America entered the 1930s in a somber mood. The 1929 Wall Street Crash had devastating results, leading to the Great Depression with more than 11 million unemployed. As such, men’s fashion during the ‘30s couldn’t help but be influenced by the wider economic climate. While the ‘20s were roaring, the ‘30s were more muted. Of course, style always wins out, and that’s just what happened.
Here is a selection of my favorite 1930s men’s outfit & clothing ideas for the dashing man about town.
1930s Menswear: Suits you, Sir
If you’re like me, when you think of the 1930s, you immediately picture a gentleman looking incredibly stylish in a single or double-breasted wool suit with long broad lapels. The suit was cut to accentuate the athletic, masculine build of a man, with broad shoulders and a nipped-in waist.
Given that the suit was so widely proportioned, a large spearpoint collar was the obvious choice to accompany it. Wool ties became popular during the ‘30s, but for this particular look, there’s something very classic about a silk tie with geometric pattern.
As was fitting for the period, the pants were wide-cuffed, double-pleated and high-waisted. Movie star Clark Gable was famous for wearing pleated pants, adding another dash of visual interest to the front.
This look is an absolute classic and so simple to replicate in the modern-day. Both outfits above used a mix of reproduction, new vintage-inspired clothing, and thrift store/charity op shop purchases.
If you’re interested in reading more about 1930s suits, two famous styles were the Broadway (favored by those sharply-dressed gangsters) and the London drape cut (as worn by the aforementioned Mr. Gable along with Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and other Hollywood heroes). Learn more about 1930s men’s suit styles here.
1930s Gangster Suits
Those notorious gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Al Capone and Clyde Barrow, left a mark on the 1930s as a decade that had an underground mafia of well-dressed men. In truth, gangsters dressed like any other man of a certain class, wearing solid or striped suits and tuxedos as the occasion arose. Hollywood added more swagger than what most real gangsters wore. Gangsters like Clyde Barrow was usually dressed poorly or in middle class apparel at best. Al Capone was always a sharp dresser in fine Italian suits, dark overcoats, and a fedora or better yet Homburg hat, AKA the Godfather hat. White shoe spats were popular for many mafia men as well as flashy men’s jewelry, namely rings and tie pins.
1930s Men’s White Outfit – Epitome of summer
The iconic 1930s summer suit was the ‘Palm Beach’. Palm Beach cloth (a blend of mohair and cotton) was first introduced in 1911, and by 1923 it was produced in more than 140 colors and patterns. However, it was the pristine white version that became synonymous as the Palm Beach suit, taking a lead role in advertising campaigns.
“Fabric patented” slogans promised that it “holds its shape,” “sheds dirt,” and “wears marvelously.”
Adopted by Wall Street businessmen as their uniform of choice on sweltering days, it took style cues from the wool suit mentioned earlier, sporting high lapels, closing on two buttons, and ventless.
Although rare examples of the Palm Beach suit do appear, they are often incredibly expensive. A white seersucker or linen suit is an affordable alternative, and like the Palm Beach, it’s very cool in hot conditions.
1930s Men’s Sportcoats
Another summer classic is the navy blazer with cream pants. Paired with a simple white shirt, striped tie and a pair of black Oxfords, it is the ideal outfit to attend a garden party or to linger by the yachts as you breathe in some fresh sea air.
An outfit like this calls for a straw boater with a colorful ribbon. Perhaps even a silver topped cane for cutting a dash.
This is a very versatile ensemble. Simply replace the navy blazer for another color or pattern (glen plaid, for example) and you have a different look. This look is ideal if you’re on vacation and have limited space in your suitcase.
1930s Men’s Casual Outfits, Sporty Clothing
Much like American students of today, the 1930s incumbents enjoyed sporting the most up-to-date styles of the time.
Regularly playing sports meant that they needed something slightly more casual and relaxed.
A Letterman cardigan (or plain short sweater) is probably one of the most well-known college fashions. It’s a classic item of clothing and a practical one, too. Worn with a button-down dress shirt, wool tie, and that all-important dab of pomade to the hair, your 1930s student style is complete. Well, almost.
When spending time walking around the campus or watching a college football game, you need something to wrap up in and keep you warm. That’s where the polo coat came in. Usually made of camel hair boasting peaked lapels with turn-back cuffs and a cinch in the back, the polo coat is as iconic as the Letterman but much more sought-after by menswear enthusiasts.
The beauty of the polo coat is its ability to be dressed up or down, making it a true winner in the style stakes.
Learn more about men’s 1930s casual clothing
Finally, we come to one of my favorite looks. Knitwear was incredibly popular during the 1930s, none more so than the ubiquitous Fair Isle pullover. Add a knitted tie, some plus fours, and striking argyle socks, and you are set for an afternoon on the golf course.
I love texture and pattern, and this look has both by the bucketful. A wide eight panel newsboy cap provides an elegant finishing touch. It also keeps the sunshine out of your eyes on the fairway.
If you can’t get ahold of a Fair Isle pullover, a cable knit sweater will work just as well. During the ‘30s, housewives would knit their husbands new sweaters. With lots of vintage knitting patterns so widely available, perhaps it’s time you mastered a new skill?
1930s Indiana Jones: Feeling Adventurous
If you had to pick the ultimate 1930s male hero, surely it would be the intrepid adventurer Indiana Jones, as portrayed by the handsome Harrison Ford. Although originally made in the 1980s, the movies were set in the ‘30s.
Looking through 1930s catalogs, horsehide leather jackets positively jumped off the page. There’s something about a leather jacket that simply oozes style. The A-2 was a military jacket that was issued to American soldiers during the 1930s. Like lots of military wear, the style was keenly adopted by civilians.
The bush shirt pairs well with the leather jacket. Quite functional in style with four patch pockets to the front, they can still be acquired quite easily today. Grey or brown wool pants complete the look.
Aviator, filmmaker and entrepreneur Howard Hughes was also known to wear such an outfit, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio in 2004’s The Aviator.
1930s Men’s Evening Wear
1930s men’s formal wear is an exciting option to wear to a gala, Old Hollywood party, Art Deco ball, or wedding (groom, groomsmen, father). The decade had a variety of options from very formal white tie attire to semi-formal tuxedos and summer dinner jackets. Learn more about men’s 1930s formalwear in this article.
- Morning Suit – For high-class weddings and British formal events. Striped grey/brown/navy blue trousers, black tailcoat (morning coat), white wingtip shirt, top hat, patent leather shoes, black tie, white pocket square, white gloves, and a flower boutonniere.
- White Tie or Black Tie – Black tailcoat with black or dark-colored trousers. White vest, pocket square, and bow tie or black vest, pocket square, and bow tie. Black patent leather shoes. Top hat, gloves, and cane are optional.
- Tuxedo – Black tuxedo is worn with black trousers, black vest, white button-down wingtip shirt, black bow tie, and white pocket square, and black patent leather shoes. Lapels could be wide peak lapels or shawl collar types with satin facings. Both single and double-breasted were options.
- Dinner Jackets – A popular summer option was to wear a white or ivory shawl collar dinner jacket over black tuxedo pants. Colored dinner jacket like burgundy, blue or green also appeared in the 1930s. Wear a tuxedo shirt and colorful bow tie with a matching pocket square or boutonniere.
- Shop men’s formalwear here. Renting tuxedos in the 1930s style will be difficult. The white jacket with black tuxedo pants should be rentable as well as classic tuxedos (avoid the skinny fit). At a bare minimum, wear black dress pants with a black or white tie/vest set and black dress shoes to a 1930s evening event.
1930s Working Class Clothing
Vintage men’s workwear. See the article here.