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Men--What to Wear to a Jazz Age Ball

Brothers, you have it pretty easy dressing up for a formal event set in the 20s, 30s or 40s. Men's formal wear hasn't changed much in the last eighty years or so. However, there are some details that make your tux shop stuff into proper historical attire.

The most formal, and most conservative, way for a gent to dress, is white tie and tails. The tail coat is pretty much what you will find in any tux shop or vintage clothing store. Essentially, you are dressing like the conductor of a symphony orchestra.

The properly dressed gent will wear a black coat, black trousers, a white evening vest and a white, winged collar. The evening vest is one that is cut low, and has lapels. A modern "cheater" is fine, as long as you don't let on that you are wearing one.

A cummerbund, with a tail coat, simply isn't done.

A white pocket handkerchief and white gloves complete the outfit. A gentleman who is dancing would be well advised to have two or more pairs.

To really cut a figure, if you are going about outdoors, this should be worn with a black wool cape, a black silk top hat, a white silk scarf, and a black cane. None of this is necessary, of course, if you are going to be indoors, since a Jazz Age gent would never wear a hat indoors.

While the Victorian gent had only tails as an evening option, the 20th Century brought gentlemen a set of new choices for evening wear. The 20th Century brought the Tuxedo, which was a formal version of the gentleman's suit coat.

A tuxedo is worn with a black bow tie, and can be single or double breasted. It is black. If it is single breasted, it should be worn with a black evening vest. A black cummerbund is acceptable for the 30s and later, but the vest is better. The tux is worn with the same black trousers you would wear with the tails.

The shirt must be white, and can have a winged collar or a simple falling collar.

The tuxedo is less formal that the tail coat. When the tux came along, it became necessary to specify how formal an event was going to be. If tail coats were required, the evening was "white tie". If tuxedos were acceptable, it was "black tie". At a black tie event, a gent with tails could wear a black tie with a black evening vest.

In the warmer months (Memorial Day to Labor Day is a good rule of thumb), gentlemen can substitute a white tuxedo cut "dinner jacket" for his tux jacket. This can be single breasted or double breasted, and worn with black trousers, a black tie, a white shirt, black shoes and a black evening vest. A black silk hanky makes a nice touch in the breast pocket.

A few things to avoid:
Ruffled shirts
Colors other than black or white
Single breasted coats without vest or cummerbund

I will talk about deviant fashions, like white tail coats and "mess jackets" in a future post.


Red heads can't wear Black or White!!!!!!Trust me --its a frightening sight to behold!!! Tell me there are exceptions to this un-decolike rigidity ---how about dark green, dark brown, metallics, or even navy!!!

Alas, no exceptions. Dull conformity was pretty much the rule for all men's formal wear from the 19th century until the attack of the powder blue tuxes in the 1970s.

However, if you are a more or less fit gent who doesn't mind being clean cut, uniforms have always been the great escape for men who want a little color in their lives.

Walter Nelson

Thanks, very helpful. I'm going to a 'jazz-age' themed party this wknd. I already own a modern black suit, and a modern black tux, but it sounds like neither of these quite fit the bill? I suppose if anything, the tux with a white hankerchief and vest would be closer than a normal suit, yes?

Your tux with a black vest would do just fine. If it's not a "black tie" event, you might achieve a nice effect with a double breasted suit from a "vintage shop" like (in my neighborhood) Aardvark's Odd Ark

Walter Nelson


I'm a girl, and would like to find out what to wear for a jazz theme dinner party.. or did i stumble into a male only website :D

Best regards,

Not a male only website, but one run by a guy.

I would suggest watching some old movies made in the period you want to dress for, and then go haunt your local "vintage clothing" shops for something that looks the part. There are also a lot of new dresses done in something very much like a period style.