It may look like pretty vintage/1930’s in the picture above, but other than the tie, it’s all modern! I thought that it would be appropriate to finally write a post on how to dress in 1930-40s’s style in today’s time, making it easy to understand and without you having to buy too much “true vintage”!
Note: this is a long post due to the pictures and information but I think this its worth it, as this is a basic explanation of my style.
Let me start by saying that I love wearing a suit. However, I abhor looking like a boring business man. It lacks creativity. It may work for some who only dress up for work, but since I like to dress up I prefer something with a bit more pizzaz. That’s why I look to the 1930s and 1940’s for inspiration. Let me be clear first. I don’t go “full vintage”everyday.
In fact, my true vintage (a term that I give to actual, 1930’s-1940’s pieces) pieces sit in a closet at home that I only break out for special occasions like Dapper Day. In fact, most of the stuff I wear is fairly modern, from the past 20-30 years. Might still be old, but it’s decidedly NOT true vintage. However, I still use my knowledge of the era and style myself accordingly. I still give off 1930’s-1940’s vibes even though my pieces aren’t period accurate. So how do you dress in vintage style without buying true vintage?
Well, the truth is you can’t. Kind of.
There’s something about vintage piecesthat modern manufacturers and mall brands don’t do anymore. However this doesn’t mean that you have to save up to buy true vintage suits 1930’s suits (even though most vintage suits cost far less than anything designer or bespoke)! You probably wouldn’t be able to wear them without looking like a costume. That’s why I only wear mine to true vintage events or to Dapper Day.
By picking your pieces carefully and understanding vintage style choices, you can definitely pull off a vintage style in today’s age without having to buy too much true vintage stuff. You get a away with some modern pieces, but I will say that you’ll have to compromise on a few things. You might have to buy a 1930’s tie! Or a suit from the 1960’s and tailor it to be “modern”. Not so bad right?
Before we get into my suggestions, it’s important to understand the basics of the style. True vintage style doesn’t look like this, this or this. Those outfits aren’t reflective of true golden era style and are essentially costumes instead of a great outfit. I mean this outfit is just wrong. Infuriatingly wrong.
Suspenders over a vest that doesn’t even reach the top of the pant? Come on, dude. I have no idea what he’s going for, but that isn’t true vintage style.
This is what true, vintage sartorial style looks like, courtesy of film stars and 1930s Apparel Arts illustrations.
Note that none of of these illustrations and pictures look like the exaggerations we assume in our head. No zoot suits or super bold ties to be found here. There’s also no clip on suspenders and flat caps either. The 1930’s and 40’s were the Golden Era of mens style, with men combining patterns masterfully. The common idea of uniformity and slim ties only came about in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, which is what most men today look at.
In the Golden Era you can see a theme. There’s a well tailored suit (either plain or with a pattern) with wide lapels and high rise pants, a striped or geometric print tie, a plain or striped shirt, and a puffed out pocket square. While the cut of suits have changed, you can see that some gentlemen today still dress very similarly.
Some men prefer to get bespoke suits made from their tailors, based on old patterns. Note that their styling is straight from the golden era, down to the design of the tie and their puffed out pocket square!
If the cut is too old for you, don’t fear. Most of my style icons and inspirations have a decidedly classic style that definitely exudes the Golden Era. They keep their wide lapels and stripe/geo print ties but with modern proportions. . It’s all modern bespoke, but the styling keeps the same vibes from the 1930s-1940s. It’s still pretty “edgy” when compared to the typical suiting fare of the world.
See? The Golden Era of style stays alive today, as men still wearing their tailored jackets with large lapels and pattern mix, with geometric prints, windowpanes, and stripes. Crazier patterns like paisleys and florals aren’t really indicative of the golden era. Combined with skinny lapels (as many guys do when they fallaciously believe they are doing a vintage look) , they end up decidedly too modern or chic to be considered vintage inspired at all.
You might call this entire article “how to dress in classic menswear” but I think its a bit different that. There’s something about the 1930’s-1940’s vintage style that is just a touch “off the page” from what classic tailors or sprezzy italian guys are doing. It has a bit more creativity and personally that deviate from a lot of the rules and suggestions put forth by current fashion bloggers like The Art of Manliness, Alpha M., Teaching Men’s Fashion, the Modest Man, or Articles of Style. For some, it has too much personality. For others, it’s old school. It’s this sense of rebellion that I love to dress in this style.
So How do You Do it?
While going full vintage is definitely an option that Spencer and I do (and we have friends who dress in full vintage as well) it may not be preferable to everyone who wants to dress in our style. Going bespoke or buying awesome ties from Drake’s for $200 isn’t great either. But just please understand that dressing with a vintage inspired style will mean that you need to get at least something that is vintage. It can mean getting a 1990’s thrifted jacket that is “vintage cut” with large lapels to something as small as picking up a great unlined and geometric printed tie and wearing it with your suit. You basically have to think with this mindset: “What would a guy in the 1930’s buy if he was living today?” Here’s what you can do.
Wide or larger apels are a sign of classic style. They don’t have to be giant, but these are key to setting your outfit apart! Modern “mall brand” suits typically have slim lapels which don’t really exude the golden era. Try and get something that’s at least 3″-4″ inches. After all, sharp, wide lapels are meant to emphasize the athletic male physique, which is what the 30s-40s were all about. We don’t mean going full 1970’s though.
You can get true vintage suits from the 1930s-40s, but they might not be preferable for most of your wardrobes. Suit Supply is one of the more affordable brands ($400-$1000) that make suits with wider lapels than the common fare, so they are definitely worth checking out!
While it may not be advisable to buy something “true vintage” (1930-1940s) nor purchase a wide-lapel bespoke suit for thousands of dollars, there are other options to get a “vintage looking” suit or jacket. I honestly don’t wear much true 1930’s/1940’s vintage in my everyday attire, but my suits aren’t from the mall.
My everyday suits are from thrift stores and eBay, dated from the “recent times” of the 60s-90s. Some are even modern designer ones that I just stumbled upon They aren’t period accurate (I’ll get into what makes a 1930’s lapel a 1930’s lapel in the future), but they get the overall 1930’s vibes if you do it right! They can definitely still be worn today if you tailor them enough by taking in the jacket and slimming the legs. With the right styling (as we’ll expand on later), your outfit can look 1930’s inspired, which is what we’re going for right?
Double Breasted Suits and Jackets
Double breasted suits, no matter what age, tend to have an “old school look”. This style of suit was widely popular in the 1930s-1940s but was phased out during the 1970s and seldom appeared in mainstream style after that. However, if you look at current tailors and classic menswear enthusiasts, you’ll find that the double breasted suit never went away! They’re a great choice for your wardrobe, if you want to have that Golden Era style. Be sure to read my previous article on how to pull off the DB.
It basically just means to get the traditional, wide lapel double breasted jacket. Stay away from modern monstrosities like this. Slim lapels never look good and will definitely not work even if you want to do a modern take on the 1930s-40s. Like the previous section, check eBay and thrift stores for a good DB.
It should always be a 6×2 configuration (as seen on my examples). If the shoulders fit and the length is okay, you can always take it in to fit better! Just make sure that the button stance is moderate. A low buttoning stance on a DB makes it instantly look like the 80s or 90s.
You could also try modern MTM to get a double breasted suit, as “mall brand” stores like J.Crew, Banana Republic, or H&M do not make DB suits often. They aren’t too bad, but they could be better. Indochino makes a DB suit with 3.5″ lapels, which is why I used them to make two suits. It’s more expensive than thrfiting or eBay, but cheaper than going full bespoke! I even used Vulture Suits to create a custom width.
Longer Shirt Collar
As I stated in my general guide to vintage style, guys in the 1930s-40 preferred a collar style called the spearpoint collar. It’s similar to a normal point collar, but the points are longer, due to a taper from the back of the collar. Note that there also is very little spread. You don’t really see it done today, which is what helps make it a 1930s-40s look.
It is my opinion that the spearpoint collar was made to follow the line of the lapel, as it goes downward. It’s a cool little detail!
While looks like this are okay, it’s not really vintage inspired at all. It’s just modern, as it’s a modern trend to have small collars or cutaway/spread collars. Something as small as the collar choice can make or break the vintage look! Note the spearpoint collar here. If the gent just took off his fedora, I’m sure that most of you wouldn’t think that the picture was that old!
You can always just purchase normal point collars at a normal store or even a thrift store; Just measure the collar, as it should have 3 inches or more. Or you can do what Spencer and I do and just get custom made ones from Natty Shirts or Luxire. Depending on certain deals or bundles, they are way cheaper than buying normal dress shirts from Kamikura, Banana Republic, or Charles Tyrwhitt.
Natty and Luxire recreate the vintage style shirt very accurately. Just stay away from the costume-y and not accurate-whatsoever collars from Goodfellas. Also stay away from skimpy shirt collars (like ones from J. Crew) in general.
Pardon my language, but this small paragraph is here to tell you to stay the FUCK away from the windsor knot. It isn’t indicative of the golden era. Men in the 1930’s and 1940’s didn’t tie their ties with a huge knot. That is what guys did in the 1970s.
If you’re dressing today, you can do whatever the hell you want. I could fight you on the merits of the four-in-hand all day, but some guys don’t see the glory. But if you want to do it the classic, Golden Era way of the 1930s and the 1940s, then you gotta stick with the four in hand. The Duke of Windsor didn’t even wear the knot that was affectionately named after him. He wore the four-in-hand. As did almost every man in the 1930s-40s.
It is based on these real-world examples that Spencer and I proudly wear the four-in-hand knot all the time.
Wearing a Collar Bar
Collar bars aren’t really practical if you compare them to the widely popular tie bar. However, they call back to an elegant time where guys would dress up for fun instead of just for the office. We’ve talked about it before here. A collar bar brings the points of your shirt collar together and pushes your tie up, bringing yourself a bit of attention due to this rakish accessory.
Because they are seldom seen today, wearing one really exudes the 1930s-1940s style! Just be sure to combine it with the previous tips: long shirt collar and tight four-in-hand knot. If you have a tiny collar or a big tie knot, your collar bar won’t work. Luckily you don’t nee to hunt too far for your own collar bar. eBay has plenty! Make sure you get the clip style.
Tie Prints: Striped, Geometric, Abstract
You might get away with a modern (or semi-modern) suit, custom made or thrifted shirt, but ties are hard to pass. There’s something about modern ties from the mall that just don’t make the cut for vintage style.
It’s important to note that vintage 1930s-1940s ties aren’t like modern ones. Back in the day, they were unlined and untipped, a sign of craftsman ship that made the tie very light and thin. Today most ties are filled with interlining and often result in a huge knot even if you do a four-in-hand . Let’s talk about patterns now. 1930s-1940’s ties had some cool patterns, but they weren’t too crazy. Don’t think that you can go to goodwill and buy any tie and think you’ve got Golden Era style. More often than not, you’ll look like this. Focus on the theme of these advertisements.
Most of the ties are geometric, foulards, checked or striped. Solid ties were available, but most of the time, men wore something with a pattern. If there was something abstract on the tie, there’s it is usually related to something geometric. There are many great tie companies out there (Drake’s, Seven Fold, Tie your Tie) but there is an inherent difference between a 1930’s style tie and a modern one. Don’t go to your local suit store and get any old stripe tie. Avoid this at all costs. If you want to go modern, get either some foulards or a regimental stripe tie. Even something slightly fun, geometric but subtle will work! You can find these almost readily at a thrift store if you hunt enough. Most of my foulards are from Goodwill!
These styles are classic and were definitely worn back in the 1930s-1940s. If you wear them with a tight four-in-hand, with a long collar and collar bar, you can pull it off.
Here are some of my thrifted finds that I think work for a 1930’s inspired style:
If you do want to be accurate and actually get something true vintage from the 1930s-1940s, I think getting an actual vintage tie would be worth the money. It ensures that you get something unlined and with a period accurate pattern! And they aren’t hard to find at all; like collar bars, eBay is FULL of 1930s-1940s ties. Why spend $200 on Drake’s ties when you can get ones for less than $40 like Spencer and I do? And more often than not, you’ll find a tie with a unique pattern that no one else will have. Just look at some of our favorites. The fact that they are geometric, but in a vintage way, definitely helps our “modern take” on vintage.
Note that 1940’s ties tend to be more abstract and fun than the conservatively patterned 1930’s ones. You just can’t get these types of ties from your modern retailers. If you want these cool patterns, you just have to buy true vintage.
The “Puffed Out” or “Exploding” Pocket Square
Most men today wear their pockets squares (if they have them) in a straight TV fold. While that can be “vintage”, it’s more of the pop/modern redo of the straight-edge Mad Men look. I honestly find that to be very boring.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, men wore their pocket squares “puffed out” as if they were exploding. Not like this or this; they just rakishly had them exploding out of their breast pocket. Doing your pocket square this way is a straight 1930’s look. It’s pretty much vintage sprezzatura.
Solid dress shirts have their place in menswear, but most men liked to add striped shirts into the mix. Honestly, it wasn’t until the Mad Men era of the 1950s-1960s that men began to favor the plain instead of fun. That’s why I prefer the 1930s; there was much more room for creativity!
So that’s why men in the 1930s-1940s wore striped shirts with their patterned geometric and abstract print ties. Stay away from gingham and plaid shirts when wearing your outfits as you’ll look more like a GQ model instead of an Apparel Arts 1930’s illustration.
If plaids and ginghams are a “young man’s shirt” then the striped shirt is definitely old school. Plus it plays well when you combine them with a striped or abstract print one! I tend to only wear striped shirts.
Patterned Jackets, Patterned Everything
Jackets and suits back in the 1940s could be found in a variety of patterns, as you can see from the multiple examples we’ve shown so far. Plaid suits, pinstripe suits, windowpanes, etc.
Patterns are definitely a theme here, don’t you see? In fact, in the 1930’s, it doesn’t stop there. Men back in the Golden Era would combine patterns as much as possible. It was a sign of mastery over style and creativity. Nothing really clashed as they knew that scaling was the key to pulling off multiple patterns in one outfit. Plaid suits were worn with striped ties, an pinstripe suits would be adorned with foulard ties. As we’ve seen above, the guys from Drake’s, Bryceland’s Co, and The Armoury keep this classic style alive.
High Rise, Slim-Straight Fit, Cuffed, Suspenders
Here’s were I lose some people. Guys today just can’t get their minds behind fuller cut pants that sit higher on your waist. I’m telling you, high-rise is awesome. You don’t have to get them as wide as the true vintage ones from the 1930’s or 1940’s, but you can still achieve a similar look if you have a good tailor. Look for slim-straight trousers that are hemmed to no-break and add a good cuff. 1.75″-2″ should be good! And try to have them sit higher on your waist. There’s no way that a low rise, skinny or baggy pant that pools at your ankles can make a vintage look.
Luckily, most of my pants are slim-straight, sit near my belly-button (or higher) and are cuffed. And all of my examples aren’t even from the 1930’s-1940’s! Sure, some may be thrifted but most are from Banana Republic. In all cases, they were tailored to perfection to create a classic, Golden Era proportioned trouser. And don’t forget pleats. They’re still cool.
The Final Details and Bringing It all Together
What matters next is that that you put it all together. You gotta get a suit with wide lapels. Make sure that your shirt collar is big enough and that its striped. Then you grab your striped tie or geometric or abstract tie and you get that four in hand knot with a collar bar! The only thing left is that your suit is tailored perfectly. The 1930’s and 1940’s were all about fitted jackets with full leg trousers with slight or no break. You can see that in action here:
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: you don’t need to have full legged trousers in today’s age. In fact, I prefer a slim-straight aesthetic for my pants. Making sure they are cuffed with no-break is a great way to make your pants look like they’re a modern interpretation of Golden Age trousers. Having modern high rise trousers are preferred. Suspender buttons are a great extra detail.
Here are some recent examples of 1930’s inspired outfits that barely have any vintage. Sure some pieces may be thrifted or are old, but I’m NOT wearing a 1930’s suit. A true vintage suit can be cool, but I don’t wear them everyday. Instead I do my modern interpretation of that style, even if it means having only one or two true vintage items. Note that expert tailoring is key. Doesn’t look too much like a zoot suit right?
“Modern” 1970’s Jacket (eBay), Custom Spearpoint Shirt, Modern wool trousers (Banana Republic), 1930’s red stripe tie. Puffed out pocket square.
Modern suit by Southwick (eBay), custom spearpoint shirt, 1930’s tie.
Modern Custom MTM DB suit with large lapels, custom spearpoint shirt, and 1930’s tie
Thrifted 1970’s Chalkstripe Suit, Custom Spearpoint Shirt, 1940’s tie
Custom MTM DB Suit, Custom Spearpoint Shirt, 1930’s tie
If you have all the other details down, having a vintage tie really makes the look become Golden Era inspired. Note that a lot of the pieces aren’t that old; it’s the styling and the occasional true vintage tie that makes the look complete.
As you can see, dressing in the 1930s-1940s Golden Era style in today’s modern times isn’t that hard when you learn the basics. It just takes a keen eye to understand what makes it different than all the other eras in menswear. It isn’t Mad Men and it isn’t Great Gatsby. It’s the Golden Era. Here’s a short recap.
- Wide Lapels
- Double Breasted Suits/Jackets
- Long Shirt Collars/ Spearpoint shirts
- Four in Hand Tie knot only
- Striped Shirts
- Geometric/Foulard/Striped/Bold Abstract ties that are unlined/untipped
- Wearing Multiple Patterns at once
- Expert Tailoring
Note that a zoot suit, fedora, or boater hat wasn’t recommended at-fucking-all during this guide. While I do enjoy wearing full vintage pieces like a real 1940’s suit or 1930’s fedora to certain events like Dapper Day or an Art Deco Festival it is much more of a hobby and reenactment than actual everyday style. However, I like to keep my love of the Golden Era alive in my everyday attire, so I try to emulate it. This guide is the closest I could get to explaining my thought process and approach to my personal style.
I understand that it might not be for everyone, as most of you probably don’t even wear suits or jackets everyday. I at least hope that you learned something, most importantly that the 1930s and 1940’s were not an era of zoot suits and baggy suits, but an era of elegance. An era of great tailoring, of expert styling and pattern mixing. I love it because guys seldom dress like this today. Most men wear plain suits with plain shirts and plain ties. Other guys go overboard and end up doing too much to appear “dapper”. That’s why I love going 1930’s inspired. It’s tasteful and allows creativity without being too boring or too crazy.
I suggest that you try it or apply some of the lessons in your own wardrobe! While the cut of suits have changed, the overall styling hasn’t. There’s a reason why the real stylish people from Drake’s, The Armoury, and Bryceland’s look so good; it’s because they take their cues from the most stylish era of menswear: the 1930s-1940s. And you can do it today. Especially since the easiest way is to wear a long collar shirt with a collar bar and striped/geometric tie.
Always a pleasure,