Men's Summer Fashion 1930's

Men’s Summer Fashion & How to Dress in the Thirties & Forties

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.

Summer suits in brown & pinstripes with spectators + odd jacket summer combination

Summer suits in brown & pinstripes with spectators + odd jacket summer combination

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.

Houndstooth, Windowpane and Double breasted jacket with hats

Houndstooth, Windowpane and Double breasted jacket with hats

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.

Understated suit in grey & striped jacket combination

Understated suit in grey & striped jacket combination

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.

Knickerbocker trousers, and tie with long sleeved shirt & shorts

Knickerbocker trousers, and tie with long sleeved shirt & shorts

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?

Unusual men's summer jacket styles

Unusual men’s summer jacket styles

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.

More unorthodox summer fashions

More unorthodox summer fashions

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.

Cardigan & bicycle outfit with casual items

Cardigan & Overall bicycle outfit with casual items

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.

15 replies
  1. Hal says:

    I do like these vintage illustration articles – both interesting and inspirational (at times, at least).

    It’s actually quite striking how some of the clothing trends highlighted here are mirrored by the fashions of today, whilst other clothing choices seem a long way off a renaissance. I can’t imagine overalls/boilersuits making a comeback as anything other than work-wear for the foreseeable future. They are too utilitarian for current fashions and, perhaps, too close to 70s leisure suits in appearance to be immediately popular. But in the 1930s and 40s, of course, this sort of practical outfit was perfect for idealistic modernists or pracitcal wartime clothing – Winston Churchill’s velvet Siren suit being a famous example of trying to make these practical yet stylish. In the UK TV presenter James May recently made an attempt (not wholly seriously) at making a stylish boiler suit – with the help of tailors Cad & the Dandy – so perhaps there’s still a chance for resurrection, stranger things have happened.

    Similarly, the sea captain’s hat, styled with the naval inspired blazer looks fairly comic. The return of Breton fisherman’s caps (oddly often confused with Baker Boy caps) might be the closest we get.

    Other trends are clearly on the return. The use of oversized houndstooth check for a variety of items of clothing is one I’ve seen highlighted recently. Personally, I think I prefer the traditional smaller check, but its certainly a bold statement. Jackets and coats with sleeves in different colours to the body have also made a clear return lately, at least in style supplements and fashion shoot look books, if not so much on the street.

    The man in shorts, long sleeve formal shirt and tie reminds me of the current shorts and odd jacket/blazer – both could give the impression someone pulled on the wrong trousers by mistake. Personally, I’m happy with long sleeves and short trousers, but the shirt or t-shirt has to be relaxed and casual. Rolled up sleeves can look very good with shorts.

    The illustration of 30s jackets that never survived also reminds me of some current trends. The grey jacket on the right could easily fit in with modern blouson jackets – a twist on the Harrington/Varsity/fabric bomber jacket look. The one on the left, with its formal doublebreasted lapels and short sleeves is reminiscent of one of the strangest style trends of the last year (which thankfully hasn’t really caught on) – odd jackets and blazers without sleeves. I even saw a photo of a metallic sleeveless biker jacket, for those worried their wardrobe was insufficiently camp.

  2. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    Dear Mr. Schneider,

    at first thanks a lot for sharing captions of your magazine collection with your readers. It’s really enriching to have such insights in fashion history.

    Of all the outfits presented the one on the right of the top picture is definately my favorite. The combination of a light gray coat with white pants is wonderful and versatile. The choice of a black shirt and a charcoal vest, although looking elegant, should be reconsidered for the danger of overheating that wearing black in summer implicates. A very light gray is a considerable suggestion. Personally, I guess that adding a little color to this combination couldn’t harm either. A shirt in pale mint green paired with a light gray knit tie is something I could imagine.

    All the “experimental” fashion presented here is interesting to look at for historical reasons, but I have a hard time to imagine such outfits as inpirational.

    My least favorite, though, is the combination of shorts, long-sleeved shirt and a tie. It looks like something a schoolboy would have worn these days, but for a grown-up man it was certainly not appropriate, as it is today.
    The combination of long-sleeved items and shorts have always and generally been a thorn in my flesh, for the very reason of practical considerations: if it is so hot, that the urge appears to expose one’s legs to the public, why leave the arms covered ? Considering that shorts are only appropriate on beaches, one’s property and sport courts, this is even more true.
    The beige combination of a short-sleeved coat and cuffed shorts looks much more balanced in comparison.

    Greetings across the Atlantic to you and to all readers

  3. Daniel Gerson says:

    Two observations.

    1. When I was 14 or so I wore an outfit very similar to the oversized houndstooth one to a weeding’s garden party.

    2. Just yesterday I tried on a suit (off the rack) similar to the middle one in the first picture (even with the oversized labels) and it reassured me that double breasted jackets do absolutely nothing for you as long as you don’t have to hide unfortunate proportions.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      1. For a wedding, I’d say it is too loud, but hey – you were 14…
      2. Are you trying to say that DB jackets don’t help to make you look advantageous unless you bigger or have some other abnormality? If so, I could not disagree more. While some may not like the look of double breasted suits, I know many that look infinitely better in it. Now, with DB suits there is much more variation in terms of button placement, and finding the perfect placement may be challenging…

      • Daniel Gerson says:

        1. Well, it were the 90s, so quite a number of “louder” outfits were to be seen that day and if my memory doesn’t fail me completely, they pretty much put an entire circus on display to entertain the guests. So all in all it wasn’t really a classic wedding’s lawn party in the first place.

        2. The ones I have encountered so far have always made me look boxy, which I don’t find to be very fortunate – especially when you have anything but a boxy silhouette to start with. I guess my idea of a suitable DB for me would have such a narrow button pattern and form-fitting cut that it would look rather comical and defeating the idea of a DB in the first place. But perhaps you have a suggestion as to where to look for something that is more in line with what I have in mind?

  4. C Moser says:

    Without seeming to be picky, isn’t the man in the center of the first illustration wearing a fedora? The brim definitely appears to be snapped down, and that would be much more consistent with the rest of the outfit.

    Also, is the man in the fourth illustration really wearing knickerbockers? They appear to be much too far below the knee, more like plus-fours.


    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      It is either a Homburg hat (with edge pipiping) or a Lord’s hat (without edge piping) but not a Fedora.
      Think of knickerbockers as the broad category and plus twos and plus fours as the more refined subcategories.

  5. Nik Ismail almurtadza says:

    Mr.Schneider and Gentlemen of the forum,
    The illustration shows a very elegant patterned cloth .What would you say of the type of cloth used ,since it’s summer I presume it is of light weight worsted.The houndstooth would be handsome in tweed( not for summer ) but would look less striking in a light weight.
    Mr.Sven and others as well,could you kindly share with me your insight on the matter of the cloth used.


  6. P J Weatherby says:

    Mr. Schneider,
    once again thanks for an enormously fascinating fantastic article after reading it I must confess that not only was I inspired but also mustered up the courage just the other day to combine a cream colored sports coat with a medium French blue end-on-end spread collar shirt with a muted shade of gold necktie with traces of medium grey pattern in it, complimenting the ensemble with medium grey lightweight trousers( or as in the article “odd trousers”)finishing touches a pair of brown shoes topped off by a summer straw hat!(Inspiration of “How to Dress in Thirties and Forties)

    Fashion of the 1930’s and 1940’s have been a passion of mine for a long time so I thoroughly appreciate when you share articles which detail information from that circa or period of time in the fashion industry…whenever I view the articles dealing with fashion illustrations I come to appreciate even more the individuality as well as the ambience encompassing men’s fashion of that time.

    Certainly look forward to continued articles of thrilling interest again thanks for the fine efforts of yourself and associates who edify and keeps all your viewers abreast of the fashion world!

    P J Weatherby

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