Evening wear for men previously consisted of a black fitted jacket with long tails in the back- a “swallow tail” jacket-, white vest, trousers with stripes, and white bow tie. While tails continued to be worn for very formal occasions like a wedding, opera or a ball, they were considered very old-fashioned by the younger stylish set. You can read about formal attire of the Edwardian era here.
The new trend for men’s semi-formal wear was the tuxedo jacket, also called a dinner jacket at the time, instead of the traditional tails. The tuxedo jacket of the ‘20s was still fairly long, falling below the hips. Thin notched or peaked lapels were the most fashionable, but got wider as the decade progressed. They were often cuffed at the wrists too, sometimes with contrasting material, such as satin or faille. They were mostly single-breasted, but a double-breasted version became popular in the late ‘20s that was considered very uncouth by the upper and older classes. Two flap pockets were usually found on the front, and a slit breast pocket was a newer addition. Men’s fashions were inspired by WWI army jackets and tuxedos were worn buttoned up high, military style.
1920’s Formal Trousers
Matching pants were worn with the tuxedo jacket. They were very high-waisted, coming above the natural waistline, and held up with suspenders. Satin stripes down the side legs were still popular. A narrow, straight cut was the way to go, with a turned up cuff at the bottom. Evening pants were also worn very short – men’s socks often showed, even while standing up – something that would get you made fun of now, but you’d be looking good in the ‘20s! A sharp crease down the center gave a polished look to the new relative informality of evening wear.
A wacky trend in pants during the ‘20s that eventually carried over into evening wear was ‘Oxford Baggies.’ These pants were huge! They were straight-legged but were ridiculously wide, some reaching up to 36 inches at the leg opening. They were usually worn for casual occasions, but seeped into the nightlife scene done in fabrics that matched tuxedo jackets.
Formal suits were almost always black, but dark navy blue saw a resurgence too. The dark blue suit cut down on the appearance of dust, fibers and pilling that are problematic with black suits. They were made of different types of wool and wool blends. Summer suits could be made from lighter fabrics.
1920s Formal Shirts and Waistcoats
Underneath the suit jacket and trousers was a crisp white collared shirt that buttoned up the front. A white dress shirt with bib front and detachable wingtip collar was even more formal. Shirt studs fastened the shirt and cufflinks on the french cuffs. A trend in cuff links during the 20’s was to show off your initials on the link face. Formal shirts were made from cotton or silk.
On top of that, a vest or waistcoat, was worn. These were often silk, satin or brocade and were always white for formal occasions. The exception in the mid to late 20’s was an ivory waistcoat for warmer, tropical climates. Waistcoats were usually single breasted with a straight edge on the bottom which showed off the taller trousers of 20’s. A novel double-breasted version became extremely popular towards the end of the decade as well as a backless vest for warmer climates.
1920’s Formal Accessories
A silk tie or bow tie was worn over the shirt collar in white. A matching silk scarf was tucked into the breast pocket of the tuxedo jacket and a boutonniere for the lapel. White kid leather gloves were worn for evening occasions, being taken off during dinner.
Black patent leather slip-on pumps were the evening shoe of choice, with a small stacked heel and a slightly pointed round toe. Lace-up versions (oxfords) were becoming more and more popular throughout the decade. Shoes were often worn with white or grey spats – shoe covers that were first used to protect shoes from the elements but became a fashion statement for well-dressed men during the ‘20s. They were made from cotton canvas or linen and buttoned up the side – for evening, the buttons had to be elegant in silver, gold, or shiny black. They fit over the shoes, covering just the top, and were several inches high, fastening underneath the shoe.
The only thing to top off this dandy outfit was, of course, the top hat – black silk or satin with a small brim an inch or two wide and tall, tall, tall! Whew! After putting all that on, you’re finally ready to head to your after 6 affair.
I have had a very difficult time finding good formal wear online. Most modern tuxedo wear is not quite the right style for the 20’s. I have assembled some available jackets, shirts and accessories here: