The Gatsby Man
Think dapper: Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and William Powell. Think classic stores like Cable Car Clothiers or Brooks Brothers. Fortunately menswear hasn't changed that much over the years. Even if you feel the need to buy something for Gatsby you may be able to wear it again.
According to Emily Post in 1922 men should wear suits at most occasions, the exception being when he is in the country. Since the Gatsby Summer Afternoon is a "country" event you may wear a light suit or sports clothes.
A hat is a must, men did not appear in public without them. Try a dashing straw Panama hat or the dapper boater. In the East, men's straw hats were worn only between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but since California was considered a resort destination, they are appropriate during our summer-like weather in September. (That's our story, and we're sticking to it.)
The fedora is a classic and correct in straw or light colored wool. Please avoid the gambler and cowboy hat, unless you are, in fact, a riverboat gambler or cowboy.
For the more casual gentleman or "sport" - the golf cap.
We've found a great site out of Britain that sells Fair Trade Panama and other hats; they mail all around the world. Check out Pachacuti.
Round frames (horn rims or metal) were worn by men and women with no style difference between the sexes. While round was the most common shape by far; ovals, and octagons were popular. Rimless glasses did exist but their fragility makes them rare. Older gentlemen might wear a pince-nez (pronounced pons-nay) that stay on by pinching the nose removing the need for arms.
Click here for a great collection of links about vintage eye glasses.
Try a long-sleeved cotton dress shirt in white, stripes, or light colors. There is no such thing as a short sleeved dress shirt at this time (and some of us wish they had never been invented).
Into the 20s men were still wearing detachable collars and cuffs. The detachable collar and cuff were developed to help shirts last a bit longer. Collars and cuffs wear faster and get dirty easier than the body of the shirt and washing was often expensive. So detachable items were created and sold separately. So a striped shirt with a matching collar is fine, but a striped shirt with a contrasting white collar is perfect.
When in doubt a classic dress shirt in white or pastels is fine. Add any of the following for a dapper look: french cuffs, rounded collar, pinned collar, tab collar. Button down collars are fine, but considered casual. The collar spread should be traditional, and not spread too wide.
A traditional tie is fine, preferably a little on the wide side and worn short with the tip ending just above the belt. A bow tie is terrific. Ehow also delivers a good lesson on how to tie a bow tie. Hint: it is the same knot you use to tie your shoe. Click here for diagrams of over a dozen tie knots. Tie pins were very popular in the 20s.
If you don't want to wear a tie you are out of luck, a gentleman does not appear in public without some kind of silk around his neck. Try an ascot if you hate the noose.
Fabric choices for ties and ascots: silk or, rarely, linen; in stripes, dots, neats, plaid and paisley.
Jackets, Suits and Vests
The 20s saw some radical changes to men's clothes. Many of the styles are still relevant today. This also means you have a wide variety from which to choose.
The cut of men's suits and jackets varied throughout from the 20s and 30s. The Sacque suits is traditional and what the average man wore. The Sacque has a unstructured fit, but nothing outrageous - think classic Brooks Brothers.
The Oxford suit has a trim jacket with a nipped in waist and very full pants. The "Oxford bag" become popular in 1925 when Oxford University banned the wearing of knickers and plus fours in the classroom (more on these later). The students loved their sporty knickers so they had extra wide legged pants made that could be worn over them
For Gatsby you are shooting for vintage elegant summer day wear. So a suit in a soft color: slate blue, putty, mustard; or a pattern like a glen paid or hound tooth. A Navy double-bested jacket with slacks is dapper as well.
By all means! A man appearing in a shirt was rather shocking in the presence of ladies. Suits of the 20s and 30s had vests and so should you.
You can wear a sweater vest. If you don't have a jacket, a sleeveless sweater vest makes a nice substitute, and looks quite collegiate.
Along with the sweater vest you might try a classic sweater: crew, v-neck or classic cardigan; in cotton, wool or cashmere (though these could be a trifle warm). Sweaters should be a solid color, argyle or plaid. Shopping-wise stick to very traditional and you should hit it on the nose.
Gentlemen wear braces, firemen wear suspenders; firemen are in a hurry, gentlemen are not. The difference? Braces have buttons and suspenders have clips. Clips damage pants and are never a good idea unless the only thing you require is something that will keep your pants up. If you want to make a vintage fashion statement have your dry cleaner sew brace buttons inside the waistband of your pants.
Braces keep pants at your natural waist in the 20s and above it in the 30s.
Braces should not be all elastic. Too much stretch leads to bouncy pants. Authentic braces are Y-shaped and the elastic is on the vertical stem of the Y only. Fabrics can look a lot like neck tie silk but should coordinate, not match, the tie. Braces can also be made of elaborate woven jacquards depicting various motifs and scenes.
Never, ever wear a belt and braces. No one should be that concerned with their pants falling down while in civilized society.
One word - full. Pants were cut fuller than they are today. This creates a softer drape and an elegant line. The 20s and 30s usually mean pleated pants and the option of cuffs. Bump up the vintage look and add braces. Look for chinos, simple slacks, seersucker, small checks or plaids, in lighter colors and fabrics. Pants in the 20s are worn at the waist, not the hip, and in the 30s they ride a bit above the waist.
Knickers and plus fours (and sixes-eights) all buckle just below the knee. Knickers look like regular pants that stop with a strap and buckle at the knee. Plus fours are four inches longer than the knee but are buckled at the knee creating fullness. Plus sixes and eights are six and eight inches, respectively, below the knee and are fuller but much less common.
Ditch the athletic shoes. Look for bucks, saddle shoes, oxfords, or loafers.
Two-tone combinations were in. Men wore brown shoes for day only; two-toned shoes could appear in summer.
In the early 20s, some men were still wearing spats.
You're not done yet! Socks are part of the whole look. They can be very thin dress socks that match the pants or thicker with cables or patterns to wear with knickers.
Remember to have fun combining patterns and colors. They did. A striped shirt, paisley tie, plain vest, tweedy-plaid knickers, argyle socks and saddle shoes could be, if done well, the height of fashion.
George Carvalho sent us this amazing link for gold knickers and over the calf argyle socks:
For personal grooming, your nattiest close shave and hair trimmed tidy.
Click here for Emily Post 1922 on Men's Clothes.
Now on to the Do's and Don'ts!
- Small tidy mustaches
- Short sideburns
- Tidily combed hair
- Straw hat: boater or panama
- Flat cap with brim; a more sporting look
- Shirts: long sleeved, plain or pale color, simple stripes, french cuffs or plain
- Ties: straight or bow, foulard, small geometric prints, stripes
- Can't abide ties? Try an ascot
- Pants: classic styles, light fabrics (seersucker, linen, chino) in light, neutral colors
- Pants ride at waist, not hip
- Use braces (suspenders) or a belt, never both
- Shoes: Lace-ups, could be two-toned (If you have foot problems, choose a neutral, shoe-like sneaker)
- Jackets: single or double-breasted
- Light summer fabrics (linen, seersucker)
- Suits with matching pants or sport jackets
- Tip: Vests look smart if you must remove your jacket in the heat
- Sweater-vests are a youthful look, more casual than a suit or jacket
- Final touch: the pocket square, neatly folded and ironed or gracefully fluffed and inserted in the jacket breast pocket
- Long hair? Pull it back neatly
- Beards trimmed, not scraggly
- Styrofoam boater
- Rolled-up sleeves--for the working class only
- Shirts tails out
- Logo, printed shirts
- Short sleeved shirts
- No tie? No excuse.
- String ties and bolos are not real ties
- Tip: A gentleman may loosen his tie, but does not remove it and open his shirt collar
- Bermuda shorts
- Hip huggers
- Obvious labels
- Square toes
- Desert boots
- Don't let more then one-quarter of your pocket square show
- Do not sneeze in it
Some Gatsby-ites dress in real sport wear (as opposed to sportswear). As you can see in the image above, even dressing for sport is not an easy way out. Tennis (above far right) means white (or cream): white shoes, white pants, white socks - the works. Men golfed in either tweedy suits or plus-fours with a sweater vest.