I’m excited to see more vintage inspired men’s trousers popping up from reproduction/retro brands on the Internet – as you may or may not know, the most searched for item on Lindy Shopper is men’s high waisted pants. The latest offerings are from Chester Cordite, who I featured on this blog in January of 2017 with suits and spearpoint collar shirts, but they have since added even more clothing options to their stock. However, I’m focusing on this particular pair of 30’s/40’s inspired twill trousers because they will likely be the most versatile for dancers in most seasons, depending on where you live – these are the most basic of basic men’s pants, but with all the little vintage details that make the difference: high waist, light pleat in the front (for mobility/movement, y’all, don’t get scared), braces buttons, machine washable, 2 inches to let out in the rear, and comes in five colors (khaki, cream, light gray, dark gray, and navy). Again, the UK is killing it with the repro trousers – if you’re like me and you simply cannot find pants to fit you in the US, the shipping cost and risk of a return are worth it.
He may not know it outright, but Simon James Cathcart is here to serve swing dancers – that is, serve up classic, rare, and sought-after reproduction menswear pieces in great fabrics. His latest offerings are all cotton, which means it’s all breathable and washable for us sweaty dancer types.
The workwear cotton stripe is being offered in four pieces, a belt back jacket, a waistcoat, a pair of trousers, and a cap, all inspired by 1920’s workwear. From the website:
“SJC has woven this exclusive cloth, which recreates the striped pattern from a pair of genuine 1920’s work-wear trousers in the company’s collection of vintage clothing. The cloth has been brushed on the inside for warmth…”
The details on these pieces are wonderful, as per usual – notice all the careful seams and generous use of pockets. Of interest to dancers would be the note about ample room in the thigh of the trousers, which translates to more room for your legs to move about unrestricted.
Finally, you just need some basics and SJC is, again, delivering the goods – what’s more basic than a pair of chinos or a pair of jeans? The workhouse chinos come with all the casual air of a weeknight DJ’ed dance, but have all the details you expect from period trousers, such as buttons for braces, a cinched back, and a nice V at the back of the waistband.
Cotton = breathable = sweat and dance to your heart’s content! Keep it comin’, Simon!
In the search for reproduction menswear, one of the most commonly worn items, a dress shirt, is generally available – however, if you are a stickler for detail, you’ll notice that most modern men’s shirts lack that distinctive spearpoint collar prevalent in jazz age/swing era shirts. One could always spend the money for a custom shirt, but what if you just want something a little more vintage without spending an arm and a leg?
It has been suggested by some of my esteemed OcTieBer colleagues that Natty Shirts’ “Savvy Journalist” shirt is that shirt – not quite exactly a vintage spearpoint, but definitely closer than most modern options, and, at $29.99, it’s far from breaking the bank. You can even get it monogrammed for an additional $5.00.
It’s a banner week – a new Trashy Diva print is coming out tomorrow and today I open up my Facebook feed to find that Simon James Cathcart has not only restocked his amazing vintage style bamboo fabric polos, there are even more colors (!!!) and he’s added these fantastic 1930’s trousers to the website!
Men and dapper ladies, let’s talk about these trousers – from the website: ”
SJC has just woven 50mts of 16oz Cream English 100% wool flannel, so do not hang about here. This fluffy ecru coloured cloth is thick but soft and billows like the sails of a yacht in the breeze when one moves.
Crafted into a 1930’s loose cut trouser that features deep pleats, a wide leg and a high rise fit. The pants feature a button down coin pocket flap, side adjustors, sturdy pocket bags, sunburst corozo buttons, suspender buttons, deep fly front and belt loops.
They come in a long untailored length so you can add your own 2″ cuffs on them to suit.
Judging by the outstanding quality of the cloth, the high desirability of the cut, the incredible price these pants will go fast.”
Have you had dreams of Fred Astaire’s wardrobe? This looks like a good step toward his day-wear. Pick from cream or gray fabric, then add striped socks and your desired footwear…
We should just start giving all our clothing money to the UK because I’m convinced this is where the giant hub of vintage reproduction clothing is located. Thanks to a Reddit thread about trying to find suits for swing dancing, I’m now hip to Chester Cordite, which offers “a modern take on classic styles from the golden age of 1930s and 1940s, producing limited edition suits and shirts with period influenced fabrics at splendidly affordable prices and all suits made in England.” Chester Cordite got its start with that same frustration of not being able to find the right suits in good condition, and since necessity is the mother of invention, we have this company producing wonderful suits and shirts.
The suits are definitely custom, in gorgeous fabrics, perfect vintage-inspired cuts, and are fairly reasonably priced for custom work. On an even more accessible level are their spearpoint collar shirts, which will give you an immediate vintage look (compare to modern shirt collars) for only 60 pounds (roughly $75 as of the date of this post), about what you would spend for a shirt at a nice menswear store in the U.S. The shirts also come in an array of solid colors and stripes, which I love for dancers because most menswear-wearing dancers I know don’t commit to a jacket the whole night and it’s nice to have something classic other than a white dress shirt to complete your look. All of the suits and shirts are paired with vintage ties in photographs on the website to give you an idea of how your vintage look will work.
Now in its fifth year, OcTieBer is “a month long sartorial celebration of quality neckwear worn in a traditional style” – in reality, it is much more than the sum of this description: it is the encouragement of people of all walks, creeds, and genders to embrace classic style (or modern twists on classic style); it highlights accessories that we don’t often consider in our modern lives, unless you happen to be a lawyer or just really like wearing neck scarves or ascots; it encourages you to dig deep into your closet and pull out those neglected ties or challenges regular tie wearers to create new ensembles and be inspired by others; it may cause people to notice you in positive ways; it creates a sense of camaraderie within the OcTieBer Facebook group where novice and even professional dressers can share their creativity and efforts for the day or every day of October.
OcTieBer IS inspiring. The challenge is to wear neckwear every day for the month of October, but even if you only join us for a couple of days, I invite you to join us for the fun of dressing, learning from and being inspired by others, and being supported in your endeavors by a wonderful group of people.
1. Wear a collared shirt and tie each day (be it a long tie, bow tie, ascot, cravat, bolo, western double string tie or any other traditional neckwear that expresses your personal style). Preferably your outfit will be paired with a jacket, sweater, vest or other accessories that suggest why you’ve chosen that day’s tie.
2. Upload an image of your fine outfit with an optional description of the designer, type of knot, fabric, etc.
3. Share the love by encouraging your friends to admire your statement of personal style.”
I was excited to see some new vendor faces and an old favorite return to the International Lindy Hop Championships this year. Particularly, with a focus on menswear – it is so easy for women to find good dance clothing, but most of our vendors (who are mostly women themselves) cater to women. This year, the men and women had some great vendors to choose from, from pieces you could take home to custom-made garments to order.
Did I mention my love for Chloe Hong? After her stint at All Balboa Weekend, I was suprised (read: elated) to see her back in the U.S. after such a short time. Not only did she clean up on the dance floor, she set up shop at ILHC to take custom orders for her wonderful selection of women’s skirts and classic men’s suiting. Just going through her fabric swatches makes me happy! If you have never considered ordering something custom and you find yourself at an event with Chloe Hong, I would recommend at least looking into ordering a custom piece – she can get your measurements in person and has lots of experience dressing dancers for a range of movement (she counts Bobby White, Thomas Blacharz, Pontus Persson, Laura Keat, Jeremy Otth, and Juan Villafane as customers, and I could go on…)
Returning for another year (have they been at ILHC every year?) is Forties Forward, with an array of lovely hair blooms, feathers, and accessories. One can never have too many hair accoutrements and I was also pleased to see that Forties Forward shared their table with A Woopie! Handmade Bowties (another menswear vendor!), which had a nice array of ties and even included some adorable instructions on how to tie the ties! I always need a little help when I tie my ties, so an adorable instruction card on my vanity beats, say, that YouTube tutorial I have to pull up every time I do this…
Perhaps the most impressive display belonged to Brown & Williams Clothiers, who specialize in vintage British menswear – yes, they import and they curate a stellar collection, a portion of which was on display at ILHC. I wish could sport the amazing jackets, sweaters, and trousers I spotted in their booth (none of them small enough!) – a seriously delicious collection for anyone who digs British style, collegiate style, boating, and especially tweed. If you are interested in checking out some of their stock, it looks like the best way to purchase is through their Etsy site – that green and white crested blazer *drool*…
This year’s Jazz Age Lawn Party in August was one of my favorites for several reasons – 1) I have the routine down for this event in terms of logistics and getting around NYC, 2) I know a lot of the regular attendees after attending for several years and some new friends made an appearance at the lawn party, making for a very lovely social event, and 3) I freakin’ won the Charleston contest! Always a favorite are the vendors who set up their wares on Governor’s Island – this year, the lawn party vendors really outdid themselves. There were old favorites, as well as some new vendors – here we go!
I was excited to see a booth for Gretchen Fenston, Milliner, because Gretchen is one of the stars of the Jazz Age Lawn Party – as long as I’ve been attending the lawn party, Gretchen has taught the beginner Charleston and Peabody lessons with Roddy Caravella and, aside from that, she herself is a main attraction of style, elegance, and superbly coordinated and whimsically crafted millinery. Seriously, her hats are just impeccable, matching her ensemble with period aplomb and her own take on the Art Deco era. Her booth had several hats and headpieces for sale, along with a lookbook of her designs. *drool* If you are interested in a custom piece, I hear she takes orders…
Just down the line the Goorin Bros. had their impeccable line of hats, for ladies and gents, set up, with even more lids for sale. I have always been impressed with their hats and friends who own said hats speak highly of this company. They had a fantastic selection of summer hats, perfect for the lawn party, from straw fedoras to linen caps to summer cloches. Goorin Bros. has a great retail website, so if you missed the lawn party you can always place your order online!
Next up was Wildfell Hall Vintage, which had an exquisite collection of Art Deco era clothing and accessories, and some other choice vintage pieces. My partner in lawn party crime, Raleigh dancer Elizabeth Tietgen found an amazing purple floral early 30’s dress that had already been restored, seam by seam, and new snaps put in the side with reinforcement. It looked incredible and she’ll save at least what she paid for the dress having it repaired or reinforced – what a find! I saw at least 3 things I couldn’t live without, but were not in my size…*sigh* Gorgeous, gorgeous things.
One difficult thing to come by for the lawn party are vintage sunglasses, because you can’t always dance with your parasol and maybe your cloche brim just isn’t deep enough – Belle Pagaille came to the rescue with some of the most kick-ass sunglasses I have ever seen, all with a vintage bent, though some of them verged on ultra-modern, or even steam punk. The company designs the glasses themselves, which I thought was great, so you are getting these lenses from the design source, not a reseller.
Outfitter of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, the Prohibition Clothing Company is certainly a staple of the lawn party, offering some of the best looking reproduction menswear I have seen. I was particularly excited this year because they have launched their women’s line of clothing, which includes a trumpet skirt with killer seaming and a pair of tweed knickers that were whispering to me to bring them home. The tailoring on everything was killing me, just impeccable. After seeing this display, I’m ready for OcTieBer!
Next to the general admission tent is, perhaps, the largest lawn party vendor, Dora Marra, which had so many blooming and feathered headpieces in every imaginable color and configuration it was almost overwhelming. This was definitely the go-to place for a bit of whimsy to stick on your head to augment your lawn party outfit. They were simply swamped, so I didn’t get a really good look at everything, but thankfully they have an Etsy store where you can take your time and browse the vast collection.
Noble Savage Vintage had another lovely display and some real Art Deco era garments that were selling like hot cakes. I glanced at some black 1920’s Mary Janes and a lovely bejeweled Art Deco pin, but then my eyes met a pair of woven mesh 1930’s heels and it was all over. “What size are these?” “7.” MY SIZE. I tried not to hyperventilate while I tried them on, but I held it together for the most part and squee’d a little bit during the check out. As you can tell, Noble Savage was my favorite of the day, LOL.
Check out more of the lawn party vendor goodies below! Ciao!
In case you missed it in person or on the live stream, Frankie 100 in New York played host to a fashion show during the Sunday night festivities! Take a gander at some of your favorite swing dancers modeling some truly spectacular vintage fashions from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, both ladies and gents, starting at 46:20 mark on the video – a really gorgeous collection of everything from swimwear to eveningwear, Mutsumi Gee’s lovely reproductions, the vintage-inspired designs of Nicole Lenzen, the tailored menswear of Chloe Hong, even a segment devoted to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York! Special thanks to Voon Chew and Lainey Silver for their efforts in putting this together!
Two spring sales worth posting about! First, the Original Prohibition Clothing Company is offering a great sale dubbed the “Spring Made-to-Measure Event” – with a focus on spring/summer weight fabrics (hello, tropical weight woolens and linens), the following price cuts:
Unconstructed Jackets were $348, now $298
Full-Rise Trousers were $188, now $159
Fine Cotton Shirts were $88, now $75
Prices valid through March 31st, 2014. There are so many “3 season” suits and heavy suits out there, it seems that for dancing that the most practical splurge would be for a summer suit, no? If you don’t like ironing or wrinkling, my vote is for the tropical weight wool. Remember, wool is a natural fiber that breathes…
Next, a wonderful sale from the I-can’t-believe-this-is-a-thing retailer A Vintage Sole, selling dead stock/never worn vintage shoes – here are the details:
“Enter ‘Benzie’ in the discount box at checkout and receive 15% OFF your entire order. By doing so, you’ll be lending a very helpful hand to those in real need.
When you use the Benzie code, we will donte 5% of your order to the Benzie Food Partners, our local all volunteer food bank.
Visit aVintageSole.com to learn more about our $hop-$ave-$upport program and the huge impact your purchase will make for those in Benzie County, Michigan.”
You can thank Dandy Wellington for the tip on this book, “Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion,” a sort of in-depth primer on dressing for men. I think this topic is not discussed as often as say…sports or hunting, but it is, nevertheless, an important aspect of manhood – would James Bond be as awesome in jeans and a tee shirt? Maybe, but then he wouldn’t be James Bond.
As I do not have a copy of this primer, I will rely on some other reviews to give you an idea of the contents of this book:
“Part tutorial, part celebratory, GENTLEMAN covers all men’s fashion issues, literally from head to toe. From styles of underwear and the joy of custom-made suits to stuff I don’t even think about much less own like umbrellaas and handkerchiefs, the book schools you on all you need to know about becoming a sharp-dressed man.” – Rod Lott
“If a 360-page guidebook to pajamas (Page 334), English suits (92-101) and walking canes (260) is not your idea of beach reading, stop right here. But if men’s-wear minutiae tickle your fancy — the anatomy of a waxed-cotton hunting coat, anyone? — slip the new, second edition of Bernhard Roetzel’s “Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion” into your valise (251). The illustrated volume teaches you everything necessary to fashion yourself into a bona fide fop, from your made-to-measure underwear (42) to your Falcon pipe (239).” – Jonathan S. Paul
“This book is very classic, from the cover, to the photos, to the sections on bowlers and top hats. If you want to know the proper ways to wear certain clothing, where to wear it, and the history of why its worn that way, then Gentleman is the book for you. Written with a focus on the English Gentleman this book is a sort of staple or all-inclusive guide that will last you a lifetime.” – The Urban Gentleman
This book is also Dandy Wellington approved – it all sounds good to me!
I hear a lot of questions about how to isolate the decade, or portion of a decade (or in rare instances, the year), in which a particular garment was made. How do you identify the date of a garment based on the details, fabrics, notions, etc. included the garment? My initial answer is to do your homework, but my learning mostly consisted of shopping for vintage with my mother, asking her to identify the decade, and having her point out different identifying details. I can’t loan out my mother to all of you, so you’ll have to learn the old fashioned way: book learning (or in the 21st century, the Internets).
Kim at Time Machine Vintage directed me to the Vintage Pattern Wiki to get some ideas for dresses, but I was delighted to see that you could search their extensive directory by the type of garment and also by year. I see other compilations of patterns for sale that usually group by decade, but I’m just anal retentive enough to want to add more mid-1930’s dresses to my collection, or to want to make sure that late 20’s/early 30’s dress is actually late 1920’s. Regardless of your OCD level or absence thereof, this website is a useful resource for anyone who would like to learn and understand more about the fashions from each of the swing era decades, down to the year. Another great feature of this site is menswear and children’s clothing included in the patterns, which is not something I run across very often.
Enjoy this resource, I’ve already spent portions of two evenings going through the early 1940’s stuff – this could take a while!
In light of recent online discussions about gender roles in Lindy Hop and the recent Amendment/abomination passed this month in my home state, I decided to take up a suggestion made by Sam Carroll that I do a post on women dressing in menswear or dandy garb for dancing. Specifically,
“For my own sake, I’m interested in outfits which cater to the curvy woman’s body, but which are using traditionally ‘male’ items – eg jackets, waistcoats, trousers, hats, cravats, etc. Not women’s clothes, but men’s clothes for women. Or men’s clothes tailored for a woman’s body. Most of the ‘female dandy’ stuff I see about features ridiculously skinny, flat-chested women without hips. That’s not me, I’m not interested in that stuff. But it’s hard to find alternatives.”
I think this is a really cool concept, one that could be practical for dancing socially, traveling, or in performance where a female could be leading and/or want to fit into a particular role in the ensemble.
When Sam posed this question, a few things popped into my head:
– Like vintage clothing for men, the actual vintage options will be limited, but with ladies’ narrower shoulders it could open up more jacket options.
– Accessories are the key. Like many gents I know who dress in vintage or in vintage style, many of the main pieces they wear are regular menswear or reproductions and the accessories, which have usually survived and are more plentiful, take their outfit to the next level. It’s all in the details.
– Finding pants is going to be really hard. As someone who has pretty much given up on finding pants, it could be even harder for me to make a recommendation.
– Like any good dandy, you will need a tailor.
– Women’s clothing retailers offer some dandified options, if you know where to look.
So let’s break this down into the man uniform. Menswear is generally comprised of pants, shirt, jacket and/or vest, socks, shoes, belt or suspenders (but not both). Accessories could be a tie, a cravat, a tie clip, cufflinks, hat, cap, watch, lapel pin, etc. I’ll try to hit on most of these pieces and recommend ideas for sources (because that’s what we’re all about here – where the @#&* do I find it?):
Gonna get this one out of the way. Men’s pants are not made for women’s bodies and vice versa, but this doesn’t mean that men and women are made of one shape, or that men’s pants won’t ever fit. One of my favorite pairs of pants in college was a pair of men’s pants and I purchased a tuxedo for myself last year and didn’t have much trouble with the pants (although they cut a wee bit tight across the hips, more so than I am used to feeling). They fit me a hell of a lot better than these skinny jeans that are in style right now (which make me look like a linebacker) and give the illusion and drape of a proper pair of men’s trousers, in spite of the hip area.
My next suggestion is to find men’s pants that fit in the hips and have them tailored to fit your shape. This may not work for all men’s pants, but I believe it’s a viable option. Most nice men’s pants are cut to be tailored and taken in or let out.
There is always the option to have them made, which is my favorite because they are guaranteed to be made for your shape, in the fabric you like, and can be tailored to look like men’s pants. You can also have more options, like a higher waist to give it a more vintage look. Also, with the higher waist pant, it’s more likely to be a flattering cut for the female figure. I’m thinking specifically about the 13 button sailor pants the U.S. Navy used to issue as part of a uniform – those pants are universally flattering on just about every human I’ve seen wear them.
Finally, in rare instances (so rare that I can’t really point to a consistent source), I have come across wide or straight leg trousers in women’s stores that do sort of have a nod to menswear. The cut will be most important in this case, because womenswear is so squirrely and the cut may not be tailored enough to be truly dandy. Then, there is this sort of hybrid that is golf knickers, which are definitely more traditionally male, but also sporting female, and are made in women’s sizes at golfknickers.com (I would rock the Stewart plaid pair in a hot minute!).
I think most men’s shirts have comparable women’s shirts (tees, polos, button-downs). Sadly, I think a lot of modifications that retailers have made to women’s dress shirts to make them more…girly (?) have not worked out for the best. I am a lawyer IRL, so I deal with a lot of button-down shirts to wear under suits for court. I get miffed when I see that retailers have modified the neckline to show more cleavage – with that silly angle exposing more of the upper chest and removing the buttons so you no longer get to decide where your top button is located. Forget about wearing a neck scarf or a tie with it. And is it too much trouble to put a button across the peak of the bosom, instead of spanning it and causing a gap that must be safety pinned, lest your co-workers catch a glimpse of your bra? But I digress.
I have found a few good basics for button-down shirts. My favorite is Banana Republic because the fit is usually really good (efficient, professional) and they have nice variations on classic menswear for women, without sacrificing buttons or adding excess cleavage. It’s also one of the few places I’ve found women’s shirts with French cuffs for cufflinks – bliss! They even have a line of non-iron shirts, which is the only kind of shirts my husband will buy, but that I haven’t seen made available that often for comparable women’s shirts. A scan of the BR line shows some great dandy options for summer – long sleeve basics, a safari shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a fantastic long sleeve button-down in blue or pink with contrast white collar and cuffs!
I think it is important to buy shirts made for women, if at all possible. Generally, our shoulders are narrower and we need darts to highlight our feminine shape and streamline our look. Being a dandy is about looking tailored, not frumpy, and I think men’s shirts are just too much of an adjustment in shape when there are options available that do not require alterations or custom-made garments.
I am also not above shopping in the little boy’s section for shirts…which sometimes works out well. 🙂
Things start to get easier here. I’ve seen more women’s vests in recent history and there are always menswear-inspired jackets available. The key here is to mind your colors and materials – obviously, a pink boucle jacket is going to scream femme, but a linen, stripe, or tweed would be more along the lines of a dandy. I’d also experiment with vintage menswear and men’s vests, as there may be potential for tailoring them to fit, or with vests, cinching them if they are adjustable in the back. Again, the key is tailoring, keeping lines clean, and sticking to menswear basics.
This becomes a wee bit more difficult because Dancestore.com isn’t making men’s Aris Allens in smaller sizes anymore – finding menswear-inspired shoes is fairly simple, but finding leather soles is not. This is where the ladies with the larger feet have an advantage. I went through great difficulty to find boy’s size 5 black patent leather oxford ballroom shoes to go with my tuxedo (and the size chart was so off that I had to send them back 3 times for an exchange). That said, there are some boy’s ballroom shoes out there in basic black oxfords.
While I can’t vouch for the danceability of all the soles (there’s always the option of having things sueded), G. H. Bass has some great shoes right now for women that are a sort of twist on classic men’s shoes. I’m loving the Rachel Antonoff collection, which has things like clear/black patent wingtips, saddles shoes in lots of two tone color combos, and loafers with complimentary plaid panels. The Bass American Classics line for women almost looks like a collection of men’s shoes, with basic colors in loafers (tassled and penny; BONUS: leather sole) and saddle shoes.
This is where the fun starts. You could go with the traditional conception of matching your socks to your trousers, but one of the things I love about our male Lindy Hop counterparts is their fearless socks. So long as it matches your ensemble, feel free to experiment with stripes, argyle, prints, and color. This might be a good place to inject your femininity or sense of humor…
Belt, suspenders, tie, cravat, tie clip, cufflinks, hat, cap, watch, lapel pin…this is where there are comparable women’s products (belt, watch), or adjustable (suspenders), or we have unisex sizing (hats, caps), or it’s one size fits all (tie, cravat, cufflinks, pins, etc. I’m actually thinking vintage 30’s and 40’s ties might work even better on women because they are shorter than modern ties. This is where you have very few limits – go forth to the men’s section and conquer!
As with creating any look or ensemble, it’s important to do your research – look for inspirational photographs of men and women in menswear, or women in pants from the swing era. Pants were definitely not the norm and I think you will find that women took a lot of inspiration from the men when they embraced pants.
I hope this was helpful in some small way – please let me know if you have any follow-up questions or product recommendations for other burgeoning lady dandies!
Unless you’ve been dancing under a rock, you’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of leads wearing vests at swing dances. The phenomenon is so prevalent in the Balboa community that Eastern Balboa Championships organizer and MC Chris Owens noted during one of the Balboa competitions at EBC 2011 that 10 out of 16 male competitors were wearing vests.
What makes a vest so great? Having worn a few myself, including a vintage one of Black Watch plaid wool my mother made in the 1970’s, I can tell you that a vest can really pull an outfit together; where something was just a shirt and pants (or skirt in my case), it becomes an ensemble with that one addition. It’s an upgrade without being too formal; it pulls things in at the torso without inhibiting movement; it leaves your arms free to do work, while the rest of you remains business. If fitted properly, it can make you appear more trim and elongate your silhouette. It looks great with or without a tie.
Since my experience with vests is limited, I asked one of the most dapper gents I know, dancer and clothier David Lochner of Philadelphia, PA, to weigh in on the topic:
“I wear vests for many reasons. They help keep you warm, they add a flair to one’s outfits, they help keep sweat off of a follow while dancing, and they help keep your tie in place. They also add a cleaner line by covering the bulk created by shirts becoming untucked, belt loops, and belts.
Social dancing is an art form and line and proportion are essential in art. But the line only comes when pants are worn properly at one’s natural waist. If the trousers aren’t worn at a proper height then the vest hinders this effort by allowing the shirt tail to peek out the back and destroy the look. Dancing is not only about the communication between partners but communication of beauty through movement and line to the audience watching.
I purchase vests where I find ones that fit. Being a long, they can be hard to come by, but I look at major retail stores, online, thrift shops, vintage stores, and eBay. Knowing one’s measurements can help ensure a proper fit. Also, taking along a man who knows menswear never hurts. Most women don’t know menswear so they can’t be reliably counted upon. (No offense!)* You don’t want something in style since style is constantly changing. It is important to take someone with you if you are not seeing a tailor since most salespersons will “Yes” you to death. Nothing is worse than buying a piece of clothing, then realizing it doesn’t fit properly while wearing it out for an extended period of time.
I hope this helped. I know my views are looked on as a bit harsh by some. But I say them because I take what I do, selling vintage menswear and swing dancing, very seriously.”
We believe you, David, and we salute you.
I think David has some great advice here, particularly about fit and style. I hadn’t considered that, with menswear, buying something fashionable now would limit wearability down the road, since menswear changes so little overall. However, the subtle details make a difference in menswear (skinny 50’s neckties, narrow 60’s suits, wide 70’s collars), so going with a classic, nondescript thrift store find may be a better choice in the long run than the trendy vest you may find at the mall.
There really is no go-to source for vests. In many cases, they come as part of a suit. In vintage and thrift stores, they are often orphaned pieces. In my area, the vintage store with the most vests is the least likely place to find something from the swing era. I also hear the mid-west has a great selection of vests, based on Jaredan Braal’s extensive vest wardrobe acquired during a single shopping trip in a mid-western city…
I find that if you are looking for a particular something, you will start to notice these things as you are out and about, so keep your eyes open and you may come across the vest you desire where you least expect it. If you see someone in a vest, ask them where they got it – you may get some ideas of your own about where to look in your area.
Incidentally, if you are in Philadelphia, you should make plans to visit Briar Vintage, a vintage store devoted entirely to menswear and manly “collectibles and oddities.” David is the manager of the store and I’m sure would be happy to help you “invest” in some great pieces for your wardrobe.
Sweet Lorain (formerly Suite Lorain, now under new ownership) is one of those rare places where there are entire racks devoted to 1930’s and 1940’s clothing, rather than being relegated to a few rare items on the wall or stuck in the middle of a mound of polyester. In fact, Sweet Lorain skirts the issue by focusing exclusively on “Deco to 1960’s.” It’s a huge store, with tons of furniture, housewares, knick-knacks, clothing and accessories, and maybe some random items from a past era you’ve never even thought about. The dresses, evening gowns, coats, and other swing era garments are comparably plentiful and in an array of sizes. There were so many things to see that my partner in crime, Elizabeth Tietgen, and I spent several hours there, long enough for the store owner to offer us each a bottle of water!
We were told that the store had been hoarding swing era items for the ABW participants and people were dropping off things to sell to the ABW’ers the morning of the day we went to Sweet Lorain, namely a pair of 1940’s low heeled sandals that Elizabeth took home and a green 1930’s raincoat that came home with me.
I have heard stories about Sweet Lorain for years from my vintage tailor/couturier, Laura Boyes, who grew up in Cleveland. She and her daughter have had great luck in this store during their visits and Laura has even seen buyers from Anthropologie using their corporate card to purchase items from Sweet Lorain to copy or as inspiration for their designs. Understandably, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this visit to Sweet Lorain and it did not disappoint.
Did I think to take photos of what we bought? No, of course not, but Elizabeth left with a bevy of blue and white items, including a 1950’s sundress, a 1930’s day dress with matching bolero, black 1940’s shoes, tap shoes, and an aqua velvet 1930’s gown, and I left with a gray 1920’s dress, a seersucker romper of unknown decade, the 1930’s raincoat, a tie for the Boy, and a Bakelite bangle. Quite possibly the best trip to a vintage store EVER. Did I mention the prices here are amazing? This store will be a must-do for all subsequent ABWs.
Here are some of the other goodies I found at Sweet Lorain (I apologize for posting photos from my phone, I forgot my real camera):