The Contemporary Man:
1930s Menswear Fashion
Written by Anisha Bhat, Fashion Communication & Styling, ISDI. Faculty: Belinda Bawa
Dashing, sophisticated and more than just memorable, the thirties reflected a spirit and mindset which changed with the progressing times and gave rise to a vast diversification of stylish clothing.
The 1930s were a decade where the impulsive and youthful class of men from the turbulent twenties transitioned into serious and responsible working class men who carried with them, a duty towards their home and country. The common crowd had strayed away from the reach of high fashion coming from Europe, mainly due to the Wall Street crash of 1929. Consequently, fashion was accessible only to a privileged few and it was designed beautifully.
The new man of this age followed a style which was practical and confident. The suits in this decade were designed in a way that they created an illusion of wide, padded shoulders, and slightly tapering sleeves. This decade also gave prominence to the trenchcoat leading to the creation of a signature style. They were often worn over formal attire and had double breasted fronts.
In the thirties, the athletic body was regarded as quintessential for the men. Clothing was moulded into this structure with designs made to appear large, tall and surprisingly comfortable, facilitating the wearer to carry out his daily work with ease.
The garment which was most popularised and reinvented in this decade was none other than the “suit”. The suit was considered as a status symbol and the people who could not afford it would get them made. The suit could be formal or casual, depending on the kind of cut it had, the material used to make it and colour it was made in. Speaking of colours, the most prominent ones included: tan, beige, cream, navy blue and multiple shades of grey. Bold patterns such as plaids, stripes, herringbone and checks would appear in almost every probable shade, providing a playful element to the suit and adding to its charm. The suits would usually consist of peaked or notched lapels and these stretched out further towards the end of the decade. These suits would create a distinctive style for men and make the ensemble look attractive and interesting.
The belted suit back was rather sportier and was carried over from the previous decades. The ventless back on the other hand was newer and consistent and was one of the length enhancing jackets which was comparatively more desirable.
With these variety of suits, came in the vests, which complemented the look of the suits. Most of these vests were single breasted but many men would opt for the double breasted ones to construct a formal appeal to the look.
The transition from the twenties to the thirties fashion reflected significantly through the colours of the garments, which had become comparatively subtle. The clashing patterns of the twenties had also faded away and had been replaced by finer one in tones of lighter colours.
The eccentric waistbands from the thirties included an extra wide band with a double row of buttons, also known as a Hollywood waistband trouser which was typically favoured by young men who would pair them up with sweater vests or sports coats. These trousers provided with an exceptional fitting and appeared to be high waist trousers.
They were also quite wide when compared to today’s slim fit pants. A slightly more comfortable and casual option of this time included pants which were made out of light flannels, linen, gabardine or rayon blends.
Suspenders were still in trend and were usually worn by a few older men who purchased clothing with suspender buttons attached to them. These were not actually visible due to the presence of the jacket on top. However, Hollywood movies sustained the style.
While formal events saw continuity in the rise of suits, the much casual outfits included leather jackets which were often paired up with caps. This look was quite fashionable among working men. Plaid cotton shirts, polo shirts and high waist trousers continued to be a part of their wardrobes. Button down shirts in diverse colours and prints were also extensive. “Bomber” jackets also became prominent as casual wear of the time. For some, this was all the fashion affordable to them during the thirties.
Blue jeans were commonly sold as workwear for men. But eventually due to being popularised by Hollywood, they became an option for casual wear on the weekends.
This was also the time when the Polo Shirt came into style and has been a part of the fashion world ever since. The 30s version of the polo shirt would have a V neck and single button or multi button as well. The textures utilized to create this design were usually heavy knit, linen, cotton and other textured knits. Knee length “walk shorts” were frequently worn in colonies of Bermuda, Jamaica and Bahamas. The Americans later adapted this style for something to wear on their vacations. Shorts on the other hand, found their way to get into sports such as golf, where it was combined with knee length socks and polo shirts.
By late 1930s, Hawaiian print short sleeve shirts came into style by late 1930s. These shirts featured prints with flowers, pineapples, and palm trees. The length of these shirts were long enough to remain untucked but were usually tucked with high waisted pants. Short jackets were normally worn for horseback riding, biking or hunting. Black or brown were the commonly used colours to make these jackets. Wool jackets mimicked the leather aviator jackets.
When it comes to hats, the most popular ones among the people were fur felt fedora hats. Fedoras came in light grey, dark grey or brown colours with an occasional navy blue shade. The variations in this were unlimited and were experimented to a great extent. The bowler hat continued to be a part of the traditional men’s outfits but was completely discarded by the middle class men.
The 1930s men’s shoes were much more decorative than the 20s with side wings, contrasting stitching, mesh or weave all over the shoes. Lace up boots was worn by elderly men and the working class.
Along with these, men wore silk socks which consisted of patterns in plaid, checks and stripes which were similar to the kind of suits they wore. The influence of casual, colourful fashion affected all of the people.
As the 1930s began with a sense of style and subtlety, the decade created an impact on fashion. The comfort and ease established in the clothing helped in making them more functional. New prints and patterns became more recurrent in clothing and people started accepting them as their daily wear. They kept formal and informal wear discrete; however both were designed to be stylish. Hats added to the entire look and enhanced the overall appearance of the men, making them more suave and classy. These styles have been carried on till date and have left an everlasting mark on the world of fashion.