Fashion of the 1930s at the FIT Museum

Curator G. Bruce Boyer says that modern fashion began in the 1930s. His new exhibit, at the FIT Museum in New York, is “Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s.” Director Ben Harrison talked with Boyer at the posh opening party for the exhibit, and the curator drew the line between the Victorian and Edwardian fashions that still prevailed through the 1920s, and the strikingly contemporary styles of just a decade later.

The exhibit features vintage examples, ranging from evening clothes to trench coats to Fred Astaire’s shoes. In the early 30s, America was tightening its belt, but contemporary style was just getting started.

The exhibition runs through April 19th at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

"Elegance in an Age of Crisis" Exhibit

I swear, New York City seems to get all the awesome menswear-related events. Sample sales, tradeshows, and really, really fantastic exhibits like this one. 

The Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) is holding a special exhibitions gallery from February 7th until April 19th on the fashions of the 1930s. That’s the decade that’s most often considered the “Golden Age” for classic men’s style, and the single most influential time for how we think of classic men’s dress today. 

The exhibit will feature both men’s and women’s clothing, and have a number of outstanding examples of bespoke tailoring from that period. Seen above? The first is a cream jacket from Rubinacci, a tailoring house in Naples, Italy. It’s made from tussah silk, which is a textured material somewhat like the nubby stuff we see advertised today as “raw silk.” This was considered to be a very aristocratic cloth at the time in Naples. The man who made the jacket was Vincenzo Attolini, a Neapolitan tailor who’s most often credited with having invented the soft shouldered, “deconstructed” Neapolitan cut. It is a style that today has defined Neapolitan tailoring. 

The smoking jacket you see in the middle was made by Gardner and Wooley. It was tailored from green velvet and satin. Gentlemen used to wear these at home when they were smoking tobacco (usually in the form of pipes or cigars), or just when they were lounging about, entertaining guests or hosting semi-formal occasions. The jacket’s purpose was to prevent smoke or ashes from getting onto the wearer’s business clothes or formalwear. 

Finally, the three-piece suit you see at the end was made by Anderson & Sheppard in London. It’s difficult to tell from the small photo, but if you look closely, you can see the chest is cut a bit full. Notice how there’s extra cloth that “drapes” vertically near the armholes? This is what’s known as the “drape cut,” a style that was invented by the Dutch-English tailor Frederick Scholte and then popularized by Edward VIII (better known to some as the Duke of Windsor). Scholte later passed his technique on to an apprentice named Per Anderson, who of course is the “Anderson” in Anderson & Sheppard. It may interest some readers to know that the drape cut was also the precursor to the zoot suit, which was a style deeply embedded in both jazz music and racial politics in 1940’s America. Many may be familiar with the history of the Zoot Suit Riots

Anyway, as I was saying, the exhibit opens next week. It was co-curated by Bruce Boyer, a remarkable menswear writer (having penned some of my favorite books, such as Elegance and Eminently Suitable) and a previous guest in our video series. I’m deeply sad I’m not in NYC and thus won’t be able to go. On the upside, there’s a book being released that will give a more in-depth study of the clothes featured. I’ve already put in a pre-order. 

A Grand Rehabilitation

I have an old polo coat that I love. It weighs ten tons, is warm as all heck, and I wear it about once a year, when I’m traveling somewhere cold in the winter. It cost me about $30 on eBay (though I think it took another $25 to get it to me), and it was originally made around 1930 for Capper & Capper, a competitor to Brooks Brothers.

Sadly, while the camelhair exterior was holding up strong, the rayon lining was starting to be a bit worse for the wear. As most 80-year-olds do. I thought initially of taking it to my tailor and having him reline it, which probably would have cost a hundred or a hundred fifty dollars, but would have made it good for another fifty or so years of service. That was the plan, for a while.

Then I remembered that I had a closet full of silk scraps - odds and ends from our pocket square fabric that weren’t quite big enough to constitute a full square. I thought of how much I love patched out blue jeans, and wondered if this might be an opportunity for a creative solution.

Above: the result. Rather than replacing the lining, we patched it with fabric leftover from Put This On pocket squares. We were careful to preserve the tags, too - those old tags are one of the best parts of a vintage garment. The result is a very serious and hard-working coat on the exterior, with a beautiful secret inside.

Giuseppe from An Affordable Wardrobe found a stunning 1930s Chesterfield coat in a thrift. The collar was shredded - but he saw it as an opportunity for a little cosmetic surgery.

Giuseppe from An Affordable Wardrobe found a stunning 1930s Chesterfield coat in a thrift. The collar was shredded - but he saw it as an opportunity for a little cosmetic surgery.

Some truly remarkable color footage of New York in 1939, including some truly wonderful menswear.

I’ve just lost forty minutes in the photo gallery of the Martin & Osa Johnson Safari Museum. The Johnsons were a Kansas couple who adventured their way through the 1920s and 30s, making some of the first wildlife documentaries on film and photographing both people and animals. Their book was called “I Married Adventure.” Wonderful.

I’ll admit it: I do love a good safari outfit.

Badminton player, photographed Gjon Mili for Life Magazine in 1939. Demonstrating the power of flannel trousers.
via Hollister Hovey

Badminton player, photographed Gjon Mili for Life Magazine in 1939. Demonstrating the power of flannel trousers.

via Hollister Hovey

America in Color, 1939-1943
(thanks, Matt)