Over the years, since the end of World War II, American fashion and culture, even the fashion and culture of the whole world, has gone through many changes. The fashion popular during the Swing Era of the late 1920s through mid-1940s can seem a little bit odd, even alien, to those who grew up only within the last four decades.
Brief Background HistoryIn the early swing dance era, when Lindy Hop was king, and Benny Goodman was wowing audiences across the country, swing clothing was not that much different from ordinary clothes of the time. By modern standards, however, the daily clothes worn by the average person on the street would be considered formal wear. Hats were a standard article of clothing whenever a person left their house, and would remain so until shortly after John Kennedy would be sworn in as President decades later (breaking a long tradition of hat wearing). Nearly every man had a suit coat, and usually wore it. Shoes had heals, shirts were buttoned up, and pants were either worn with a belt or with a pair of suspenders.
Dressing up to go dancing usually meant putting on the best suit or dress one had, and a comfortable pair of dress shoes with ones sharpest hat. Although spectators were common, a pair of leather shoes with a flexible sole was considered best for dancing.
These days, people's daily attire is the result of labor clothing and sports wear taking over American fashion. This began during the second World War, and accelerated with the young generation growing up in the 1950s. Labor clothes — the clothing one would wear to work at a manual labor job — included t-shirts and jeans. Jeans were ideal for labor as they were originally designed to withstand the wear and tear experienced by gold miners. By the 1970s, jeans had become the standard everyday, all-day clothes. But sportwear had also been slowly growing in popularity since the second World War. This started with polo shirts, and tennis shoes soon followed until the late 1970s when sportwear, too, had become a standard item of everyday wear. Gone were brimmed hats, and shined leather shoes, gone were suits on the back of the everyday American. In its place were ball caps, tennis shoes, and blue jeans.
Along with it was the old concept of looking ones best in public was being respectful to ones fellow man, that by dressing ones best meant you were being polite to others. In its place, people began to believe that someone who dressed up was somehow acting superior, that by dressing up, one was being — in a way — disrespectful. This was partly a result of the social changes of the late 1960s.
Dressing Swing and the Swing RevivalIn the late 1990s, swing dancing had been brought back to life, and had become popular again. With the renewed popularity of swing dancing came a renewed interest in the clothing styles of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Swing dancers were wearing suits and two-toned spectator shoes that were popular in the 1930s. Women were regularly wearing dresses again. There was a new-found respect for clothing from sixty years earlier, and many swing dancers were wearing the clothes everywhere, not just out dancing. The fashion and that dance had been associated with each other, and, although some of the enthusiasm had gone down since the mid-2000s, the association of the clothes and the dance has still remained intact.
The pages in this series of articles attempts to give a brief introduction on the fashions of the 1920s through the 1940s, as well as some information that may be handy for swing dancers reviving the old look and feel of the original swing era. It is our hope that you will find this useful.