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.
Australian wool, camel hair or ecru fabrics, long sleeve, long leg, union suits with drop seat flaps were the standard style for traditional men and colder climates. Previously men’s union suits came in separate top and bottom pieces. In the 1920s the all-in-one union suit freed a man from confines at the waist.
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 knit gauze, silk, cotton, or rayon. Swiss dot, exclusively used in women’s lingerie, made a short appearance in men’s underwear, too. Nainsook cloth in a basket weave was particularly trendy.
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 bright color stripes were a new trend, although slow to catch on. They took inspiration from men’s athletic shorts- both tops and bottoms. Popular colors were stripes of pink, pale 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.
The undershirt was paired with the new sport shorts. Made of ribbed cotton with deep armcycles, a high neck and thin straps, the undershirt design has changed little since.
Men’s 1920s Pajamas
For going to bed, men had two choices. The traditional nightshirt was ankle length, long sleeved, with a button up military collar made of cotton, wool, or flannel. It was regarded as old fogies sleepwear, not snazzy enough for the new jazz era. They came in solid white or pastel colored stripes such as alternating blue and pink.
The newer trend from the 1910s onward was the two piece shirt and pants called pajamas / pyjamas. Some were really one piece pajamas with the top and bottom attached.
Everyone wore vertical stripes unless they were boring and only wore white, tan or blue. Pajamas in cotton broadcloth, muslin, percale, crepe, rayon and silk replaced flannel nightshirts with even the most conservative men. Pajama pants came in traditional draw string or button waist but the new elastic waist was far more comfortable.
Shirts either buttoned up straight, with either a military collar or a mandarin style collar with overlapping panels. The V neck pullover model was popular with men who didn’t like sleeping with buttons. 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 heavy in men’s sleepwear.
The Art Deco influence was also prominent in men’s sleepwear. Many styles came in art deco prints, jacquard textured prints, and decorated with piping, passementerie trim, and mother of pearl buttons.
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. These were worn after work, when a man took off his suit and stuff shirt and put on his elegant house robe.
Wealthy men could afford a silk robe in a solid or Asian print with contrasting edging. These were fine for house lounging and dressing in the morning but were not intended for use in the bathroom where water could damage the silk.
Hip length smoking jackets, made of wool or camel hair cashmere with a tasseled cord, were fashionable in the Edwardian era but faded in the 1920s. Instead it was the lightly tailored lounge suit. Collars were usually wide shawl lapels, sometimes made of contrasting satin, with a deep V front opening. Loose trousers were made in matching fabrics featured a cuff.
The jacket only option looked more like a tuxedo jacket with frog clasps for buttons. Many were also made entirely of of silk, brocade, velvet, or had a silk body and velvet shawl collar. 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.
The lounging suit could be worn at home with one’s family but never in mixed company. As such it was only worn by affluent men.
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. There was etiquette on how 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 house slippers were the other item men changed into when lounging at home. They were made of wool felt, brown or black leather, reptile textured patent leather or a blanket cloth. Many were lined in the same warm cloth that robes were made from. Colors tended to be dark blue, grey, black or brown until the Art Deco influence increased colors in the 1930s.
There were a few common style of men’s house slippers:
- Romeo- Elastic side panel on a half boot
- Opera – Wide V notches on the sides – often colorful with fancy silks or smooth soft leather
- Everett- a plain slip on loafer. Some featured painted motifs of smoking pipes, hunting or other manly pursuits on the vamp
- Hi-low – an Everett bootie with edges that fold up or down
- Cavalier boot- a full slip in felt boot
- Moccasins- Native American moccasins in tan leather were less common but available
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.