Gentlemen (or ladies shopping for gentlemen), dressing up like a true Downton Abbey gentlemen is not very difficult to do. Depending on your event, you will need either a formal suit or day suit with the right accessories that will take you back to the early 1920s. This guide also works fine for earlier seasons of Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge (1912– 1922).
Let’s start with the formal look:
Men’s Formal Wear
For a gentleman who already has a modern tuxedo in his wardrobe, you are 90% Downton Abbey ready. A white vest, bow tie, and gloves are the only items you probably don’t have. You may also have a pleated tuxedo shirt that should be replaced with a button down wingtip collar dress shirt instead. With these few changes, you will be in correct Downton Abbey formal dinner wear. The tuxedo has undergone some changes over the years, but the changes are not significant enough for you to have to buy a new tuxedo. Buying or renting a tailcoat is one way to step up your normal tuxedo jacket into very high class Downton Abbey men’s fashion. For those who need to rent a tuxedo, take this picture in to the rental house (I like Selixo or Jos A. Bank) and do your best to match the look.
I have written a few articles about 1920’s men’s formalwear worth reading:
- 1920s Men’s Tuxedo history– A look at men’s formalwear history.
- How to Dress in 1920s Men’s Formal Wear – How to create an authentic 1920s formal look with modern formalwear clothing.
- Buy 1920s Style Formal Wear – Skip the history and get everything you need for your Downton Abbey costume.
Men’s Day Wear
While a formal tuxedo is the easiest look to recreate (although not the cheapest), a men’s day suit is a better look for a semi formal Downton Abbey themed event, such as attending a wedding or house party.
At first glance, the early 1920s suit may not seem all that different than today’s men’s suits. Both have classic width pant legs with a slim fitting suit jacket. If you are on a budget, you could probably get away with wearing a suit you already have and upgrading a few of your accessories to make it look twenties. Or, you can buy a new suit (or a new to you suit) at a thrift store that has a 1920s inspired style to it:
- Textured wools, tweeds, herringbone, check and thick stripes patterns. Subtle patterns were out of style. Men wanted clothing with unique materials that stood out. Colors were still standard – grey, blue, brown, green. If you were really trendy (or American) you might dress more vibrantly, like the gangsters of Boardwalk Empire. In summer time, wearing a linen suit in summer whites (ivory) was required etiquette for outdoor parties and events.
- Single or double breasted with single being more popular. Lapels are on the narrow side (not wide or very skinny) with notch cut outs. They also buttoned up quite high compared to modern suits. Three or four buttons coming to mid sternum or higher was standard. In comparison, suits today tend to button only to the bottom of your ribs. A high buttoning suit is what I look for when shopping for a 1920s style suit like these here.
- Suit pants came up very high on the waist (over belly button level) and were held up with suspenders (braces). High waist pants are nearly impossible to find today. A classic waist comes to just below the belly button and will work well enough for your costume. Avoid modern low waist pants and “skinny” pants at all costs! Trousers should be hemmed with a thick cuff and break at the ankle (never baggy). I like the trouser selection from Jos A. Bank and Paul Fredrick the best. Shop classic men’s pants.
- A matching vest always came with a suit. They were not always seen underneath a buttoned up jacket but they look very vintage when they do. Just like jackets they buttoned up high with a notch lapel. If you can’t get a matching vest try to get one in the same shade as the suit. Shop vests here.
Early 1920s men’s dress shirts had white detachable collars. They were either classic point collars or round club collars. You might see them in stores today because they are part of a recent revival. Shirts could be a solid color, but were mostly striped in blue, grey, green or yellow with white. As the decade progressed, shirt stripes mixed with brighter colors such as pink, purple, and orange. Wearing a striped shirt with white collar will immediately transform your modern suit into one from the 1920s! Add to the shirt collar a collar bar or collar pin and you will really be fashionable!
Neckties and bow ties were equally common in the early 1920s. A bow tie will make you look a bit more vintage than a necktie, but really the choice is yours. For a bow tie, choose ties that have wide stripes or polka dots (yes polka dots!). Be brave and learn to tie a bow tie instead of using a pre-tied bowtie. For a necktie, choose one in wide stripes, small repeating patterns, or paisley. Paisley ties in jewel tones like deep purple, gold, and green were especially popular at this time.
A gentleman’s hat was his identity. In winter, a felt had was required, while spring and summer changed to a lighter straw hat. Felt hat styles were the Homburg (think The Godfather), the Fedora (James Dean or Frank Sinatra), and the Bowler or Derby hat (Charlie Chaplin). Felt hats came in grey, brown, and black. For summer, a straw boater hat with college colors striped on the hat band was the perfect casual hat (think barbershop quartet hats). The fine woven straw Optimo Panama was the rich man’s hat, which is why the Earl of Grantham wore them. Finally, the 8 panel flat cap (also called a newsboy cap, driver cap, or ivy cap) was a hat that could be worn year round. Heavier wool and tweed for winter and lighter wool and linen in summer. It was mostly a young man’s and working class hat (Branson wears them before and after his marriage). Upper class men would wear them for certain sports like hunting, but in general, not for any other public affairs.
In the early 1920s, men were still wearing lace up boots just like they had for the last 50 years at least. In the teens, lace up shoes, called Oxfords today, became a popular alternative. Most men owed both. Men’s shoes were either black or brown. Brown was an orange or rust tone brown, not a dark or tan. They were simple leather shoes with very pointy toes. Many had a “cap toe” meaning a small design in a bar across the toe (pictured). Black shoes were worn with grey or blue suits. while brown shoes were worn with brown or light colored suits. For summer’s white suits, white Oxfords were a must for the upper classes.
This is a Downton Abbey men’s fashion guide in a nutshell. If you need additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time.
We are Debbie and Oscar, your guides to dressing up like decades past. We are here to help you find clothing online and learn about vintage fashions as worn by everyday people, just like you. Need help with your outfit? Ask us anytime.
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How to Buy:
VintageDancer.com links to clothing for sale online to make finding vintage inspired clothing easier.