The 30s is often referred to as the golden age of men’s dress. Even casual wear implied certain dress codes. Though the Depression caused manufacturers to scale back prices and luxury, as Alan Flusser writes in Dressing The Man, it also:
returned style supremacy to the hands of the lucky few who could still afford to dress well, leaving the kernels, those men of influential positions in finance and society, to do the leading…Their intact fortunes and inbred sense of security emboldened these men to improvise and break the fashion rules.
The most well-known “lucky few” of this period were the stars, the Fred Astaires, Gary Coopers, and Adolphe Menjous. The Duke of Windsor was the biggest sartorial celebrity, garnering the attention of the fashion media wherever he traveled. To complete the style triad, Prohibition-era gangsters overdressed themselves as businessmen, spawning colorful ties and bold suits. The 1930s was dominated by these inspirations, which is why it’s safe to label the 30s as the age of influence – style reflected what those at the top were wearing.
Tie designs were mostly the same as the previous decade: short, wide, and with plain geometric designs, a somber reminder of the economic environment. However, at the same time, the “zoot suit” and other extravagant urban flourishes like bold binstripes generated strong tie designs, as well as the Art-Deco movement of the same period.
As stars like Astaire and Cooper sported the English Drape, with its exaggerated shoulders, tapered arms and waist, and large lapels, other proportions grew as well. The Duke of Windsor is most famous for one of those proportions – knot size.
Though he did not invent the knot that bears his name, it’s unclear who did. His father, Edward VII, has been pictured with a knot that appears larger than the four-in-hand. Nevertheless, the Duke’s thick ties and thick knots sparked American affection for the Windsor.
As the Edwardian era of dress faded, and more and more men were expected to don a “business” suit. They received advice from salespeople, who were informed by the recently founded trade magazine Apparel Arts, who in turn forecast and reported on the style worn by the stars listed earlier. Summer suits, double-breasted jackets, and blazers all became popular during this period. As more and more Americans began wearing business attire, the giants guided them.
Fred Astaire photo credit: 42nd Black Watch
Ties photo credit: The Fedora Lounge
Gary Cooper photo credit: Celebrity Insights
Illustration photo credit: Esquire
Adolphe Menjou photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes