We deal with a lot of vintage weddings at Duchess Clothiers, and in my years of styling and designing these manly vintage wedding ensembles, I've learned the importance of being able to wear the suit after the wedding.
Unlike ladies' formal attire, men's suits really haven't changed very much in the couple of hundred years they have existed, so this is eminently doable. By playing with the details, you can make almost any three-piece suit look like it's from any era.
First, you should know that the authentic thing to do for your vintage wedding, whatever era, is to wear a black tie ensemble. Most couples these days opt for a less traditional look for their vintage weddings, but if you want to get real with your era-specific flavor, know that a man would very nearly always go black tie or white tie for this important occasion.
Barring that, there are numerous creative things you can do to vintage-ize your ensemble. These are the details to pay attention to:
Wear a vestThis is key. It wasn't until the second half of the twentieth century that a man's outfit was even possibly complete without a vest. For anything pre-1950s, a three-piece suit is crucial.
- DON'T wear a belt with your vest.
- Do wear braces.
Wear a hat
Hat styles have changed over the years, so you will need to choose one that is appropriate to your era of wedding (if you are being more specific than "vintage").
- DON'T throw on a fedora and call it good.
Heed the hair
Check out hair and beard styles of the era. This can go a long way, especially if you go for styling different than your ordinary 'do.
- DON'T rock a giant beard with a nicely slicked back hairdo — the two looks simply were almost never seen together, historically.
For the love of god, wear cufflinks
Also, there's nothing so snappy as a pocket watch on a fob in your vest pocket, and this was daily fare for most of the 20th century. These accessories are extremely easy to thrift, and come in a wide range of choices.
- DON'T wear your pocket watch in your jacket pocket, it goes in your vest. Unless you have one of these for your lapel.
Crucial detail: tie and shirt collar style
For the teens through 1930s, go for a white collar on a colored or patterned shirt. Collars were often white because they were detachable and switched out for easier laundering. They came in all collar styles and heights. But even a business shirt from the early 1990s will work for this look, since it will be mostly hidden under your vest. If you can get your hands on a rounded collared shirt, do that. Tall collars, wing-collars, and collars with a collar pin are also appropriate. You can get a cheap tuxedo shirt with a wing collar and wear it with a regular tie, even! Most ties will work, as in most eras, regular and bow ties were worn. For tie-knot and other accessories how-tos', go here.
- DON'T wear your bowtie behind your collar — it goes in front of the collar points.
Watch period movies and TV shows
To really get a handle on what you're going for with the details above, vintage inspiration can easily be found in movies and TV, like my favorite 1920s style porn, Boardwalk Empire. Costume designers know what they are doing with this shit. Watch some movies set in your era, or if you don't have an era and are just going "vintage," think of what movies come to mind for what you imagine.
All you have to do to get a great vintage look is find yourself a 3-piece suit, then watch movies to get these details right — hats, shirt collars, accessories, and hairdos.
Here is a great photo from Boardwalk Empire. While these are truly spectacular, clearly custom suits, notice the non-suit details: On the left, note the classic 1920s short on the side, long and oiled on the top hairdo, and vest. On the right, a red carnation on the lapel can never fail to add to your vintage look.
We also have here a great example of white collar on a colored shirt, with a collar pin, which holds the points of the collar together under the tie. These are ubiquitous at thrift and antique stores, and look like this:
Or, for a turn of the century look, check out movies like The House of Mirth, which has gorgeous costumes as well:
Again, see the vest? Key, I tell you. Also, note the high rounded collar, use of cufflinks, and wavy hairstyle, popular at the turn of the century.
Epic movies that span great lengths of time like The Aviator, and The Godfather, are also great to watch for getting a sense of how versatile your choices are within the same basic elements throughout time.
Once you know what to look for, this research becomes really fun. Some things will be harder to find than others, but by and large, you can be very successful at thrift stores, antique stores, and even modern menswear shops.
And if you seriously want to be a nerd about getting it right, just talk to us! We can go on and on about detachable collars and vest studs. You can see some history-nerd inspiration at our Pinterest board here.