With summer nearing its end, many of us are experiencing another heat wave and hence we’d like to highlight 1930’s men’s summer fashion one last time this year.
“As soon as the warmth of the sun liberates men from the ballast of overcoats, the combination of elegant jackets and odd trousers is seen everywhere in the streets. To be elegant means to be understated…”
concludes the summer fashion catalog of Kossak & Boehme of Leipzig, Germany from 1939. While outfits such as these are certainly elegant, you probably wouldn’t be perceived as understated in an outfit like this on a summer day in 2013. Not many men wear suits just for pleasure and most people wouldn’t even understand why you’d wear a jacket, shirt and tie instead of shorts, flip flops and a T-shirt.
Now, chances are you enjoy getting dressed and so I would like to share some inspirational outfits so you can be stylish without overheating.
Suits & Odd Jackets
The first illustration above from 1939 is a nice roundup of various suit & combination styles at the time. In the background you can see the beach, while the gentleman on the very left wears a brown nailhead suit in a typical thirties silhouette, with wide yet natural shoulders, a low gorge, wide lapels, and high-rise, full cut trousers. Because it is a casual outfit, his shirt is light grey and not pure white, which he pairs with an orange polka dot tie. Unlike today, 1930s ties were much shorter so they ended just above the waistband. So if you want to wear high waisted trousers today, make sure that you pair the tie length accordingly. If you like that look you should take a look at the tie selection of Fort Belvedere, which come in 3 lengths and especially the short ties have a thirties inspired flare and style.
To underline the casual character of the ensemble, a panama hat, patch pockets and white – brown spectator shoes were chosen.
The gentleman in the middle seems to be dressed more formally, since we wears a homburg hat and a grey 2×1 suit with Kent Fasson and jetted pockets. However, he also chooses spectator shoes to go with it, though his aren’t wingtips but slightly more formal captoes. Personally, I think this outfit combines formal and informal elements in a disadvantageous way, yet if I’d see someone dressed like this on the streets today, I’d be positively surprised.
On the very right, this chap looks very debonair with his straw hat and perfectly fitting quadruple windowpane jacket in light grey. The peaked lapel 3 button Fasson with wide short lapels is typical for the period and rarely seen today. While I like the combination with white flannel trousers, the charcoal vest is probably to much for a beach outfit as is the black shirt. Instead, a very light grey shirt would have been a preferable alternative. Instead of spectators, he opted for the understated white buckskin shoes, which are perfect because they are distinctly made for summer but not as in-your-face as spectators.
On the left, you can see an over sized houndstooth jacket in black and white. While this pattern is still around today, it is usually woven much smaller than shown here. This color combination works well with various greys, black and white, but likewise a version dark brown and camel would make for an outstanding companion with brown trousers, shoes and accessories.
Also, the diagonal full cut twill trousers are fantastic but unfortunately hard to find nowadays.
On the right, you can see a diagonal twill 6×2 DB blazer with dark buttons in what is supposed to be a navy blue with light grey flannel trousers and white buckskin shoes, boutonniere and pocket square. While this outfit is utterly correct and classic, it lacks an individual touch, in my opinion.
My favorite look is definitely the middle one. This light grey sportcoat with grey windowpane is rarely seen, yet it is subtle, especially when paired with the light grey shadow striped trousers. The boater hat adds a unique flavor and the spectator shoes are quiet enough not to stand out in this ensemble.
Let’s start with the gentleman in the mini-checked fresco suit. In regard to color, his outfit ranges from black over to grey and white, which are colors many business men would wear today, yet the refined pattern on his suit in combination with the dark grey shirt and white tie make it rather special.
Generally, navy chalk stripe jackets are only worn as a suit and never as a combination, and hence I find this illustration on the right inspiring because it breaks with the rule, yet looks natural. Personally, I would not have buttoned the polo shirt all the way up and chosen a different pocket square, however, the fabric belt and light grey flannel trousers look good and even the brown white spectators harmonize with the color of the polo shirt. So if you own chalk stripe suits – try to combine the jacket with odd trousers and more casual items, maybe it will work for you as well. Apart from that, this illustration outlines the rise of the trousers, which is very high compared to current standards, but classic and more comfortable in my opinion. Again, if you wear them, make sure the tie does not hang past the waistband since that looks rather unsophisticated.
Slacks & Shorts
Even by the forties, knickerbockers were past their prime and today pretty much only clothes horses, vintage car collectors and sometimes golf players wear them. So, if you want something unique but classic, knickerbockers are definitely the way to go. On the very right, we see a chap in striped shirt, dark tie and chocolate brown shorts with over the calf socks and monk strap shoes – definitely something I wouldn’t wear. While I wear shorts in proper cuts and madras cloth in the summer with polo shirts, espadrilles, loafers or boat shoes, they are always reserved for very casual occasions, such as a weekend on the lake or a summer vacations on the beach. Do you wear shorts at all? If so, how?
The illustration above shows us some fashion forward experiments of men’s tailors in the thirties. While these models are certainly daring, sport coats came in 30 different back pleat variations and had numerous details. Today, the ready to wear industry’s need to produce profits has limited all of these style features, leaving us with items that have the same cut and silhouette, no matter if it is a suit or sportcoat. Even though I am not a fan of these items above, I still admire the courage to try new things because even though these pieces were obviously not successful, they had much more variety to choose from.
In a brief departure from thirties fashion, this illustration from Der Herr from 1947 outlines a jacket with the brown sleeves is very similar to varsity jackets or even quilted jackets as they were advertised in the US. Also, the gentleman on the left wears white glasses and a bold striped shirt that reminds me of the Hudson Bay Company signature stripes.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at overalls. Most people associate overalls with workwear in a car garage but at one point they were worn for casual activities such as skiing or biking. Sometimes the jacket could be buttoned to the trousers to add versatility to the garment. Personally, I would probably not wear it for casual occasions, although I can see how a cotton chambray overall would be a cool-wearing alternative for summer activities. I am sure lovers of vintage clothes appreciate overalls and still wear it enthusiastically, which is why they were also covered in this book about vintage clothes.
Altogether, this was certainly a more unusual article about men’s summer fashion but I hope some outfits inspired you to get more out of your existing wardrobe. For more about summer outfits in the 1930s, take a look here, there and most importantly, get our ebook Gentlemen of Style which is full of top notch fashion illustrations. A variation of this article is also available in German, read it by clicking here.