The beginning of the decade witnessed the end of World War I. Men returning from the war faced closets full of clothes from the teens, which they wore into the early 1920s.
During this time, the sacque suit, which had been popular since the mid eighteen-hundreds, constituted appropriate “day” dress for gentlemen. (Edwardian etiquette commanded successive changes of clothing for gentlemen during the day.) With the suits, colored shirts of putty, peach, blue-gray and cedar were worn. Shaped silk ties in small geometric patterns or diagonal stripes were secured with tie pins. Black bowler hats completed the ensemble.
The tail coat was considered appropriate formal evening wear, accompanied by a top hat. Starched white shirts with pleated yokes were expected with the tail coat, although bow ties and shirts with white wing collars were also seen. Tuxedos were increasing in popularity but were not yet completely acceptable.
Black patent-leather shoes were popular during this era and often appeared with formal evening wear. Casual clothing demanded two-tone shoes in white and tan, or white and black. Fringed tongues on Oxfords and brogues were seen frequently. Lace-up style shoes were most in demand.
Knickerbockers, later shortened to “knickers”, were popular casual wear for the well-dressed gentleman. Variations of knickers included plus-fours, plus- sixes, plus-eights and plus-tens. The “plus” in the term referred to how many inches below the knee they hung. Norfolk coats as well as golf coats were worn with knickers. The coats sported large patch pockets, a belt, usually one button and often a shoulder yoke. Gentleman’s shoes or boots were the appropriate footwear to coordinate with knickers.
In 1925 the era of the baggy pants dawned. This fashion would influence mens wear for three decades. Oxford bags were first worn by Oxford undergraduates, eager to circumvent the University’s prohibition on knickers. The style originated when knickers were banned in the classroom. As the bags measured anywhere from twenty-two inches to forty inches around the bottoms, they could easily be slipped on over the forbidden knickers.
John Wanamaker introduced Oxford bags to the American public in the spring of 1925, although Ivy League students visiting Oxford in 1924 had already adopted the style. The trousers were originally made of flannel and appeared in shades of biscuit, silver gray, fawn, lovat, blue gray, and pearl gray.
Jazz clothing passed quickly in and out of fashion during the twenties. These tightly-fitting suits were considered an expression of passion for jazz music. Jackets were long and tight-waisted with long back vents. The buttons were placed close together whether the jackets were double or single breasted. Trousers were tight and stove-pipe skinny.
Tweed cloth became popular at this time. The word “tweed” is an English variant of the Scottish word “tweel”, itself a variation of “twill”. Tweel refers to hand-woven wool fabric from the Scottish highlands and islands. Historians differ on whether tweed originated in the highlands or the south of Scotland. The name became associated with the Tweed River which forms part of the boundary between England and Scotland. Tweed eventually became the general term for all carded “homespun” wool, whether it was Scotch tweed, Irish tweed, Donegal tweed, Cheviot tweed or Harris tweed.
Flannel was the other popular fabric of the era. The word flannel may be derived from the Welsh word “gwalnen”, meaning woolen cloth. Flannel was originally made as a heavy, comfortable, soft and slightly napped wool cloth. Gray was the most popular color, and thus gray flannel trousers became known as “grayers”. Other popular colors were white, beige and stripes. Flannel trousers were traditionally worn in warm weather.
While Paris was unmistakably the world seat of women’s fashion, for men, it was London. Tailors in France weren’t quick to admit the fact, however, all men’s fashion magazines featured styles and trends from London. During the decade of the twenties, students at Oxford and Cambridge violated - for the first time ever - the Edwardian practice of different types of dress for different times of the day. The students wore flannel trousers and soft collars all day. When the English empire stood intact, it was easy for London to dictate men’s fashion.
The crash of the American stock market on October 24, 1929, marked a change in the worldwide economic situation that had a drastic effect on men’s clothing.
Questions regarding men’s clothing may be directed to Carol Nolan at:
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