Second to gangsters, 1920s costumes for men in the form of a banker, ragtime piano player/musician /barbershop quartet singer, and bartender are popular men’s 1920s outfits. These are fun, seemingly casual outfits that don’t need a full 3-piece suit to pull off the look. What they all have in common is the use of sleeve garters, which historically were used to keep too long and baggy shirt sleeves out of the way. Shirts were sold by neck size, not sleeve length, so they were usually too long for many men’s arms. The addition of a vest or suspenders adds to the vintage outfit, making a very simple and affordable 1920s men’s costume/outfit.
In reality, men who were bank tellers, bartenders, or musicians did not wear this outfit. A 3 piece suit was the norm for most men’s occupations. A musician might have taken off his suit jacket to practice in, but never to preform, just as a banker would not be seen in public with only a shirt and sleeve garters. My grandfather was a banking man in the 1920s, and this is what he wore:
The idea of men in these occupations being jacketless was perpetuated by Hollywood, who needed more variety and distinction between men’s characters to read well on film.
A 1920s bartender is the only occupation where wearing a full suit was not always the norm. Fancy nightclubs would have had men wearing formal wear, while most bars required bartenders to wear a formal shirt and vest, arm garters, bow tie/necktie, and white apron. In this setting, arm garters were usually black or white to match the vest, but in most other settings, sleeve garters (called armbands in the 1920s) were quite colorful.
Made of elastic webbing with an adjustable slide, they came in pastel stripes – sky blue, purple, pink, yellow, etc. They were often sold in gift sets with suspenders and sock garters. Fancier designs had a ruffled edge or a bow tie. It was one hardly ever seen men’s accessory that could feature colors not seen in outerwear. Here are some examples.
History aside, where can you find all the pieces for your 1920s men’s outfits? Let me show you:
1920s Banker Costume
A 1920s banker outfit could also be a teller, accountant, clerk, casino dealer, office worker or professional business man.
- White or striped club collar men’s shirt. Pointed collars are fine too. A white collar on a colored shirt body is the most iconic of the era.
- Tie – Neckties in plain or diagonal striped colors were more popular with bankers than bow ties
- Sleeve garters/arm garters ideally in striped elastic but a solid color like black will be easier to find.
- Vest – A 6 button vest with notch lapels is the most 20s. Without lapels is ok too. Blue, grey or brown vest should match or at least coordinate with trousers. Add a pocket watch on a chain looping from the vest pocket.
- Suspenders to hold up high waisted pants will not be seen under a vest.
- Trousers – Flat font/high waisted with a classic or wide leg. Avoid skinny fit/ankle high pants. Ideally, they should match the vest.
- Green visor– Optional green visors were worn to reduce the glare from bright overhead lights
1920s Pianist / Musician / Barbershop Quartet Singer
- White or striped club collar men’s shirt. Pointed collars are fine too. A white collar on a colored shirt body is the most iconic of the era. Solid white is ok.
- Tie- a bow tie to contrast with a plain vest or coordinate with a striped vest.
- Sleeve garters/arm garters in color to match the vest. Choose solid elastic or the ruffled style.
- A suit vest, like above, or a more colorful striped vest is a carryover from the 1910s. You could also opt for a striped boating blazer, seersucker jacket or ivory sportcoat instead.
- Trousers to match the vest or in white or ivory for summer. Seated musicians will appreciate the higher waist as well as fishback trousers for a unique look on the backside. Order a size up (measure around your middle waist) and hold up with suspenders for comfort.
- Shoes: White/ivory suede oxfords to match pants or two tone oxfords such as brown/white wingtips.
- Hat– an optional summer hat is the flat top straw boater with striped hat band. In winter, choose a derby/bowler hat.
Authentic 1920s bartender outfit for a most types of bars.
- White club collar men’s shirt. Pointed collars are fine too.
- Tie– Black or white bow tie to match the vest. A skinny necktie is another option.
- Sleeve garters/arm garters in color to match the vest.
- Vest – Black or white vest is traditional
- Trousers– Black flat font/high waisted with a classic or wide leg. Avoid skinny fit/ankle high pants.
- Apron– A long white half apron worn tied around the waist
*** Many vintage bars opening today with an Art Deco or ’20s era theme are asking staff to dress the era, yet not sticking to traditional black or white outfits. Feel free to mix and match vests, trousers, bow ties, and suspenders to your liking — just don’t forget the sleeve garters.
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Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.