Men’s Jazz Clothes in the 1910s and ’20s


December 16, 2013 by Ville Raivio

‘When a real smart ticker [pianist] would enter the place, say in winter, he’d leave his overcoat on and keep his hat on, too. We used to wear military overcoats or what was called a paddock coat, like a coachman’s; a blue double-breasted, fitted to the waist and with long skirts. We’d wear a light pearl-gray Fulton or Homburg hat with three buttons or eyelets on the side, set at a rakish angle…then a white silk muffler and a white silk handkerchief in the overcoat’s breast pocket. Some carried a gold-headed cane; or, if they were wearing a cutaway, a silver-headed cane. A couple of fellows used to wear Inverness capes, which were in style in white society then.

When you came into a place you had a three-way play. You never took your overcoat or hat off until you were at the piano. First, you laid your cane on the music rack. Then you took off your overcoat, folded it and put it on the piano, with the lining showing.

You then took off your hat before the audience. Each pianist had his own gesture for removing his hat with a little flourish; that was part of his attitude too. You took out your silk handkerchief; shook it out and dusted off the piano stool.

Now, with your overcoat off, the audience could admire your full-back or boxback suit, cut with very square shoulders. The pants had about 14-inch cuffs and embroidered clocks. Box-back coats were worn single-breasted, to show your gold watch fob and chain. Some pianists wore a horseshoe tie pin in a strong-colored tie and a gray shirt with black pencil stripes.

We all wore French, Shriner&Urner or Hanan straight or French last shoes with very pointed toes, or patent-leather turnup shoes, in very narrow sizes. 

Fred Tunstall was a real dandy: I remember he had a Norfolk jacket with EIGHTY-TWO PLEATS IN THE BACK. When he sat down at the piano, he’d slump a little in a half hunch, and those pleats would fan out real pretty. That coat was long and flared in the waist. He had a very short belt sewn in the back. His pants were very tight. He had a long neck, so he wore a high, stiff collar that came up under his chin with a purple tie. A silk handkerchief was always draped very carefully in his breast pocket. His side view was very striking.’

~ as told by James P. Johnson in Whitney Balliett’s Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz


  1. Ville Raivio says:


    I received this quote from vintage hobbyist Marc Chevalier. I searched for the quote online but came up with no references, so I had to take Marc’s word for it. I’ve now updated the post with your info. Many thanks!

  2. Gongtao says:

    I believe the source here is James P Johnson, not Johnston, and he is describing his contemporaries in the 1910s and ’20s, not the 1950s.

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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
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