Tag Archives: menswear

Men’s Clothing circa 1912

Overview

While ladies’ fashion was changing rapidly during the decade of the 1910s, menswear changed very little. One small change did prove to be significant in the long term though: increasingly, gentlemen were dinner or tuxedo jackets instead of tailcoats for less formal evening occasions. The number of occasions for which a tuxedo was sufficiently formal increased during the 1910s and in the following decades until, today, black tie and tails, much less white tie and tails, is required an an extremely limited number of occasions, for an extremely narrow band of the population (high society, fine dining waiters, and cabaret performers, mostly), and the tuxedo is generally thought of as the height of formality.

Three-piece suits and variations thereof were the norm for men around 1912. Waistcoats typically lacked collars, and were cut quite high, leaving very little of the shirt bosom exposed on either side of the necktie. Shirt collars were very high and stiff, often made to be detachable so that they could be readily cleaned or replaced, since they soiled much more quickly then the rest of the shirt. Morning dress with a cutaway coat and striped trousers could be worn for formal daytime occasions, but by this time, the practice of wearing formal morning dress was already more common in Britain than in the United States.

While menswear for centuries has tended to change slowly, it is more variable than it might first appear. Even within the circa 1912 period, there was a great deal of variation – many elements of the suit, shirt, collar, tie, hat, coat, and accessories could be personalized to suit the owner’s tastes, within in a certain range of parameters. Jacket lapels could vary in width and proportion, jacket length varied, shirt collar height and proportion varied, and hats were available in an almost inconceivable array of shapes and sizes. Stripes and other patterns were worn sometimes, especially for daywear and casual sportswear. Sportswear could be extremely colorful, in fact, and dressing gowns (robes) were positively flamboyant.

Working class and rural farming men would still have been likely to own three-piece suits, to wear for “best,” though some men at this point did elect not to wear waistcoats all the time, and when working hard, any man might remove his jacket. In polite company, a man did not sit down to dinner in his shirtsleeves, and lacking both waistcoat and jacket in front of a woman was suspect behavior.

General Resources for Men’s Clothing c 1912

How to Fake 1912 Men’s Clothing on the Cheap

If you need a 1912 man’s costume in a hurry, without much sewing, and inexpensively, your best bet is going to be a thirft store suit. There were various cuts of suit popular at this time period, so your odds of finding something workable in the right size are high. First, look at pictures of c. 1912 suits to train your eye for what to look for. Next, make sure you know your chest and waist measurements so you can easily check if a suit on the rack might fit you (you can check length by hanging it against you). Remember to look for natural fibers! Synthetic fibers like polyester are not only inaccurate, but extremely uncomfortable to wear (especially 100% polyester); they’re very hot and don’t breathe, plus they stain easily.

When you’re looking for a suit, look for a jacket with square, properly fitting shoulders, and a fitted or slightly loose-fitting but tailored shape and fit. It can single-breasted or double-breasted, though single-breasted was more common. Lapels generally tended to be around medium size, though some men wore their lapels wide, so that’s an acceptable option too. Lapels were cut quite far up at the time, tending to end high on the chest rather than at waist level. Jacket length could vary, but remember that this shouldn’t be a long zoot suit style (though there are some baggy, striped suits of the time that stylistically lean in that direction!). Trousers can be medium to loose fitting, but should taper to a narrower ankle, even if only slightly. Overall, the suit should be slightly baggy, but not too much – it’s a balancing act.

If you can’t find a three-piece suit with a waistcoat, it’s acceptable to have a mismatched waistcoat/vest, made from a different but harmonizing material. The waistcoat should fit snugly – much more so than the rest of the suit. The waistcoats typically lack lapels, and are cut with a high, tight V opening. The bottom edge comes to two closely placed points at the front. Vest materials can be livelier than other suit materials typically are – stripes were popular.

Shirts were typically very high-collared, so look for the highest collars you can find, or, if you are feeling adventurous, you could even try removing a shirt collar and adding a homemade (even a paper!) collar, which is accurate. The cut of the collar could almost totally hide the knot of the necktie, depending on its shape. Neckties were highly variable in color and pattern, but they were usually cut nearly straight and tied with small knots.

Don’t forget a hat! In 1912, a decent man simply didn’t leave the house without a hat. Look through pictures to see appropriate styles, and look for something similar. If you are looking to be costumed as someone actively laboring, who would not be wearing a three-piece suit, look for pants cut along the lines mentioned above, and wear them with collar-less shirt and suspenders, preferably the kind of button onto the pants rather than clip on. And don’t forget that hat!

History of Menswear & Tailoring

  • History: Setting the Precedent, a series of articles on the history of menswear, particularly formal menswear, at The Black Tie Guide: A Gentleman’s Guide to Evening Wear (Second Edition).

Suits (daywear)

Formalwear (morning dress, tuxedo/dinner jackets, tails)

Hats & Outerwear

Undergarments

Working Clothes (farming, heavy labor, servants)

  • 1912 Project: Hard at Work, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, specifically of people in working clothes of some variety.

Tailoring Manuals & Guides (see also Sewing in 1912)

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

Collected Resources: Underclothing Cartoons

Over the course of my Div III research — and especially while preparing the lecture on corset history that I gave in the Hampshire course Sex, Science, and the Victorian Body — I have found a variety of cartoons, from various periods, that mock (and exaggerate!) prevailing fashions of underclothing. Since I’ve found them in so many places, and since such images might be of interest to others, I’m collecting what I’ve found here, and will continue to add to this post as time goes on.

  • Black, J. Anderson, and Madge Garland. A History of Fashion. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980.

Images: 1819 cartoon of dandies and “dandizettes” in the early stages of dressing, complete with very exaggerated hair and male corsets, page 176; a mid-19th century cartoon depicting a group of women surrounding a man trapped in a cage crinoline, with the caption “The punishment awarded by the ladies, to the artist who made those impertinent drawings about crinoline!” page 199.

Image: “A Bustling Woman — 1829 — after Cruikshank” of a woman with an extremely puffed out skirt apparently selling a padded bustle to a woman with a far less impressive skirt, with other bustle hanging behind the proprietress, page 134; “From ‘Cupid and Crinolines,’ 1858,” a cartoon of a maid lifting an absolutely enormous crinoline over the head of a woman who is quite dwarfed by the exaggerated garment, page 166.

Image: “The new machine for Winding up the Ladies Caricature of tightlacing by ‘Paul Pry’ c. 1828″ on page 69.

Intro: Traditional Western style man’s shirt

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Intro: 1780s man’s caped topcoat

For: Zachary….at some point….maybe……
Inspiration: Images in Men’s 17th & 18th Century Costume, Cut & Fashion: figure 89-A, 1780, on page 124; figure 113-A, c. 1780, on page 144.
Pattern: To be drafted from diagrams in Men’s 17th & 18th Century Costume, Cut & Fashion
Fabric: TBD
Lining: None? TBD
Construction:  Either hand-stitched or hand-finished; TBD

Status: On hold. At this point, this project is just research and a hypothetical maybe-later. (January 10, 2011)

I’ve done quite a bit of research, and I intend to pursue the project later, but considering that I’m doing far too much, cuts had to be made, and this is one of the pieces being cut. I made this decision in part because of the realization that the fabric I was planning to use really wouldn’t be suitable. Which leads me to an earlier point in the evolution of my plans to attempt 18th century menswear!

Originally I had planned to make a close historical approximation of the extant suit coat, waistcoat, and breeches depicted in Costume Close-Up (#17; item number 1960-697, 1-3; pages 80-88 and following color plate), dating to 1765-1790. The suit doesn’t seem to be included in their online collection, or I would include a link. It’s a lovely suit, and not too elaborate in ornament. And it’s conveniently almost exactly the right measurements for my boyfriend, who could be pressed into service as a dress form and dashing model. (He was more enthusiastic about this than you might think.) So my plan was to scale up the pattern and simply cut it out of muslin with large seam allowances, and fiddle with it until it started looking right. I bought several yards of lightweight, worsted wool, tabby suiting in a nice deep blue from Fashion Fabrics Club, intending it for the jacket and waistcoat, and several yards of beige, or buff-colored, lightweight cotton sateen to use as lining. I planned to recruit silk from my stash to make the waistcoat.

But time, it ran short, and I was trying to do too much. And if I’d made the suit, I would have needed to make a shirt as well! While teaching myself a great many new skills. Given the scope of everything I was trying to do, it simply didn’t make sense. So I scaled back and decided to make a topcoat of the same period instead, having seen designs from the 1780s that I found very intriguing, and thinking I could use the materials I had already purchased. But upon further research into the matter of topcoats and greatcoats, I discovered that such garments were, as far as I could tell, invariably made of tightly woven, densely fulled wool, and were unlined, with unfinished cut edges. That is not something that my tabby suiting would cooperate with. I considered trying to do a historically inspired type garment, but eventually concluded that it would be wasteful to use good materials improperly, and that I would prefer to put both the suit idea and the topcoat idea on the back burner, and eventually make both in the proper fabrics.

So that is the sad saga of my foray into the research of 18th century menswear. I’ve learned quite a lot but nothing three-dimensional will be appearing in the immediate future.  Though I did produce quite a nice design sketch of the topcoat! With three capes, no less.

Topcoats and greatcoats in printed resources:

Online resources:

Updated January 10, 2012