23 July 2012

The Ghost of Fred, Again

The ghost of our man Fred Astaire is perhaps an ever looming presence when one is writing about menswear. Occasionally, he manifests himself especially clearly. I can't help but think of him any time white tie and tails is mentioned.

On 8 May, I posted an album of photos of a vintage 1930s full suit of evening wear, tailcoat and trousers. I also said that it would be posted here for auction in the coming week. Well, two and a half months later here it is:

A beautifully cut piece in excellent condition for its age. My best educated guess puts this garment in the late 1930s/ early 1940s, back when there were still a fair number of men who had occasion to wear full evening dress. The chest measures just over 20 inches across, and will fit a man who normally wears a 40 long, with the tails falling just to the knee on a man of about 6 feet. Sleeves measure 26 inches, shoulders 19 across.



Beautifully constructed with a nipped waist, curved back seams and pleated tails. This is the most complicated piece of menswear outside of military dress uniforms to see any regular use in the last hundred years or so, and truly an excellent example of the category.

Note the hooked vent, a traditional detail on such a coat and an indicator of it's age.

Complex darting and seam work typical of a close fitting "body jacket", expertly executed.


Broad peaked lapels faced in old fashioned thickly corded grosgrain silk. The wool is jet black and fairly thick, almost the weight of a smooth flannel. Not a piece to buy now and wear tomorrow, but a real stunner come New Year's Eve, or just for the opera and theatre season.


The trousers measure 16 inches across the waist, fitting a 33/34 inch waist. They have a very high 15 inch rise, which keeps them in line with the short waist of the jackets front. Double pleated, elegantly full cut through the legs, plain hems (of course), 32 inch inseam with up to 2 inches to let down.  Held up by braces attached to the outside of the waist band.

Button fly closure,

About an inch of fabric to be had in waist,

Matching grosgrain silk stripe down the outseam,
From Richman Brothers, a long gone shop formerly located on Madison Avenue that specialized in formal wear.

I'll be accepting bids on this suit via email at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com throughout the week. So if you're tall and thin, and you have any reason at all to wear such a thing, make me an offer. The last time I had such a thing for sale, it came to a showdown between a concert pianist and a professional tap dancer. Maybe this time we can get a violin player and a magician...or at least someone clothes mad with enough dash to pull it off. Happy bidding!
This could be you.....

24 July 2012 : SOLD That one went up quick, and the bidding is now closed. Thank you one and all for your interest. Congratulations, Mr. D.N. Wear it in good health.

p.s. for a full range of much easier to wear items in a range of sizes, don't forget to visit our booth at the Davis Flea this Sunday, 29 July, 10a.m.-4 p.m.

9 comments:

Kionon said...

G, I have a white pinpoint collar dress shirt from the defunct Richman Brothers.

Outstanding tuxedo. Detail is superb.

Ulrich von Boffke said...

Gosh, it really is just my size, but I can't imagine when I ever might wear it. . . Or where I'd store it at this point since both closets are full. Sad, since it would be a superbly cool piece to own.

Best Regards,

Ulrich von B.

Phil Asby said...

A beautiful piece! I wish it would fit me but I'm about 2" too short, 2" too wide and 2" too broad in the chest. Alas. However, for the slender 6 footer out there this would be a real natty bit of kit, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

I think you're risking copyright infringement with those logos on the right hand side.

Felix Castaneda said...

That was a gorgeous tuxedo! Wish it would fit me, but Im a 36 waist and a 44 regular in the jacket.

Young Fogey said...

Notice the button on the buttonhole side of the fly. It's for the tab on the shirt, to keep it tucked in. Beautiful detail. Whoever gets this extraordinary piece of sartorial history better love it—and wear it!

Kionon & Felix,

This is not a tuxedo. It is a tailcoat and trousers, the main components of formal evening wear, which is "the apex of elegance." Unlike the semi-formal tuxedo, which is worn with a black bow tie, this is meant to be worn with a white bow tie.

While a tuxedo/dinner suit may be worn with either a black or white waistcoat, or even a cummerbund, an evening tailcoat takes a white waistcoat only. While a tuxedo may be worn with a turn-down collar, only a detachable wing collar shirt, with single, not double (a.k.a. French), cuffs, will do.

And so on.

Kionon said...

Young Fogey,

I was trying to be generic. In that case, "Outstanding formal evening wear."

randall said...

"Wear it in good health" You sound just like my 89 year old Jewish grandmother; born and raised in Far Rockaway, Queens.

Young Fogey said...

Kionon,

I see. But surely you've been hanging around menswear geekland long enough to know that we love details, right? A tailcoat is no more a tuxedo than a blazer is a suit. Similarly, you know not to call a Marine a Soldier. You know the difference, even if a lot of people don't.

Yes, I know, a lot of people don't know these distinctions and don't care—but we're not most people, then are we?

Cheers!