As Dapper Day is just around the corner, I thought it would be cool to write a quick article on how to dress like the 1930’s-1940’s even when you don’t have a vintage suit! It’s fairly simple!
I’ve written quite a bit on dissecting golden era (1920s-1960s) style and how to wear it today. It started with a guide to each era (even with a StyleForum guest article) and even had a how-to for the way Spencer and I approach our regular style. However, I thought I’d use a recent outfit of mine to illustrate the point again!
Now I definitely understand that vintage clothing isn’t always accessible to everyone. Perhaps it’s that you can’t find the right size, there aren’t any dealers/eBay listings where you are, or you simply don’t like to wear used clothing. And that’s totally fine! You don’t have to buy a full vintage outfit if you don’t want to. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a contemporary suit with some vintage styling. But what exactly is vintage styling?
It’s definitely not wearing a baggy zoot-esque suit with crazy ties like Jim Carrey in The Mask. I mean, people did wear bold swing ties back in the day, but that’s not really the approach we have here. We like to go against the vintage grain (who usually love bold stuff) and instead opt for something “classic”. Luckily for you, it’s pretty darn easy. All you need is a striped shirt and apatterned tie.
I’m not going to talk too much about this, but you’ll see that striped shirts and patterned ties (which I count as stripes, checks, and prints) really dominated menswear of the 1930s-1940s. It’s nothing too crazy and it’s something that definitely isn’t too far from the classic menswear of today. Just check out these examples.
As you can see, it’s a subtle way to give your outfit some throwback vibes. You don’t have to buy a tweed suit or a pinstripe DB when you can simple add some flair to your shirt and tie! The most interesting thing is that it stands out because no one dresses like this anymore. Either guys dress too boringly (plain shirt, plain ties) or they put too much emphasis on the outside pieces like their jacket or hat. I’m serious; simply pairing a striped shirt and a patterned tie is enough to be vintage inspired.
A Contemporary 1930’s-Style Outfit
To illustrate my point, I decided to wear a contemporary suit with a vintage styled shirt and tie.
The suit is a softly constructed wool/cashmere from Suit Supply. I believe that this particular style is the the Havana fit, which has unpadded shoulders, wide notch lapels, and triple patch pockets. Obviously it’s not as structured as most 1930s-1940s suits (which had a drape cut), but as you remember, there was some instances of soft tailoring back in the day. I will say that the lapels on this SuSu jacket aren’t the same as 30s-40s ones , but that’s okay. I still love this suit and it’s one of my favorites!
Some of the reasons why this suit works so well for a “contemporary vintage” outfit is due to the construction, details, and fabric. Firstly soft tailoring works well with a lot of people. The natural shoulders make a jacket comfortable and timeless, while padding can come off as too “formal” or dated. There’s nothing wrong with a structured look, but I really prefer a garment that I can relax in! Sprezzatura, ya know?
Next come the details. Wide lapels in general are vastly different than most of the “regular” suits you’ll see. Yeah, you can always go custom/bespoke or even high end for wide lapels, but most guys out there will get a suit from J. Crew or Banana Republic with a slim lapel. Slim lapels are very modern (and very 1960’s) but wide lapels just harken back to an older time. Even though these aren’t shaped exactly like a 1930s-40s notch lapel, they do a passable job for a vintage-inspired look! The addition of patch pockets (another detail that you seldom see) is another great detail that throws back to a time when suits and sportcoats were functional.
Lastly, you have the fabric. As I’ve said here and here, brown suits are really uncommon, so having that color in your wardrobe is a great way to get a vintage look. But what makes this Suit Supply suit even more interesting is that is got a slight orange fleck! Flecked suits are pretty vintage looking (big in the 30s, then big in the atomic style of the 50s) and are quite different than the regular fabrics you see at the mall.
But you could also argue that SuitSupply is a “mall brand” (just better made and designed with sartorial enthusiasts in mind), so the real way to differentiate yourself is through the styling.
Here’s where the 1930s-40s shines through! I went with a striped spearpoint collar shirt (custom made) with a checked green tie. The combination is something way different than what most guys would do, which is what marks it as a vintage look. Who would’ve thought that a simple combination of geometrics shapes and lines could be the difference between a modern and vintage look? I still don’t get why guys don’t mix patterns like this; I find it way more interesting than a plain shirt and tie. But we can take a step further to see exactly how this pairing is “vintage”.
Here’s an contemporary example of a brown suit with a checked tie. Can you see how adding in this specific type of checked tie with a 30’s striped shirt make it different? Dan’s tie is pretty “normal” and is something you’d find at Banana Republic, J. Crew, or Macy’s. It’s standard in its width. You’ll remember a while ago when I said that vintage ties are needed to make a vintage look, since modern tie designs seldom come close to the old ones. Just notice how my 1930’s checked tie is pretty odd. The shapes are different and there are like three different colors in it (green, yellow, red). The way it plays with the red/white of the shirt is beautiful and interesting enough without being bold. See what I mean?
Now, I wouldn’t say that you have to wear a spearpoint collar, but it definitely helps if wear a collar bar. As you know, men back in the 1930s-40s wore collar bars for extra flair; the accessory pushes the shirt collar together and make the tie prominent. Since not many guys wear this today, simply donning a collar bar is rakish touch (and we recommend it) Also, men’s shirts have skewed toward spread and cutaway shirts, which make for a modern look (which isn’t vintage, duh) and are not meant to be worn with a collar bar. The narrow spread angle of the spearpoint collar makes it one of the few shirts that help you wear that cool neckwear accessory.
Sure you can wear a modern brown suit, but it’s the simple pairing of striped shirts and patterned ties (with a collar bar) that turn the outfit into something vintage inspired. I can’t emphasize how easy this is! I think it really worked by transforming this modern brown SuitSupply suit into a pretty good interpretation of classic 1930s-1940s style!
Obviously you don’t always have to buy vintage ties, but it certainly helps! They’re relatively cheap ($20-50) and they add that extra flair that you’re looking for. Striped shirts on the other hand can be found at thrift stores or can be made relatively easily by a custom shirt place like Proper Cloth. Though I will say that a spearpoint or OCBD is best (something with a long collar) because a spread collar isn’t really 30s-40s.
I’ll finish off this article with some more examples of how wearing a striped shirt and a patterned tie is the best way to approach vintage style without looking like a costume. Some of the suits are vintage I think the general idea is there. Vintage inspired style is pretty easy to do.
Also remember that you don’t have to do stripes + checks like I did in my example; you can repeat it with even striped or printed (foulard, dots, etc) ties!
Don’t all of those examples look vintage? See how it easy it is to do? So please don’t spend your money on buying cheap flat caps, clip on suspenders, and tweed jackets, when you can really get that classic, non-costumey vintage style by simply adding a striped shirt and a patterned tie. It’s a shortcut that works every time.
Photography by Ethan’s Tripod