Summer is in full swing — and for many men heading to vintage picnics, Gatsby lunches, and ice cream socials, it is a time to put on their best vintage summer suits. The 1930s is one of our favorite decades, so naturally finding 1930s men’s summer clothing was on our list.
This was the case recently when my husband and I attended an afternoon tea party aboard the 1936 Queen Mary ship. I was wearing an authentic 1930s dress, so it seemed fitting that my husband should match me. Since he is 6’2″, original vintage clothing for men don’t fit him. Luckily, it is very easy to look vintage with new clothes from a few select clothiers both on- and offline.
1930s Men’s Summer Clothing
Nothing says summer like a white linen suit. Match with a bow tie and straw hat, and you can fit into any time period between 1900 and 1940. For starters, we found a pair of nice white linen pants from our local department store. We had more luck at high end stores than the cheaper ones, probably because linen is a specialty care fabric. Linen is very cool and summer friendly, but watch out for the washing machine – it must be dry cleaned only.
Next came a white dress shirt with French cuffs and a set of Art Deco cuff links. Shirt cuffs and collars can really show off your knowledge of period attire. Prior to 1920, most shirts came with separate collars which were either rounded such as the Club Collar or pointed, like modern dress shirts. By the 1930s, almost all shirts had attached collars. Dress shirts could be plain light colors or striped with contrasting white cuffs and collar. The extra long and pointed spearpoint collar is especially popular for the 1930s.
Next came a nice vest. Vests were not necessary in the 1930s. They were worn by most middle and upper class men, while lower class men preferred a shirt only — no vest and rarely a suit jacket. Vests often matched their suits, but it wasn’t a requirement anymore. Shop men’s vests.
Suit jackets often matched the pants and were purchased as a set. However, since the 1920s casual summer clothes became increasingly common, men mixed and matched their suits and pants. Light colors were still preferred — white, ivory, pink, and blue. Solids as well as stripes, windowpane and glenn plaid were equally common.
Although my husband intended to wear a white linen suit coat for our event, he quickly changed his mind when we found a 1970s multi striped sport coat. It was so unique and so summery that we just knew it would look great. Since men’s suits haven’t changed dramatically in over 100 years, it didn’t matter that his coat was vintage 1970s instead of 1930s.
For this look above, we found a great tan plaid sportcoat and blue and white striped shirt at Paul Fredrick. Mixing prints was common in the 1930s.
Keeping it Cool
Time and time again, I hear from readers that you don’t want to wear a suit or sportscoat. While that was the typical summer outfit for well dressed gentlemen, there are some alternatives:
- Ditch the sport coat and vest and wear only a dress shirt. Roll the sleeves up to the elbow to keep cool, yet accurate to the decade. You can toss the tie or bow tie and unbutton the top button as well. Just make sure in doing so you still look dapper, not disheveled.
- An alternative to the dress shirt is a sport shirt. Polo shirts and knit pullover shirts were soft and comfortable casual shirts. Pair with dress trousers.
- Invest in a good pair of trousers. Reproduction is best, modern “classic fit” is ok if you are on a budget. Skinny fit is never ok. Wide leg, high waisted, and in a lighter color for summer. Choose natural fabrics – linen or cotton – over polyester.
- Straw hats will help keep the sun off your face and add that extra vintage touch.
- Sunglasses are another extra special accessory. Choose round frame lenses.
1930s Men’s Hats and Shoes
If you were to only wear one item to your next vintage summer party, it must be a boater hat. These thick woven straw hats with flat tops and flat brims were common summer wear for men in the 1920s and 1930s. Match the hat band to your suit, shirt, or pocket square for some extra vintage style. A second choice would be a light straw Panama hat or straw fedora (both are very similar to each other). Shop hats.
For shoes, light colored shoes to match your outfit are ideal. Since we were attending a dance event, my husband wore Aris Allen white dance shoes. Had this been an outdoor party, he would have worn a pair brown brogues (or Oxfords) or perhaps some even more casual boat shoes (like loafers). Read more about 1930s men’s shoes here.
I love bow ties. They make men look so much more vintage than a plain necktie. Although either style of neckwear would have been worn, the bow tie is not something to be forgotten. If you really want to impress your friends, just learn to tie one yourself. The look of a self tied bowtie is far more vintage then pre-tied bowties. Just be sure to go wild with your choice of colors and pattern, just as men did in the 1930s.
Need more ideas on 1930s costumes? Read on.
- 1930s Art Deco Era Men’s Shoes
- Men’s Hat Styles of the 1930s
- A History of Men’s Ties, 1920s-1970s
- 1930s Men’s Outfit and Clothing Ideas
- Our 1920s Summer Beachwear Outfits