Suit Silhouette in 1934 Gentleman's Gazette

1930 Fashion Styles & Men’s Suit Silhouettes

Just the other week, we welcomed the fall season with our essential tweed guide, and while you now know what some great fall fabric looks like, you may still be looking for a new silhouette for a jacket or suit. Therefore, I went way back in our menswear archive and dug up some illustrated suit styles from 1934 that you will certainly enjoy. Let’s focus on the elevated waistline, then double breasted vests and last but not least, highlight some stylish overcoats.

The Rising Waistline

A several years ago, jackets started to come with an elevated waistline, followed by skinnier lapels and most importantly, jackets got shorter with the elevation of the waistline. As a consequence, most hip ready to wear garments are considerably shorter than jackets used to be throughout the 20th century. In light of this development, connoisseurs of classic men’s clothing like to refer to the elegant thirties when suits had a certain timeless elegance. Now, while it is certainly true that the 1930s were the heyday of classic men’s clothing, things were changing back then as well. The suit silhouettes of the early 1920s are radically different from the 1930s, and if you take a closer look, even the pieces from the early thirties look different from those at the end of the decade.

Suit Silhouette in 1934 with elevated waistline & pockets resulting in shorter lapels

Suit Silhouette in 1934 with elevated waistline & pockets resulting in shorter lapels

In 1934, it had just become popular to elevate the waistline as well as the buttoning point. In order to maintain proportions, the pockets were elevated and the buttons moved a bit closer together. Nevertheless, the buttoning point was above the natural waist and so the lapels looked rather short compared to today. This effect was emphasized by the width of the lapels lapels, which was at least  3.5″ / 9 cm or more. The shoulders were tailored wide but the sleevehead looked soft and natural. The chest featured some drape and the V-shape of the wearer was accentuated by the trim waistline. The front quarters were rather round and distinctly different from today.

Single Breasted 3 button peak lapel suit in typical 1930s fashion

Single Breasted 3 button peak lapel suit in typical 1930s fashion

The suit to the left had very similar features to the notched lapels suit above. However, the peaked wide corners make the lapels look even shorter and the button distance seems too compact for my taste. Formally, the garments back then were all correct, meaning the peaked lapels were paired with jetted pockets rather than less formal flap pockets and the height was in line with the lowest button. The jackets Lino wears would have been frowned upon. Just like all suits back then, the trousers were cut quite full with plenty of room to move. While I like the two tone chalk stripe cloth in red, grey and white with the red striped shirt and red green tie, I think the button distance in combination with the lapels and waist suppression are distinctly thirties. If you don’t want to your suit to look like that, I suggest to lower the buttoning point lightly and to increase the distance between the buttons. If you like longer lapels, go with a two button jacket but otherwise, no need to change things if you want a classic, yet not period specific look. The soft shoulders are just fine, as is the tight waist paired with drape.

Double Breasted Suit in 1934

Double Breasted Suit in 1934

The double breasted suit features the same stripe, just in brown, yet it looks completely different. The silhouette of the 1934 double breasted is not too dissimilar from the DB jacket we wear today. The gorge is a lower, the jacket a bit longer and the waistline a bit high, but otherwise you could certainly wear it today. Although some might consider this to be a generous overlap for a DB suit, back in 1934 this was slim. Sometimes you’d see people wearing jackets with a much wider button stance, lending the wearer a bold look. Even though a double breasted suit is generally more formal than a single breasted notch lapel suit, this fabric is rather casual and hence it features flap pockets and just 3 cuff buttons. Back in the day, the degree of a garment’s formality was often reflected in the number of cuff buttons. Four buttons were reserved for dark formal suits and evening wear, 3 buttons for slightly more casual ensembles and 1 or 2 buttons for country garments. Today, it’s more of a fashion choice. Labels like Tom Ford always go with 5 buttons and while 3 used to be popular in the 80s and 90s, nowadays 4 seem to be the golden standard. While that’s fine for suits, make sure to opt for one or two cuff buttons with your odd tweed jacket or sport coat because anything else would be classically incorrect.

Proper 3 piece Suit with Double Breasted waistcoat

Proper 3 piece Suit with Double Breasted waistcoat

The Double Breasted Waistcoat

For a while, double breasted waistcoats were near extinction and only very elegant gentleman with a large wardrobe would wear them. With the boom in online made to measure clothing, you can see more double breasted waistcoats. While this is a positive trend, many providers of MTM clothing simply lack stylistic knowledge and so it isn’t uncommon to see these vests in odd silhouettes with low rise trousers, belts and high lapels. Unfortunately, this looks amateurish and anything but elegant. Take a look at the gentleman on the right: he wears a detachable wing collar with his bow tie, and while soft turndown collars are the standard today, everything looks marvelously elegant in this ensemble.

A three piece suit with a DB vest can look absolutely stunning, however you have to pay attention to a few things:

  1. The double breasted waistcoat should always cover the waistband
  2. Don’t wear belts because it looks bulky; opt for suspenders instead
  3. Ensure that the buttoning point of your jacket and the lapels of your double breasted waistcoat are aligned so that you will never see the lapel hemline of your waistcoat, because this looks crowded. The the graphic below, you can see the bad example on the left and the correct way to wear it on the right.

 

How to Wear a Double Breasted Waistcoat

How to Wear a Double Breasted Waistcoat

Elegant Overcoat

In the past, we have created an extensive article series on overcoats. So, if you haven’t read those articles yet or simply need a refresher course, now is a good time!

On the left, you can see a stunning Ulster overcoat with big turn-back cuffs, patch pockets a rounded lapel and similarly curved collar corners. If you want to have a special overcoat that you won’t find anywhere else, an Ulster in dark blue – not navy – is certainly the way to go. It is classic, bold yet very unique and you can wear it with most outfits today. Of course, most people today wear black gloves but that’s simply boring and often incorrect. Back in the day, no gentleman would wear black gloves. Instead they’d go for grey, buff or chamois gloves with buttons.

On the right, you see two gentlemen who also wear ulsters. The chap on the left pulls off a bold triple windowpane overcheck, while the gent on the right wears a more subtle, even faded, brown flannel check. Personally, I much prefer the coat on the right because it pairs well with almost all day suits, yet it is distinctly different from anything else you can find, without being too intense. The combination with the orange rust scarf is simply great, and a color combination that works with almost any fall outfit.

Stunning Checked Ulster Overcoats, Hats & Check = Pure Elegance

Stunning Checked Ulster Overcoats, Hats & Check = Pure Elegance

Ulters Overcoat, Grey Gloves, Cane, Checked scarf and matching lining

Ulster Overcoat, Grey Gloves, Cane, Checked scarf and matching lining

What is your favorite outfit in this article? Let us know in the comments!

31 replies
  1. James M. Grandone
    James M. Grandone says:

    Excellent article. Just acquired a double-breasted jacket and wondered about whether wearing it was too formal. Enjoy all of Gentlemen’s Gazette and share with my son.

  2. Mitchell Davey
    Mitchell Davey says:

    Dear….Can’t remember if you go by Sven or Raphael
    In your good / bad example of the waistcoat illustration are you saying the jacket should be left open? Just some clarification on this point. Standing up I always close mine.

    As a resident of Montreal and born Canadian Quebecker I was so pleased that you had a good experience here. It’s a wonderful city to live in. The downfall here is the seperatist politics that brings this wonderful city and provence down economacly.

    Come back soon, I’ll buy you a drink and show you around our haunts.

    Best regards,
    Mitchell

    Best regards,
    Mitchell

    • Hal
      Hal says:

      Isn’t the suggestion that the height of the waistcoat and the buttoning point of the jacket match better?

      I think the idea is that when the jacket is buttoned the top of the waistcoat is still visible but the waistcoat lapel isn’t entirely visible, the lower edge being concealed. That’s how I read it.

      Whether the jacket is buttoned or left open is surely a matter of personal style and comfort?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Mitchell,
      A single breasted three piece suit can be worn open and closed. In the illustration the main point was the size and position of the waistcoat lapel. It’s just open so you can see better what exactly is going on.
      I’ll certainly let you know when I return.

  3. JC
    JC says:

    I have always liked the look and formality of a double-breasted suit. However, It seems to work best for men who aren’t overweight, so I have gotten away from wearing them. I would avoid a double-breasted waistcoat for the same reason. A vent-less double-breasted sure looks sharp though! I prefer waistcoats with no lapels, as I think it looks less “crowded”.

    t

    t

  4. nik ismail almurtadza
    nik ismail almurtadza says:

    Sven
    Thanks for the wonderful post,as usual..My first choice would be the suit with the DB vest.But i am quite curious that the gentleman wears a flat front trousers.Would a double pleat front be okay when wearing such assemble?.

    Best regards

    nik

  5. D. Bowen
    D. Bowen says:

    A wonderful article, and in fact, better than previous collections of period fashion pictures on this website for those of us who have not studied historic fashion in enough to become expert.

    Fashion illustrations have the great benefit of clarity, but they also tend to have a considerable amount of stylization, which makes it more difficult than usual to isolate the functional components of a historic style.

    For a collection of fashion illustrations or historic photos to be useful to most men more than providing a single flash of imprecise inspiration in one of dozens of pictures, a man must be taught how to look, not simply see an example. This remains true even for many of those who are comparatively (obviously this is a bit subjective) well dressed, because much of the work in creating an outfit is done by other people, be they the manufacturer/tailor, or the curation of a retailer. With proper fit and a modicum of taste it is possible to pick out a decent outfit from the thousands available, but working to create a specific and less common aesthetic effect requires a much better understanding if an impractically expensive trial and error approach is to be averted.

    I particularly must applaud the highlighting of particularly effective examples of period clothing, which could be introduced in a modern wardrobe, and also the advice on period details to avoid, and include, should one pursue a particular style or look. Instruction of this type is so far as I have seen, nowhere to be found on the web (or for that matter, print) in concise form.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Thanks for you thoughtful comment. Most people have neither the men’s fashion history background nor the illustrations to explain details of that kind. Also, most don’t have the eye to spot these details. That’s why we are so different. Did you read our Gentlemen of Style ebook?
      Which posts about fashion illustrations were less helpful in your opinion?

  6. Marcus
    Marcus says:

    As usual, great historic article! (I always like those best)

    Mitchell Davey, I think the opened jacket is only to clarify the relative position of the button to be closed on the jacket and the topmost button of the waistcoat. If those two are on the same height, one will only see the upper border of the waistcoat’s lapels, and not the lapel’s bottom hem (as on the left, which makes the appearance that either your jacket is too big, or your waistcoat is too small).
    You should of course close you jacket when you stand up ;)

  7. Hal
    Hal says:

    I do like the double breasted waistcoat as a look. I recently got a suit similar to the middle one (single breasted peak lapel with double breasted waistcoat).

    I prefer the two button look shown on the middle suit to the three button on the left. I can’t help feeling that the shorter lapel leaves it looking like a short and stubby wing, rather than the longer more elegant peaks of the middle suit.

    Correct as the straight jetted pockets might have looked to the (german?) readership of this article in 1934, just two years later your illustrations of London suits show a checked version of a suit much like the middle one with dashing hacking pockets (http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/london-mens-fashion-1936/)

  8. Mark Hollingsworth
    Mark Hollingsworth says:

    An excellent article. Those were great days for male style and one can only hope sites such as yours continue to inspire men to aspire to such levels of personal grooming and tailoring – the world will be a much better place for it!

    Best wishes

    Mark

  9. leonard roger gresham jr
    leonard roger gresham jr says:

    Greetings Gent Raphael! Once again you have found the famously hard to find illustrations and quite elegant indeed. Your attention to details is admirable and I’ve instructed my clients, peers and friends to check out G.G. Keep up the good work, its truly appreciated, cheers

  10. M.P. de Klerk
    M.P. de Klerk says:

    Dear Mr. Schneider,

    My sincere compliments for this article, and for all the other articles on your site. I find your approach extremely interesting, useful and well argumented. There seem to be two sorts of history: history that can (and should) be learned from, and history that can also be actively preserved. Consequently, the second sort of history may even, actually, turn out not to be history at all. I possess a suit similar to the one on the left in the very first picture, and it is quite consistently referred to as “the nineteen thirties suit” by a lot of friends in my club. Nevertheless, no one has ever suggested that its style is anachronistic or otherwise inappropriate.

    Anyway, I also support the use of double breasted waist coats. I invariably wear one with my morning coat, after the Prince of Wales’ splendid example. Our late prince Bernhard was one of the very few Netherlands royals who did so too. Recently, I acquired a double breasted waist coat in white to be combined with the frock coat, although an off-white colour would have been a closer adherence to the marvellous examples displayed in Downton Abbey by Mr. Bonneville. Should you have any suggestions as to where such off-white waist coats and bow ties could be purchased, I would be very interested to know. I searched quite some stores in and around Jermyn Street in vain…

    Furthermore, I wonder if it would be somehow acceptable to combine a double breasted waist coat with a jacket with “simple” lapels, since most single breasted suits feature these “simple” lapels. I may have missed this point in your article or in the comments because the English sartorial terminology is not always easy to understand.

    Once again my compliments and thanks,

    M.P. de Klerk

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Mr. de Klerk, thanks for your kind word. DB waistcoats can look differently. Take a look here.
      I am wearing a different kind of double breasted vest which is higher and so the buttoning point is higher too. The jacket has notch lapels and it works in my opinion.

  11. thomas jones jr.v
    thomas jones jr.v says:

    Thank you for being alive and fresh A vitale need for the man today. I love the site what you and your orgnaiztion stands for. I don’t dress in the elan manner I will. I feel so much better looking at and studying the beautiful phots.The rebrith of a man {for me starts here. T.J MandanDi.

  12. Edgar Bosque's
    Edgar Bosque's says:

    You are an amazing gentleman very good article. keep up the good work and thank you for saving mans elegant wear and style, it was disappearing in America.

  13. Manuel Carvalho
    Manuel Carvalho says:

    Sven,

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I love the thirties and forties look, and your description and detailed investigation makes it possible to understand and follow influences of times now gone. And yes, I would wear most of Mr. Truman ties… with the right clothes. Sven, you are an international treasure!

    Best regards,
    Manuel Carvalho

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