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Recently, I wrote a blog entry entitled How To Build Your Personal Swing Wardrobe but it was basically geared toward women’s swing dance clothing and neglected the men. I thought that I should rectify this omission by asking one of the biggest enthusiasts in men’s swing era clothing that I know; Deano Beano Cappucino himself, Mr. Dean Villafuerte!
Mandi: So Dean, I need your manly touch. I want to write a blog entry about men’s swing dance clothing and I was wondering if you could send me any links for websites you’ve used for men’s swing dance clothing, or if you have any other helpful hints or tips you could provide for our readers.
Dean: “Well Mandi, that’s a very interesting topic to discuss. Where to start???? There are the two aspects…..Dressy for the more upscale events and Casual for something like the weekly Saturday night shindig. I also try to go for a more classic look when I dress. I will write more on style than comfort…”
DRESSY SWING DANCE CLOTHING FOR MEN
On the high end of things, I’ve worn a tuxedo or tails to a few upscale swing events. Parts were purchased at either tuxedo rental stores selling off their used stock, vintage clothing stores or places like Value Village. Sometimes you get lucky and find items that fit.
Luckily for men, styles don’t tend to change too drastically. Dress pants still look pretty much the same as they did 80 years ago. There are some differences (placement of the waist/button fly vs. zippers…..etc). Dark solid colours are probably the best bet and can go with a variety of different looks.
Very rarely have I ever seen a “Zoot Suit” worn to events. I’ve seen them and I even have one myself (I wore it to your wedding). If you plan on making an investment of purchasing a suit (Zoot Suit, Three Piece, Double Breasted….etc). Make sure it will have possible usage at a variety of different events in the future. Most modern suits look too modern, but occasionally someone puts out something amazing. Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and J. Crew have done so (unfortunately on the way too expensive side) but you can pick them up at a fraction of the cost at their outlet stores in off season. Andre Benjamin of the Outkasts had a line of clothing called Benjamin Bixby. Heavily influenced by styles of the 1930s. Too bad it went under as he had some really good stuff in his collection.
The suit jacket is one item that usually gets taken off sometime during the night as one tends to get hot after some vigorous floor time. So instead, I like wearing a waistcoat/vest….and I’m particularly fond of tweed. This is a little bit cooler than wearing the jacket, but still tends to retain heat. But it makes for a good dashing look.
Double breasted jackets are almost impossible to find.
Mandi: But they do look dashing and very Clark Gabel.
The most popular pattern is “argyle” in a variety of different colours. If you’ve noticed at events and weekly shindigs in previous years at one time or another, there was probably an Asian guy was wearing one. Myself included. Although it’s a great look, it can make you hot. But like the waistcoat it will provide a barrier and soak up some of the sweat. Otherwise, you can be totally saturated but that sweater keeps your follows safe from touching your bodily fluids……or at least the sweaty ones.
Keeping with the classic look, I usually go with the traditional white collared shirt (long sleeves, which I usually roll up above the elbow). For more upscale events, I go with the white collared shirt with French Cuff……this gives me a nice opportunity to wear my cuff links. I’ve purchased a bunch of the regular white shirts from Walmart for $8.00. They do just fine. There are other colours to choose from too. Underneath I wear the cotton t-shirt or tank/wife-beater. This helps absorb some of the sweat from dancing.
CASUAL SWING DANCE CLOTHING FOR MEN
For the more casual look, I like to go with Bowling Shirts. It can also fit in with the Rock-a-Billy crowd.
Over the last few years there seems to be a resurgence in wearing classically styled hats and most recently hat styles inspired by the 1950s early 60s. These are the short brimmed hats that you see all over the place. They can either come in paper, straw or felt/wool. There are also other styles that are quite popular such as the Ivy style cap (think, classic British driving cap in tweed). I love hats and have a modest collection and I’m always looking for more classic styles. The Fedora and Derby/Bowler are two styles I’ve seen others wear. The Pork-Pie is another popular favourite. The disadvantage of wearing a hat……they also get hot and occasionally get knocked off your head while dancing.
The funny thing is….shoes can say a lot about you and the style you are trying to convey. I’m surprised about how many times someone has looked down at my feet and complimented me on my footwear. I have three levels of shoes……the dressy two tone Spectators/Wing Tips for more upscale events or if I want to dress to impress. My Saddle Shoes which are fun-loving and my canvas running shoes for a very casual look. This is one area where comfort is important especially if you are dancing for several hours. Gel insoles are good investment.
First I will talk about suspenders. There are two basic kinds…..Button Downs and Alligator Clips. If you plan on showing off your suspenders and want to convey a really good classic look, invest in the button downs and put butons in your pants. If you are going to just have them hold up your pants and hide them under a vest or sweater, go with the alligator clips. One disadvantage of the alligator clips is that they tend to come loose if you are engaging in some serious dancing. Apparently you are only supposed to wear one thing or the other to hold up your pants….. so you are not supposed to wear suspenders and a belt. I’m so bad as I tend to wear both. The suspenders hold up my pants while my belt holds my gut in and keeps my shirt tucked in but most of the time you won’t know as I will wear my vest or sweater.
Cuff links are awesome.
The pocket watch. This is a nice functional accessory that not only looks swanky but can tell you what time it is. Ideally it should be worn with a vest and the watch put into the pocket of your non-dominant side. Some pants do have a specially made pocket for the watch, but that is rare. Otherwise, it should go in your front pant pocket. The chain hook should be attached to the top portion of your pants, above the belt line. I like placing the chain underneath my belt (if I’m wearing one) just in case it gets snagged on to something or someone while dancing.
Collar Clips. These attach to the collar ends of a dress shirt and underneath the knot of a tie. They keep the collar in place and create an aesthetically pleasing arc to the necktie. Creates a nice sharp look.
I think wearing a big belt buckle is good as it makes the ladies look at your crotch (I wrote this to see if anyone is actually reading anyting I wrote)
Mandi: Yes, Dean! I am!
My main influences for vintage clothing after having watched a lot of movies from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s; James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant. I’ll add the 1960s as Sean Connery as James Bond has influenced me a lot too. I also have a few books which I will mention below. And I alway keep my eye open for “vintage-looking” items when I go shopping.
Mandi: So Dean, I have one more question. What about snazzy military and naval uniforms? You know how much ladies enjoy a man in uniform… especially sailors.
Dean: For me, I also do Living History events but I would only wear the uniforms at those type of events. Like Swing Out To Victory at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, for example. Those uniforms are way hotter to wear than a regular suit. For the last few years I’ve avoided wearing them and go for a more civilian look with more comfort if I plan to do any dancing.
The Gentleman’s Guide by Bernhard Roetzel
One Hundred Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman
All-American Ads of the 1920s Edited by Jim Heimann
All-American Ads of the 1930s
All-American Ads of the 1940s
All-American Ads of the 1950s
Sometimes I check out websites to see what’s available:
This one is expensive, but they have cool stuff.
The Zoot Suit Store
The Gentleman’s Emporium