1920s Men’s Fashion: A Reflection of the Roaring Twenties

January 6, 2024

The 1920s was a revolutionary decade that radically transformed gender roles, norms around dressing, and men’s relationship with fashion. 

Bookended by World War I and the onset of the Great Depression, the 1920s, or the “Roaring Twenties” as it came to be known, represented a brief window of cultural liberation.

There was pushback against the Victorian and Edwardian eras of formality and conservatism. Both men and women enjoyed newfound freedoms in expression, from shorter hemlines and haircuts to holding hands in public between unmarried couples. 

Rising economic prosperity also meant more disposable income to spend on clothes among blue-collar and office workers. Together with Hollywood stars and celebrity trendsetters, the decade shaped a seminal time for male fashion!

Read on to learn all about 1920s men’s fashion. 

The Rise of Casualwear

The 1920s saw menswear transition away from the stiffness of Victorian fashion. Suits adopted a more casual appearance, with relaxed fits, softened shoulders, and fuller trouser legs. 

The sack suit, characterized by minimal shape and loose-hanging fabric, became the choice for businessmen seeking comfort and practicality.

As leisure time activities surged in popularity, casual garments also entered menswear. 

For sporting pursuits like golf, knee-length knickerbockers became hugely popular. Made from wool, these loose shorts allowed freedom of movement and airflow. Further, pullover sweaters in versatile V-neck or crew neck styles were layered for warmth. 

Meanwhile, colleges brought about khaki pants, polo shirts, and varsity letterman jackets.

Business Attire Trends

While business standards relaxed slightly, the business suit remained a crucial staple of 1920s workwear. That being said, the formerly mandatory morning tailcoat was gradually replaced by daytime lounge suits. 

These single or double-breasted jackets with matching vests and trousers became the norm for the office-bound gentleman.

Soft fold-down collars on shirts surpassed stiff detachable collars in popularity. In addition, more colorful and patterned ties grew acceptable, including classic stripes, deco geometrics, and art nouveau florals. 

Double-breasted jackets also experienced a strong resurgence, preferred for their distinguished silhouette. Variations like peaked lapels and multiple rows of front buttons added visual interest. 

What’s more, designers embraced bolder fabrics like checked tweed, plaid flannel, and textured birdseye weaves.

Generally speaking, displaying one’s unique style through printed silk ties, rather than uniform somberness, was embraced in the 1920s. 

Accessories and Grooming

No well-dressed gentleman of the 1920s was complete without the necessary accessories. 

Hats remained crucial daywear items, with short-brim fedoras, ivy caps, and boater straw hats ruling as professional and casual options. 

It was also in vogue to include touches like pocket squares, collar pins, tie clips, and cufflinks to sharpen one’s sartorial display. 

As far as grooming, hair was slicked back with pomades to achieve a glossy refined look. Being clean-shaven was expected in white-collar jobs, though small mustaches retained some favor.

The Influences of Jazz and Celebrity

Much of 1920s men’s fashion took cues from creative influencers such as jazz musicians, movie stars, and celebrities. 

When jazz music swept America, lively suits like the high-waisted zoot suit with ballooning pants entered mainstream men’s style.

Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway displayed these attention-grabbing looks onstage.

On the silver screen, matinee idols transmitted sophistication through their eveningwear. Rudolf Valentino popularized his signature white tie and tails, whereas Cary Grant elevated the tuxedo beyond formal occasions. 

As celebrities endorsed different styles and fashions in the public eye, their wardrobe carried weight across all social classes.

The Evolution of Casualwear

Leisure clothes continued advancing as the decade reached midway. While knickers and riding breeches had catered to pastimes like golf or motoring before, tweed Norfolk jackets addressed country pursuits like hunting or hiking. 

Sturdy fabrics like corduroy, linen, and Oxford cloth lent well to increased time spent outdoors.

The interwar period also brought exciting developments in aeronautics. Aviator jackets designed for warming pilots gained a following among fashionable sportsmen. Typically made of brown leather with fleece lining, these functional jackets symbolized adventure.

As weekends and holidays saw men shed their city business suits, wardrobes expanded to serve relaxation and travel needs. 

Key staples included flat-front trousers, knitted argyle socks, sweater vests, and linen or seersucker short-sleeve shirts ideal for seaside escapes.

Formalwear Trends

Even with the shift towards comfortable clothing, black tie dress codes ensured formalwear remained important for sophisticated social functions. 

As correctly practiced, a black tie called for a black dinner jacket and trousers with a white shirt, bow tie, and waistcoat.

By mid-decade, peak or shawl lapel dinner jackets emerged, gradually replacing traditional notched lapels. For especially formal events, adding a white bowtie and waistcoat to a black tie kit distinguished gentlemen the most.

The tuxedo—originally an informal alternative created in the 1860s—also soared in popularity as Hollywood stars normalized its wear. Paired with glossy black Oxford leather shoes, a well-cut midnight blue tuxedo marked style and luxury.

Come summer, white dinner jackets joined uniforms as seasonal formalwear. These ivory or cream jackets prevented overheating at garden parties or cruises. Worn at dusk with black pants and accessories, they kept men properly yet comfortably attired.

Sophisticated Loungewear and Resort Wear

Another key development in 1920s men’s fashion was the proliferation of sophisticated clothing specifically for relaxation and travel in warm climates. 

While wealthy Edwardians certainly maintained seasonal wardrobes for pursuits such as lawn tennis, sailing, and lounging in exotic locales, such refined activewear had limited reach. 

With reliable mass transport via rail and steamship now available to the comfortable middle classes, demand grew for versatile transitional clothing.

Chic lightweight tailored odd jackets, colloquially dubbed ‘lounge jackets,’ became popular for wearing leisurely at home, at fine restaurants, or while vacationing. These could take the form of a crease-resistant flannel or linen jacket for steaming hot locales. 

Alternatively, elaborately woven embroidered silken robes and decorative brocade jackets proved stylish for lounging back on an ocean liner or stepping ashore at port cities along the Mediterranean or tropical destinations.

This new emphasis on globetrotting luxury permeated all areas of menswear in the 1920s. 

Traveling in first-class comfort was now fashionable and accessible, inspiring entire collections oriented around refined dressing for holidays abroad. 

Luggage companies responded by producing high-quality fitted suitcases in leather and canvas to cater to this aspirational wandering lifestyle.

Youth Culture’s Radical Influence

As old social barriers dissolved in the 1920s, radical new ideas spread through mass media. Young minds and bodies felt liberated as antiquated strictures loosened.

Seeking freedom in self-expression, college kids and rebellious youth sported flashy ensembles incorporating vivid colors, outrageous prints, and experimental styling. 

Female flappers made headlines with their sleek physiques, bobbed hair, minimal makeup, and androgynous dressing. 

Taking style cues from their stylish counterparts, fashion-forward men donned form-fitting waistcoats, garish printed ties, and high-waisted Oxford bags to make their own defiant statements through clothing. 

These attention-grabbing styles enabled conspicuous nonconformity, shaping identities around modernity, independence, and carefree living.

Department stores took notice, selling mass-produced versions of collegiate fashions to the middle classes. What began as a subversive subculture was co-opted, adapted, and fed back into the mainstream decade after decade. 

The cyclical process endures to this day. Many contemporary menswear brands continue looking back to the 1920s and youth-oriented movements like Ivy style for inspiration when designing casual collections.

Differences From Past Eras

Compared to the starched formality of Victorian and Edwardian suiting, the 1920s granted men much greater flexibility in self-expression. 

The late 1890s had already slowly phased out extravagant silhouettes such as padded chests, cinched waists, and voluminous sleeves. 

But day-to-day suiting remained restrictive and with few stylistic choices:

  • Detachable wingtip collars replacing tall, rigid bands.
  • Increased range of collarless sports shirts for leisure.
  • Easy-fitting jackets instead of constricting torsos; looser coats reached mid-hip.
  • Softer shoulders, open notch, or peak lapels replacing small Edwardian ones.
  • Shorter jacket hems, showing off more trouser legs rather than solely socks.
  • Colorful checks, overchecks, windowpane fabrics besides somber grays.
  • Distinct accessories like patterned neckties, statement socks, and leather brogues.
  • Belts or braces (suspenders) instead of high-button vests for securing trousers.

By the close of the 1920s, men enjoyed far more alternatives than previous generations in their fabric choice and styling details for day and evening missions.

The period undoubtedly ignited a democratization of male dress where even working men could access quality tailoring and accessories to show off their unique personalities.

Wrapping Up

The 1920s cultivated a spirit of stylish relaxation for men’s tailoring traditions. Emerging from somber Edwardian times, the decade loosened both society’s rules and literal suit seams. 

Sports and Hollywood drove trends towards practicality and personality in dress. And though office protocol and events still demanded suits, materials leaned more toward fun patterns and novelty weaves.

As menswear continues to evolve today, we still witness the era’s influences. Linen blazers, knit pullovers, dapper felt hats and tuxedos remain evergreen for their hardy legacy cemented in the Roaring Twenties.