It has been a while since we’ve had some fashion illustrations, and recently I examined a number of beautifully illustrated menswear ads from 1935 which I would like to present today. Clearly at the time, the general level and formality of clothing style was considerably higher, especially in the U.S, and a properly dressed man would rarely leave the house without a hat on his head.
Due to much higher demand for hats, American men had endless choices when it came to hats. On the left, you can see a gentleman with a dapper looking hat in brown. The illustrators cleverly imitated the texture of beaver felt. The band is made of a bold grosgrain ribbon wider than most bands you will find today. He wears a yellow scarf and pairs them with yellow gloves and a boutonniere. (Make sure to enlarge all the pictures so you see the full details).
On the right, you see to gentlemen in fall/winter outfits. On the left hand side, you can see a bold chalk stripe suit in a darker shade of brown than his hat. He combines it with a lavender shirt and white contrast collar as well as a solid dark blue tie. The felt is polished to a beautiful sheen, which is something you won’t get from a wool felt hat. This picture is a great example of how well pale purple or lavender, brown and navy blue can work together. It is not a color combination you see very often today, so next time you are deciding on your outfit, keep purple, navy and brown in mind.
The second gentleman wears a plaid sportcoat in brown-grey and combines it with a pale yellow and blue striped shirt and gray-blue hat with a feather and a pipe. Because of this more muted color palette, he picked a dark blue tie.
Unlike the other numerous small hat companies, big player Stetson is still around today. About 80 years ago, they already had built a great reputation and added a red sticker to their hats that stated “The mark of the world’s most famous hats”. Although they maintained stores in New York, London, Paris and Philadelphia most of the beaver fur used to make hats was sourced in Canada.
In 1935, when it was en vogue to wear white tie to glamorous parties, they also offered silk top hats that retailed for $15. The ad states:
” Young men with keen eyes for correct fashion have spread the vogue for top hats into every nook and corner of the nation. And the man who wants a “dress-up” that demands a label he’s proud of to show – Stetson’s.”
On the right, you can see an ad highlighting the Heatherland mixtures for fall. The colors are perfect for that time of the year. Although a top hat was a bit more difficult to make, the silk and shellac used were less expensive because the most expensive Stetsons cost up to $40, although a standard would only set you back $6.50.
“Browns that make you think of grouse in heather… blues like an unruffled mountain lake… grey like the tip of a fox’s brush … these colors blend in Stetson’s Heatherland Mixtures. To complete that rough Fall costume, they’re undeniably right. “
Another renowned hat label at the time was Dobbs, which claimed to be New York’s leading hatter. The hats were made by the Hat Corporation of America, which also made Knox, Dunlap, Cavanagh, Crofut & Knapp etc. and was known as a quality hatter. Today, you can still find new Dobbs hats, but they don’t have anything to do with the quality hats they used to be. Vintage enthusiasts are very much interested in Dobbs hats and they sell well on places like ebay. In this ad, the Brushwood mixtures were advertised for fall/winter. Personally, I like the Prince of Wales check suit with the blue scarf in the middle with a gray-blue hat; it works rather well. The gent on the right wears his red paisley scarf with a brown ensemble which also works rather well together. On the left, we see a gray and white ensemble and although winter white is difficult to keep clean, it looks very debonair if you have a good tan.
Robes & Dressing Gowns
Another popular wardrobe item for men back then was a robe or dressing gown, but they did not have anything to do with cotton terry cloth robes you find today. Instead, they were always lined in silk (or later viscose and other artificial fibers) and often had a faced lapel, unless they were made of wool flannel. Unfortunately, not many men wear them anymore and due to the lack of demand, it is difficult to find quality dressing gowns anymore. For more information about dressing gowns in general, click here.
Compared to today, the ads look rather funny. For example the Ivanhoe robe above shows a mounted knight because Van Baalen, Heilbrun and Company probably didn’t sound too interesting for potential buyers. The Drake robe ad below implied your wife will now feed you happily, and the regimental gowns will make you feel like an Englishman… Even though all of this was of course not true, a dressing gown is a magificent garment for the cold days at home.
Accessories & Fabrics
Back then, it was not uncommon for lining or fabric specialists to advertise, and so you would see cloth ads next to ads for accessories. The look was often not different from other ads with the exception that they always highlighted the fabric. Here we can see Longchamp Satin, which has nothing to do with the Longchamp brand we know today, and Linings by William Skinner & Sons which is now defunct.
The ads claims that the argument about the king of sports will always remain open, while the question for the best linings has long been answered. That’s why you see men in white tie, golf club and fishing pole…
Accessories back then were colorful and featured classic patterns such as paisley of macclesfield neats (the small geometric printed patterns you can see on the pocket squares here). Also, note how accessories were distinguished by sport, formal and business. Most men today would not know the difference between formal and business and they would never wear a pocket square for sports. However, if you categorize your tie, scarf and pocket square collection in casual, business and formal patterns and colors, you will find it easier to dress appropriately because you always just combine the things that were meant to be worn with each other.
How do you sort your growing accessory collection?