Flashback: New Year’s Eve 1939

I’ve pretty much given up trying to find New Year’s Eve events in Toronto that are formal enough to merit black tie.  Instead I have to settle for imagining the tony affairs of years past such as the one described in this Esquire pictorial on the cusp of 1940:

If you’re really intent on ringing in the new this year, you might very well start with your formal outfit.  First of all, tails have pretty much replaced the dinner jacket at most places of celebration.  And the midnight blue shade, while far from constituting an innovation at this late date, is more modern than black.  For the rest, you can cehck up on the two outfits sketched.

The man standing under his own power wears a dress suit with black satin shawl collar – the first important change in dress clothes in years, adapted from military mess jackets.  Silk covered buttons are another feature of this coat.  The dress shirt is of white piqué with matching waistcoat and tie, the latter in butterfly shape with square ends.  Shirt studs are of white pearl, and the waistcoat buttons black.  The old-fashioned Georgian seal watchfob has returned, and is worn on the left side for convenience.

The other man wears a tailcoat with dull ribbed peak lapels, shirt of plain white linen and backless waistcoat of washable material with ordinary matching buttons.  High white wing collar, small shape square end tie, white pocket handkerchief and red carnation add the finishing touches.

With either outfit patent leather oxfords or pumps should be worn, and an opera or silk tophat [sic] is correct.  The overcoat may be single or double breasted, navy blue or black.

Happy New Year!


  1. David V

    The shawl collared tail coat had lurked about for years prior to ’40. In the Astaire/Rogers musical, “Top Hat”, Edward Everett Horton is seen wearing one.

    1. Peter Marshall

      Yes, the shawl collar popped up on tailcoats from time to time beginning in the 1860s. I plan to feature this alternative style in a future post.

  2. Jovan

    Nice. Esquire in its prime.

    Midnight blue, to me, also looks more flattering than flat black on most men. At night, under artificial lights, it’s not as bad. But during the day… ugh. I don’t see why young guys insist on wearing black tie to day weddings or black suits for business. Most of them look so washed out next to the colour! Dark skinned men may be an exception, but it still looks inappropriate during the day.


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