Men's Costumes of the 1920s & 1940s

Written by laurie junkins
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The 1920s took men's fashion from where it had languished since the previous century and, with the jazz age and culture as influence, pushed it into the modern world. By the mid-1940s men's wear became flashier -- even conservative looks were influenced by the zoot suit of the previous decade. Casual sportswear emerged at this time, as well, allowing men to wear the bright colours and patterns that ushered in the optimism of the early 1950s.


In the early 1920s, men wore what they had been wearing for decades. World War I ended, and men wore the clothes they already owned. Sacque suits with pale coloured shirts, folded silk ties secured with pins and bowler hats were considered proper apparel in the early part of the decade. For casual wear, knickerbockers ruled, paired with boots or two-toned buck shoes and either a Norfolk coat or a golf coat. By 1925, baggy trousers became popular, originating at Oxford University and quickly spreading to American Ivy League schools. The baggy trouser, typically in tweed or flannel, would influence men's fashion for the next 30 years. It was during this decade, too, that men stopped changing clothes several times a day in the Edwardian fashion, opting to wear a single outfit all day. Like the baggy trouser, this change began at Oxford and Cambridge, later spreading to the United States.

Jazz Influence

In the 1920s, jazz music had a brief influence on men's fashion, when very trendy young jazz aficionados wore tightly-fitting suits with stovepipe trousers and long, tight-waisted jackets as a visible sign of their musical preference. Like most extreme trends, this look went out of style very quickly. In the 1930s, nightclub patrons in Harlem began wearing the zoot suit, which featured very wide-shouldered, wide-lapelled, double-breasted jackets and baggy trousers, tapering to a narrow ankle. This exaggerated silhouette lasted into the 1940s, where it still influenced the cut of men's suits toward the end of the decade.


During World War II, rationing meant suits had to be made with as little fabric as possible. No longer did men wear suits with vests, pocket flaps, pleats or cuffs. Wool was also in short supply, so artificial fibres such as Rayon and nylon were developed. After the war, suits were cut long and full, and ties painted with colourful scenes became popular, partly as a reaction to wartime restrictions. The lasting influence of the zoot suit brought waistbands higher, and shoulders and lapels wider. It was during the late 1940s that casual sportswear was first seen, featuring untucked shirts in bright colours and tropical patterns brought back by men who had served in the Pacific during the war. First seen only on beaches in California and Florida, it wasn't long before "Aloha shirts" became common in the city as well.

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