Mad Men Formal, German Style (Part I)

It’s rare to find illustrations of vintage  international formal wear in English-language libraries or web sites.  Consequently, I was very excited to come across some fantastic pictures of German menswear from the jet age of the late 1950s / early ’60s, better known today as the Mad Men era.  It’s interesting to see that Germany shared America’s enthusiasm for  post-modern styling, particularly in warm-weather dinner jackets.

The owner of the scans informed me that the illustrations come from a cloth merchant sponsored magazine called Der modische Stil and kindly provided permission to re-post them.   The text was graciously translated by Black Tie Guide correspondent Roberto Jürgensen which I then adapted to make the style and terminology more familiar to anglophones.

In the first of three posts we’ll look at general purpose black tie and white tie.


The dinner jacket – as formal dress appropriate for every festive occasion – is subject to only minor fashion variations.  The question of peaked lapel or shawl collar is just a matter of personal taste since both are valid styles. The same applies to the choice of fabric. The traditional black or blue cloth is favoured in part while on the other hand very shiny anthracite [charcoal] mohairs are also worn. The latter are especially suitable for young dancers because of their lightness. Linings of a contrasting colour – often bright red – are very fashionable in modern dinner jackets.

(right page) WHITE TIE AND TAILS

The tailcoat – now also in lighter fabrics – still has not lost its fascination among many people, although it is being replaced more and more often by the dinner jacket. It has already become a rarity abroad and is only seen at larger official events. After all, where the tailcoat is present the dinner jacket loses its effect. That the tailcoat continues to attract interest is evident in the fact that new models are still being designed such as the one pictured below which has a straight-cut front and, just like the waistcoat, buttons set in a straight vertical line.


(left page) The tailcoat, worn either in black or in blue or even anthracite [charcoal] , is popular in various shapes today. The shawl collar has many friends amongst younger people, especially with a straight-cut front and a straight vertical button line. It was also seen last winter with eight buttons, a velvet collar, and cuffs.

(right page) The coloured and sometimes patterned dinner jacket is also valid in winter when it is tailored from muted colours. Unlike the summer dinner jacket, however, it is always worn with black facings. The classic variations, double- and single-breasted with peaked lapels, are still considered equal to the shawl collar and are in fact preferred by older, more sophisticated gentlemen.


(left illustration) Dinner jacket with shawl collar and rounded front edges in the new American shape closing with two buttons.

Next: warm-weather black tie.


Formal Facts: the German words for the tuxedo and tailcoat are smoking and frack which reflect the garments’ origins: the dinner jacket as a modified smoking jacket and the tailcoat as a modified frock coat.


  1. Murat Bilsel (@mbilsel08)

    Does the second picture show a tail coat with a burgundy cummerbund? I thought such a combination is never permissible…

    1. Peter Marshall

      Unless you’re going to time travel to 1960s Germany, it’s not permissible. The shawl collar on the accompanying tailcoat is not advisable either.

  2. Hal

    In general I fear that these images won’t do much for the reputation of germans as snappy dresing trend setters. The man in the double-breasted DJ with red lapels and bootlace bow-tie must count as something of a low in fashion.

    Personally, I think the shawl collar tailcoat could be rather fetching though.

    All interesting and amusing to see, however.


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