Flashback: Vintage Waistcoats

("Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions")

2-page advertisement from a 1936 issue of “Apparel Arts”

I’ve just added an extensive review of the history of evening waistcoats to the Vintage section of The Black Tie Guide. As I poured over visuals spanning two centuries I was most struck by the tremendous diversity of waistcoats offered in the 1930s, the golden age of formal wear.

In today’s world where distressed  jeans are marketed as high fashion apparel it’s almost impossible to fathom a time when menswear magazines featured glamorous full-page ads for individual components of a proper evening wardrobe.   Even in the midst of the Great Depression manufacturers were poetically extolling the stylishness, elegance and quality of their seemingly endless array of waistcoat offerings: three- or four-button single-breasted models, double-breasted models in a wide variety of configurations, models with shawl or notched lapels or no lapels at all, and models with straight, pointed or curved waistlines.  Just as foreign is the advertisers’ reassurance of the social propriety of their latest styles, a fundamental concern in an age when sartorial authorities regularly issued stringent guidelines for “correct dress” and tailors referred to waistcoat measurements in terms of “regulation length”.

Notably, most of the proffered styles were depicted in their white full-dress incarnation rather than the black semi-formal option.  I suspect this is because they were a much more noticeable aspect of a gentleman’s evening wardrobe as they were worn with open tailcoats unlike their ebony counterparts which were largely hidden behind closed dinner jackets.

3 Comments

  1. Hal

    Ah, how I’d like to find a good evening dress waistcoat at a vaguely reasonable price.

    The double breasted one is particularly fetching, though I tend to prefer the ones that have a rounded bib shape (like Ede and Ravenscroft’s somewhat eye wateringly expensive version). I wonder whether a Scottish formal wear waistcoat (with the buttons changed) might be the easiest way to get one?

    Will have a look at the new waistcoat section…

    Reply
    1. David

      I’ve found one for $40 at finetuxedos.com.

      Reply
  2. Jon

    Why is there such neglect of the late 1910’s-early 1930’s in terms of the black-tie, white waistcoat combination? I have read more than several blatantly snarky comments about this combination as “dated” when it co-existed happily with black waistcoats at a period that some of us would argue that, combined with the last regular appearance of the detachable wing collar, represents the pinnacle of formalwear during this century. Conversely, some of the comments focused on the black and white combination as too conspicuous, when I doubt there are, substantially, more than a handful who even recognize the proper “rules” and are truly narrow-minded in thinking that the black and black combination, which has only been around since the 1930’s, is not the highest bar to be reached, to some of us. Being conspicuous, in the black and white sense, would imply a bit more subdued creativity than the atrocious and otherwise dull look of tuxedoes since the 1940’s. Just my opinion. Please feel free to spar, but why the nastiness by some towards such a great looking period of formalwear. How on earth do the 1940’s and 1950’s eclipse the 1920’s and early 1930’s? Bosh.

    Reply

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