worsted. The distinctly attractive Summer shades are made strikingly snappy by the harmonizing stripes. Coat: The latest one button model, with slanting slashed pockets, upper welt and inside breast pockets, rounded front and stylishly shaped lapels. The coat is half lined with durable alpaca. Trousers- Have the last minute, wide, two-button waistband and wide belt loops Straight or cuff wide bottom. Sandy brown or blue-grey fabric choices.
Young men’s shoes were standard brown lace up Oxfords or lace-up dress boots. They had cap toes and often brogue detail on the seams. Toes were round and blunt, gradually coming to a rounded square toe by the late ’20s. Soles were rather thick rubber even in dressier styles. Both shoes and boots were popular in the early 1920s, but by the end of the decade, boots were only worn by boys and working-class men. The iconic two-tone lace-up shoes could have been worn by teens in suits, but they usually wore them for casual everyday activities and sports.
The final touch was the hat. Wearing a man’s hat was a rite of passage for teens. As boys, they wore 8-panel caps, often called flat caps or newsboy caps today. For very formal occasions, they might have worn a fur felt hat in similar shapes as the man’s homburg or Fedora (see topmost picture). In general, teens and young men were hatless. It wasn’t customary to wear a hat until you were at least college age or in a career that required wearing suits daily. High school boys may have worn a hat at graduation if it was held outdoors. Otherwise, with an indoor event they would be hatless.
More Teen Boys’ Fashions
While most teens boys wore suits every day, there were times they would dress more casually on weekends, for sports, or while working a job. Many poor or working class families needed boys to enter the workforce by 12 or 13 instead of finishing school. They worked as shoeshines, newsboys, factory workers, delivery boys, etc.
Boys still wore suits, but they were almost always hand-me-downs or second-hand purchases. The coats and jackets usually did not match, or fit very well.
Heather, I hope this answers your question. If anyone else has a topic that needs help researching, send me an email and I will get to work for you! Better yet, students, dive into the fun world of fashion research using this guide to get you started.