Period Fashions Reference Library


Mens' Evening Dress:
the Ragtime Era, 1910-1920

Gentlemen's evening dress of this era is fairly similar to modern formal wear consisting of a black tail coat or tuxedo jacket. White formal shirts can have wing tip collars; vests and bow ties should be either white or black (cummerbunds are not appropriate). White gloves add the final touch of formality for ballroom wear. Flexible soled shoes such as Capezio black jazz oxfords are quite suitable for dancing.
Illustrated here is a tailcoat suit from 1920 with white waistcoat and white tie, with top hat, white gloves and cane. Also a tuxedo suit, also from 1920, with black waistcoat and tie. The Tuxedo is a more informal alternative to the tailcoat. Below is a scene from The Delineator 1919 with a new style of double breasted dinner jacket (described as being a new style fashionable for young men in 1919), a more traditional single breasted tuxedo jacket and a formal tailcoat (swallowtail) suit. White waistcoat would generally be worn with tailcoats and black with tuxedo jackets in this period. The seated lady is wearing a very simple lightweight silk dancing dress.

The Delineator, November 1919

Article from THE DESIGNER, October 1914
October! What magical pictures the very word conjures up! The wondrous beauty of the gold-brown woods, the lazily curling smoke, the laden vines, the ruddy orchards! What a marvelous time is autumnthe very sunset of the season, so to speak. And, to get down to earth, the time for a much-needed overhauling of the wardrobe. Just as the cooler weather is being welcomed, New York’s fashionable set begins to return to the city. Theaters and concerts are soon in full blast and the gay night life of the metropolis gradually reaches its height. And that means a careful inspection of one’s full evening-dress suit. In metropolitan centers, and particularly since the popularity of the modern dances, opportunities for seeking night amusement have increased enormously, and men who have never paid much attention to their clothes are now everywhere seeking for scrupulous correctness in evening wear.
The dancing craze, more than any other one thing, is responsible for this. A man becomes more conspicuous when dancing than he is usually accustomed to, and of course has no desire to be the target for critical comment from spectators. Hence the numerous inquiries at the stores for "the right kind of shirts; the correct pumps; the right waistcoat," and so on. I have heard queries like these from men who once prided themselves on their democratic independence by refusing to put on a dress suit at all. Surely evening dress has come into its own at last. The design shown on this page may be considered as reflecting to-day’s mode in every detail. It is smart, trim, plain and conventionally correct. No man should ever allow himself latitude in connection with his evening clothes. Conventionally correct and simple should be the only effect desired. A man may be permitted to express his individual preferences regarding almost anything he wears, but when it comes to evening clothes let him conform readily to established conventions and avoid the freakish or unusual. Full evening dress is one thing in which a man either looks his best or his worst, and in wearing it every man would do well to adopt the new slogan of the railroads: Safety First! Follow recognized standards and do not attempt originality where formality is the desired end.
Fashion now permits a black silk waistcoat to be worn with full evening dress, although most men give preference to white linen or cotton. It is a strange vagary that, although a black silk waistcoat is considered good form, a black waistcoat of the same material as the coat itself is not allowable under any circumstances. I discussed the question of the correct shirt to be worn with evening dress so thoroughly last month that I need not say anything more just now on that important subject. The collar worn with full evening dress may be either a straight poke (like that illustrated) or a wing. The smartly dressed New Yorkers, and particularly of the younger set, give decided preference to the one shown on this page. And please remember that the double- fold collar is not to be worn with formal evening clothes. It is considered good enough with a Tuxedo, but a little too "careless" with a full-dress suit.
Frequently it is the amount of attention we pay or do not pay to details that makes us look well-dressed or otherwise. Take ties, for instance. A man may be correctly dressed from top to toe, and yet have on a necktie that puts everything else out of harmony. You may think that a white evening bow is a white evening bow and nothing more, but I would strongly advise my readers to pay as much attention to the selection of their evening ties as they would to the purchase, say, of their silk hats. Do not buy bulgy, thick, wide bows. Do not have them too long. Tie them yourself, of course, and in doing so draw them tight at the center to gain that trim neatness that is so desirable. It is really not difficult to tie your own bows properly. Have your wife, mother, sister, or someone else’s sister show you how to do it. Most women are adept at this sort of thing.
The correct gloves for evening wear are white kid with "self-stitching." Do not be persuaded to buy white gloves with black stitching as "something new."
According to the different occasions, you will need pumps, low patent shoes or button shoes to wear with your evening suit. Naturally you will wear pumps for dancing, and as a matter of fact they will be found correct for most occasions.
Socks should be black silk or lisle, although very dark blue makes a pleasant variation at times.
Study very carefully what the chart says regarding the wearing of jewelry. Beyond the merest necessities, such as links and studs, you would do well to wear no jewelry at all. The day for fobs, chains, diamonds, etc., has gone, and the less conspicuous you make yourself the more harmonious you will appear.
A high silk hat with a two-inch black band is correct nowadays for evening wear.

THE DESIGNER, October 1914

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last updated 24 jul 2014/csb