1920’s Men’s Suits

The most formal suit a man of the 1920s might own consisted of a black or midnight-blue worsted swallow-tailed coat (“tails”), trimmed with satin, and a pair of matching trousers, trimmed down the sides with the braid or satin ribbon. These were worn with a white, waist-length linen or piqué vest over a starched white dress shirt. Dress shirts had buttonholes on both sides of the front opening, but no buttons. Men kept their shirts closed by threading removable buttons, called studs, between each set of corresponding buttonholes. A stiff, detachable collar attached to the shirt with collar buttons, and cufflinks fastened the French-style cuffs. A white bow tie, black silk top hat, white gloves, patent leather oxford shoes, spats, a white silk handkerchief, and a white flower butonnière completed the outfit. (1)

suit 01
The Comedian Harmonists (L to R): Robert Biberti, Erich Collin, Edwin Bootz, Roman Cycowski, Harry Frommerman and Ari Leschnikoff, 1920’s

Such a formal outfit, or “full dress”, as it was known, would have been appropriate for only the most important occasions, such as balls, large formal dinners, evening weddings, and opera performances. Not surprisingly, only wealthier gentlemen could have afforded – or would have needed – such a suit. (1)

A gentleman’s semi-formal suit, called a tuxedo, could have been worn to nearly every evening engagement. Like a full-dress suit, a tuxedo was made of black or dark blue worsted material, but the tuxedo jacket had not tails and the tuxedo pants were trimmed, if at all, in very narrow braid or ribbon. The tuxedo vest could be black or white, but, unlike the obligatory full-dress white tie,tuxedo ties were always black. In fact, just as today, party invitations that indicated that affair was “black tie” meant that men were expected to wear tuxedos. Men usually completed their tuxedo outfit with all the same accessories as the full-dress suit, except that instead of top hats they would wear a dark, dome-shaped hats called bowlers.

suit 02
Harlan Randall of the Washington Opera in 1925 Perfect collar and tie.

Tuxedos were appropriate attire at the theatre, small dinner parties, entertaining in the home, and dining in a restaurant.

A standard, conservative business suit in the 1920s consisted of a jacket, trousers and a vest and was sold in not just black but any number of shades of grey, tan , brown, blue, or green. Instead of a bow-tie, one would wear an ascot or a “regular” four-in-hand, which was a long necktie tied in a slipknot with one end hanging in front of the other. At the beginning of the decade, men’s business suits fitted relatively snugly, often with a jacket that tapered at the waist, but in later years the silhouette of business suits relaxed considerably and jackets became longer and roomier, with a less defined waist.

suit 03.jpg
Different examples of the 1920’s Business Suit.

Trousers had cuffs, front creases, and button or hook-and-eye flies throughout the 1920s (zippers were not widely used on trousers flies until the 1930s). Professional men wore business suits to work, obviously, but also to other daytime occasions, including theatre matinees and church services. (1)


(1)The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

1920’s Men’s Trousers

Trends were changing and spreading rapidly in a short period of time. However, most 1920’s men’s trousers appear to be very close from the classic suit trousers that we know today.

During the first half of the decade, trousers were very simple, straight and slightly narrow. The waistline dropped just below the belly button and would be worn with either a belt or suspenders. Creases down the front of the leg became popular for the first time, emphasising the silhouette. Cuffs were also added and could be seen a little bit shortened, drawing more attention to the shoe and sock coordination.

trousers 01.jpg
The Yale University Whiffenpoofs of 1927. The cappella group embraces the fashions of the times with sharp, tailored three-piece suits.

As opposed to the previous decade, trousers were also worn as a separate from the suit jacket, creating a more individual and less conservative look.

trousers 02
1924 Sydney Police Mugshot, Guiseppe Fiori  (found on  – mugshot that looks more like a catalogue picture!


1925 saw the arrival of Oxford Bags, broad, pleated trousers which were worn by undergraduates at the English University. These soon replaced the slim trousers worn by most most young men and the fashion for looser-fitting trousers would last until the advent of denim 30 years later. (1)

trousers 03
Oxford Bags seen on the streets of Britain, 1920’s.

trousers 05
1920’s Catalogue promoting the Oxford Bags to be worn by young students.

Oxford bags were not a new invention: for some time they had been worn by athletes as an alternative to golf trousers which had been banned in the classroom. The 28” wide bottoms of the Oxfords allowed the trousers to be pulled over the top of their illegal knickers. The original functional size of the hems soon became overlooked as Oxford Bags grew in size, sometimes up to 40” in diameter! Trend-setting Ivy League students brought the fashion home after their stays in Oxford and ordered more pairs from their tailors. (1)

trousers 04
The comfortable functional aspect of the original 28-inch hems could be lost in grossly oversized versions as much as 40-inches in diameter. (1)

The dominance of loose trousers as city wear was, in fact, partly due to the rise in popularity of sport, in particular, golf. The fashionable golf trousers of the inter-war period were ‘plus-fours’, a version of the knickerbockers but with a fuller cut that allowed the fabric to fall 4” below the knees, thus giving them their name. Their success led the way for widely-worn suits that were ‘sporty’ though no longer worn exclusively for sport but also for strolls in the park on Sundays, for travelling and even by the young in town. (1)

trousers 06.jpg
Two young men wearing knickerbockers, 1926.


(1) Men’s Fashion in the twentieth century. From frock coats to intelligent fibres, by Maria Costantino, 1997

1920’s Men’s Shirts

During the early 1920s, most men’s dress shirts had, instead of a collar, a narrow neckband with a buttonhole in both front and back. Detachable collars, which came in a variety of styles, were designed with two buttons so they could attach easily to the shirts. Men could choose a collar that was stiff, semi-stiff, or soft, with flaps that were pointed, rounded, or wing-style (stiff points that folded down in front, like today’s tuxedo shirt collars), Washable collars were made of fabric; others were made of celluloid and could be wiped clean with a damp cloth. (1)

shirt 03
Detachable collars available to order, 1920s

The shirt collar was to be the subject of one of the most fiercely-debated issues in men’s clothing in the 1920’s. Was it supposed to be soft and attached permanently to the shirt or stiff and detachable? Supporters of the stiff collar saw it as the bastion against the slovenly, casual manner of dress, believed to be the ‘American’ style of dress, that they felt was undermining the ideals of British male elegance. At a time when the American economy was booming and America’s impact on European culture was growing, it is not surprising that many felt under threat. (2) 

shirt 02.jpg
Detachable collars available to order, 1920s

By the middle of the 1920s, however, many men preferred shirts with attached collars – they were softer and much more comfortable than most of the rigid, detachable collars. (1)

shirt 01
Ramon Novarro, 1920s

The soft collar won the day and became part of everyday wear. In summer it was even worn without a tie, unbuttoned and draped wide across the jacket lapels in what was known as a Byron collar. At night, where wing collars remained chic with tails, an attached, semi-stiff, turned-down collar found an ally in the dinner jacket or tuxedo. (2)


(1) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

(2) Men’s Fashion in the twentieth century. From frock coats to intelligent fibres by Maria Costantino, 1997

1920’s Men’s Fashion – Introduction

In a time of great changes in Womenswear, designers were also introducing innovative styles and shapes that quickly became very popular for men.

August 12, 1924. “International Boys Leagues. Thomas W. Miles and Simon Zebrock of Los Angeles at White House.” National Photo Co. –

Distinguished London designers, based in Bond Street and Savile Row, drawn the latest fashions to be followed by many men across Europe and the U.S., and new icons of style such as Edward, the Prince of Wales, set the ideals of British elegance.

Edward, the Prince of Wales, 1924 – Google

It was a decade of timeless fashion and contrasting aesthetics. New colours and patterns could now be found in the wardrobes of men who were willing to take the risk.

However, there was only one king in every 1920s men’s attire – the tweed!

1926 © Getty Image

In the next series of posts, I will be exploring these fantastic garments and accessories in detail – from the tailored suit to the popular bowler hat, which continue to be classic menswear pieces to this day. 

1920’s Women’s Hairstyles Pt. 3

While white women worked hard to make their hair wavy or curly, many African-American women worked just as hard trying to make their hair straight. Black newspapers and magazines advertised dozens of special pomades, oils, soaps, shampoos, hot irons, and combs that were intended to help relax and straighten curly or kinky hair. Madam C. J. Walker, the nation’s first black woman millionaire, developed a revolutionary system to soften and straighten black women’s hair around the turn of the century, using a combination of special hair preparations and hot irons. (1)

Vintage advertising for Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company’s hair and toilet preparations.
Vintage advertising for Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company’s hair and toilet preparations.

In 1906, she founded the Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, and later she established a Harlem-based beautician school called the Walker College of Hair Culture, which claimed to teach its hairdressing students how to straighten kinky hair without using curling irons, and promoted a secret formula that supposedly accelerated hair growth. The Walker Manufacturing Company flourished during the 1920s under the leadership of Madame Walker’s daughter, A’Lelia Walker, one of the richest and most extravagant residents of Harlem during the Jazz Age. (1)

Madam C. J. Walker hairstyling demonstration booth, Chicago, 1920s (Madam C. J. Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society)
Madam C. J. Walker hairstyling demonstration booth, Chicago, 1920s (Madam C. J. Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Madame C. J. Walker realised not only that the African-American community represented a virtually untapped consumer market, but also that many black women were attracted to products that promised a more “Caucasian” appearance and, by association, the social acceptance unavailable to those with kinky hair and other so-called “African” features. (1)


(1) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

1920’s Women’s Hairstyles Pt. 2

The water wave comb was another implement designed to create wavy hair. Wet hair was set with a series of combs, often made of aluminium or celluloid, which gently pushed the hair into waves. A scarf or ribbon was then wrapped around the head to keep the combs in place until the hair dried into soft waves and the combs would be removed. Women also created “finger waves” by applying “finger waving lotion” to their damp hair, then combing and pinching their short tresses into waves with their fingers. Until the damp waves were completely dry, women protected their efforts with delicate nets made of real human hair. (1)

Fingerwaves, 1920s
Finger waves, 1920s

By the late 1920s, “permanent waves” were also available to women willing to undergo the strong chemical treatments. Although women went to great trouble creating curls and waves in their naturally straight hair, short hair was in general a real time saver. Women with long hair might spend several hours a week brushing, washing, drying, braiding and arranging their elaborate hairstyles, but marcelling short bob only took a few minutes every day. (1)


(1) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

1920’s Make-up & Cosmetics Pt. 1


A key sign of modernity in women was the wearing of cosmetics, particularly lipstick, probably the most significant issue marking the generation gap between mothers and daughters in the 1920s. (1)

Marion Nixon perfects her lipstick c. 1920s
Marion Nixon perfects her lipstick c. 1920s

According to Graves and Hodge in “The Long Weekend”, the fashion spread ‘from brothel to stage, then on to Bohemia, to Society to Society’s maids, to the mill grill, and lastly to the suburban woman’. But it was the influence of the stars of early cinema, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and their like, which encouraged so many young women to start wearing make-up. Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden were among those who began to capitalise on this new trend. (1)

By the end of the First World War Arden and Rubinstein were already rivals. Both came from necessitous backgrounds, and they shared qualities of social ambition, commercial imagination and a steely determination that underlay their separate global success as entrepreneurs. (1)

Sales of cosmetics soared from $17 million in 1914 to $141 million in 1925. Both Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein managed successful cosmetics empires in the 1920s, marketing their make up and skincare products to a nation of female consumers longing for the last beauty-enhancing invention. (2)

Adolf de Meyer - Advertisement for Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, 1927
Adolf de Meyer – Advertisement for Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, 1927

The cosmetics industry boomed during the 1920s, and thousands of beautician schools and beauty parlours sprang up that sold make-up and face creams, astringents, lotions, and other products guaranteed to preserve or restore the bloom of youth. Prior to World War I, and American woman who visibly wore make-up, or “paint”, as it was often called, was immediately suspected of being immoral – a woman of “easy virtue”. (2)

Gif made by Fascination Street at

Greta Garbo, playing the part of the siren Felicitas in “The Flesh and the Devil” (1926), touched up her lipstick in church while the priest inveighed against her wicked ways as a woman. To woman raised in the Victorian tradition of ladylike modesty, the wearing of cosmetics was unacceptable. (1)

But during the 1920s, wearing cosmetics became not just fashionable but respectable. Inspired at least in part by the glamorous Hollywood movie stars who painted dark red lipstick on their mouths and applied heavy black mascara to their eyelashes, women of every age began to apply rouge, powder, lipstick, and eye-liner to their faces. They plucked their eyebrows into dramatic arches and then redrew them using eyebrow pencils. They accented their lashes with mascara and reddened their lips into the pouty, “bee-stung” look popularised by Clara Bow and Theda Bara. (2)

Clara Bow
Clara Bow
Theda Bara
Theda Bara

(1) Glamour – Women, History, Feminism – Carol Dyhouse, 2010
(2) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

10 Fabulous Pictures of Shoes & Hosiery Fashions from the 1920s.

Amazing 1920s shoes, perfect for dancing!
Amazing 1920s shoes, perfect for dancing!
Edward Steichen for Vogue, April 1925.
Edward Steichen for Vogue, April 1925.
Grete Kolliner- Advert for shoes, Vienna, 1925
Grete Kolliner- Advert for shoes, Vienna, 1925
1920's - High Heels - Black patent shoes, with white straps and heels - Getty Images
1920’s – High Heels – Black patent shoes, with white straps and heels – Getty Images
Stockings rolled down - true flappers!
Stockings rolled down – true flappers!
1926 - amazing work!
1926 – amazing work!
Another beautiful example of 1920s hosiery!
Another beautiful example of 1920s hosiery!
Silk stockings from Bouvier Frères, Les Modes July 1922. Photo by Henri Manuel.
Silk stockings from Bouvier Frères, Les Modes July 1922. Photo by Henri Manuel.
Shoes and stockings, 1921
Shoes and stockings, 1921
Amazing detail! Althoug, the shoes look a bit uncomfortable!
Amazing detail! Although, the shoes look a bit uncomfortable!

1920’s Women’s Beach & Swimwear Pt. 1

Prior to world War l, “bathing costumes”, as they were known, were modest garments made of itchy woollen fabric. Women’s costumes usually consisted of a loose overblouse, a knee-length skirt, and stockings – an outfit barely less voluminous than street wear. Although women’s bathing costumes were certainly not conducive to actual swimming, this actually caused few problems, since recreational swimming was not a tremendously popular activity during the early years of the twentieth century. Still, trying to swim in these bathing costumes proved inordinately difficult. (1)

In 1908, Annette Kellerman, a champion swimmer and later vaudeville and movie star, wore a sleek one piece- piece body stocking into the surf at Revere Beach near Boston and was promptly arrested for indecent exposure. Nevertheless, this risqué one-piece bathing suit, which came to be known as the controversial “Kellerman Suit”, marked the beginning of a dramatic change in women’s swimwear from bulky, unathletic swimming dresses to form-fitting modern bathing suits. (1)

Anna Kellerman wearing what later became known as the
Anna Kellerman wearing what later became known as the “Kellerman Suit”, 1907.

The 1920’s marked the founding of three major bathing suit manufacturers, eventually known as Jantzen, Cole an Catalina, that succeeded in popularizing beach fashion and breaking down older prohibitions on suitable bathing garments. (1) 

Danish immigrant Carl Jantzen, along with his partners John and Roy Zehntbauer, invented a machine that could knit stretchy fabric that was ribbed on both sides. This fabric was much more elastic than ordinary jersey, the fabric most commonly used to make swimwear, and it clung on every curve of the body. In 1921, Jantzen began developing one-piece bathing suits that looked as if they were actually two pieces. (1) 

A beautifully illustrated Jantzen ad from 1921. #vintage #1920s #summer #beach #swimsuit #ad
A beautifully illustrated Jantzen ad from 1921.

These tubular maillot suits, sometimes called “California-style” suits, consisted of a scoop-necked, sleeveless top that was sewn at the waist to a pair of trunks. Often these unisex suits were embellished with bold, colourful stripes across the chest, hip and thigh. Jantzen marketed these suits with matching swimming sock and caps topped with a pompon. But because swimming was still not a particularly popular recreational activity, Jantzen realizes that the market for swimwear was relatively limited. To encourage Americans to swim and therefore, to buy more swimsuits, Jantzen founded the Jantzen Swimming Association in 1926 and immediately launched a national campaign called “Learn to Swim”, which offered free swimming lessons across the country, certificates of completion, local competitions, and endorsements from champion swimmers. By 1930, Jantzen was the world’s largest producer of bathing suits, selling more than 1.5 million suits a year. (1)

Loretta Young in a bathing suit ad for Jantzen swimwear 1920s.
Loretta Young in a bathing suit ad for Jantzen swimwear 1920s.

While Jantzen’s Oregon-based company specialized in athletic-looking suits that were actually suitable for swimming, Fred Cole’s rival company in Los Angeles focused on creating dramatic fashion suits that were designed primarily for glamorous sunbathing. In 1925, Cole began marketing the “Prohibition Suit”, which had a low-cut neckline and tiny skirt that was shockingly revealing for the time. (1)

Catalina swimwear, also based in California, offered America’s bathing beauties a range of swimsuits that were sexier than Jantzen’s but not nearly as daring as Cole’s. Catalina’s “Rib Stitch 5” suit, for example, introduced the nearly backless bathing suits that became immensely popular among women in the late 1920’s. Catalina also served as the official swimsuit provider for the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. (1)

Atlantic City's bathing beauties - 1922
Atlantic City’s bathing beauties – 1922


(1) The 1920’s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

Blog at

Up ↑