Great Gatsby's Underwear from a different Era

Published May 29th 2013 by Kiri

The roaring twenties; a riotous time in history marked by prohibition, flappers, and jazz music. During this time of economic prosperity, there were significant changes in both lifestyle and culture in America and elsewhere. The era saw the introduction of automobiles, motion pictures and electricity. With the debut of our nation’s first federal highway system, car sales nearly tripled and by 1929, the Duesenberg became a symbol of the roaring twenties; especially after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic Jay Gatsby drove a beautiful yellow one in the famous book, The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is ultimately a tale about how far you would go for love. Set in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in 1922, it gives the reader a real sense of life in the roaring twenties. The book explores the decadence and excesses of this time of social upheaval; the parties that lasted all day and night, a great deal of prohibition alcohol being consumed, fast cars speeding in and out of town, and the extravagant clothing worn by both women and men.

Ever wonder what the men wore under their suits during the time of Gatsby? Well, so did we. As with most things, the underwear of the 20’s is nothing close to what we see today. Underwear was more than a boxer or a brief; it covered a man from neck to knee in either a union suit or a 2 piece garment. Comfort and roominess were key in style, manufacturing, and selling underwear during the roaring 20s. Quality was important as well and several companies advertised their underwear as “specified government quality for US” soldiers.

1920's Underwear Advertisement

The 1920’s saw the first advertisements for men’s underwear and they ranged anywhere from dad squatting by the car changing a tire with the label “ease of action, the crotch is always closed,” to just the typical man going about his morning routine wearing a union suit. “Clothes may make the man but underwear makes him comfortable. A good outward appearance is a business and a social asset, but so is inward comfort from unseen underwear. Worn next to the skin, every detail about the underwear is important” (Edgar R. Clark , 1928 issue of Hygeia).

1920s Striped Underwear

During the 20’s, the media focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes like Babe Ruth. The popularity of baseball flourished and the infamous pinstripe became a popular pattern for male underwear. As seen in this advertisement from the 20s, the union suit is being sold in “art silk striped.”

Men’s underwear has come a long way since the time of Gatsby. Sports heroes are still used to advertise it, but they are seen in form fitting, supportive briefs that accentuate their physiques. In today’s marketplace, a pinstripe union suit from the 20’s would be met with the same mixed reviews that Fitzgerald’s first copies of The Great Gatsby received.


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