This past weekend was my 8th year attending the Lake Tahoe Great Gatsby Festival. It is always my favorite event of the year and the one place we all dress up in 1920s summer outfits. Usually we wear 1920s summer dresses and suits, coordinated head to toe with hats, shoes, and accessories. We always dress to impress. However, this year with 3 young kids who want to do nothing else but to play in the lake, we opted for casual beach clothing instead. Casualness seemed to be a trend all around at the event this year, as well as across the country based on the number of emails I have received asking for help dressing in non-dressy ’20s clothing.
During the 1920s, casual summer clothing was usually a dress for women and a suit for men. Yeah, I know, it’s the same for winter, too. Lighter fabrics were worn in summer, but the overall wardrobe didn’t have much seasonal variety. The exception was for people vacationing or day tripping to local beaches and lakes. These destinations required a new wardrobe of beach pajamas, swimwear, casual pants, and sport shirts. As the decade progressed into the 1930s, these styles became essentials at home, too.
Ever since I saw these reproduction 1930s beach pajamas from House of Foxy, I knew I had to have them. I already have a tea dress in the same print and I just love how the material drapes, just like genuine vintage beach pajamas. 1920s beach pajamas had more Asian influence than the 1930s styles. The 1930s beach pajamas had very wide legs (Palazzo), a high waistline, and a sleeveless top. Some had matching 3/4 sleeve jackets. They were often worn with simple sandals, flat canvas Mary Janes, low heel Oxfords, or beach shoes (they resemble lace up ghillies). Women also would wear very wide brim cloth or straw hats and carried a canvas beach bag.
A pair of round sunglasses was the other accessory helpful in sun protection. I found my pair many years ago, but I recently ordered a pair of 1950s prescription sunglasses from 39dollarglasses that I love. I will be ordering a pair of round sunglasses to wear for all my 20s-30s (and 60s) events too.
Before I purchased the House of Foxy beach pajamas, I attempted to re-make a vintage 1920s picture of a young woman wearing beach pajamas on her lawn. I have always loved this photo. To begin with, I found a pair of wide leg palazzo pants at the thrift store, a white sleeveless top, tan low heel Oxford shoes, a pearl necklace, and a white beret hat I found on Amazon. It is a very simple, colorful, and casual outfit that doesn’t look too “costume-y” to wear out now. My friend who took the picture said: “I would wear that!”
With the plethora of the 1970s does 1930s palazzo pants out in stores now, this summer outfit is VERY easy to re-create.
Men’s Casual Clothing
The men’s version of Beach Pajamas was a boldly painted kimono robe worn over a fitted wool swimsuit. They came in vivid colors of large wallpaper prints or wide stripes on silk, terry cloth, linen or chintz. One writer commented the men looked like Peacocks on the sand! It was quite a colorful sight, and while this would be fun to wear with a swimsuit, Oscar opted for something a little less flashy.
We found inspiration from a 1930s Laurence Fellows illustration and vintage photograph taken in Paris. The high waisted blue casual pants with cream polo shirt looked simple enough to re-create, especially once we found the almost exact set sold by Simon James Cathcart. The blue chino pants are reproduction 1930s trousers complete with a very high waist, deep seat, suspender buttons, and coin flap. Oscar commented that they feel funny to wear, largely because of how baggy they fit around the torso. Men’s 1930s pants certainly have a very different wearing experience than the modern low waist and high seat pants.
The polo shirt has a unique 1930s two button loop closure instead of traditional button plaquet. You can see in the photo below all three types of 1930s polo shirts: placket with buttons, loop buttons, and laces. Oscar also added a straw Panama hat and his favorite vintage two tone wingtips. The outfit was very easy to wear and matched well with the rest of us. Unfortunately, he did not get any compliments. That is the trouble with casual clothing – it looks too close to modern to stand out and get noticed. But at least it was comfortable!
If you want to try this same look without the expense of imported reproduction clothing, you could purchase a pair of wide leg pleated pants and pair it with a modern polo, belt, two tone or white Oxfords, and a straw hat.
Kids 1920s Swimwear
For our two older kids, I had fun making them 1920s swimsuits. They are very easy to make and the kids loved being able to run and play and splash in the water. The same technique I used to make the kids swimwear would also work for men’s and women’s swimsuits too. Learn more about vintage 1920s swimsuits and more tips on creating suits for adults here.
1920s swimwear was essentially a long wool tank top over a pair of bike shorts. The top was sewn to the shorts to prevent it from floating up in the water. Men’s, women’s, and children’s swimwear mostly looked the same in the 1920s. Black, blue, burgundy, or green were the common colors with a white edge or several stripes along the bottom of the shirt. Some of them came with a white rubber swimming belt to, again, help prevent floating fabric in the water.
For my daughter’s swimsuit, I used a black tank top from Target about 3 sizes up to get enough length to cover her shorts in addition to being a bit loose (’20s swimwear was not skin tight). I then painted a white band on the bottom hem and paired it with a white elastic belt from Amazon. Easy!
For my son, I used a girl’s blue ribbed tank top a few sizes up and painted a set of three stripes on the lower half (thin, wide, thin). This matched the picture I have above. I really like how the paint looks over the ribbed texture. It resembles more of a vintage wool suit than my daughter’s smooth jersey swimsuit.
Both kids wore matching girl’s bike shorts.
Finally, I had to put my baby boy into an adorable vintage outfit too. I found a blue baby Feltman Brothers bubble romper that was just perfect for him. It is very 1920s, too! This catalog picture from 1927 shows several bubble rompers with a belt and collar.
Well, that summarizes our comfortable casual 1920s-1930s summer outfits for a lovely day at the Great Gatsby Festival. What will we wear next year? The planning begins now…