From Jermyn Street to 42nd Street – The History of the Backless Waistcoat
For over a century, Hawes & Curtis has embraced fashion and style innovation from its home on London's Jermyn Street. One of the brand’s most iconic designs was the backless evening waistcoat which became an integral part of 1930s fashion as well as a major trend for Hollywood stars and great American dancers. Today it is one of the essentials of contemporary menswear design and features heavily in the major West End production 42nd Street - the song and dance, American dream fable of Broadway which features the iconic songs 42nd Street, We’re in the Money, Lullaby of Broadway, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Dames and I Only Have Eyes For You.
Original Jermyn Street Design
The backless evening waistcoat was revolutionary for its time. Before it was invented, men’s fashion tended to be very formal and waistcoats were an integral part of eveningwear. According to Hawes & Curtis founder, G. F. Curtis, the backless evening waistcoat was invented “more or less by accident” when he was “dancing on a very hot night in a London ballroom.” In the heat of the moment he cut the cotton out of his white waistcoat, “thereby conferring an unconscious favour upon dancing mankind thereafter.”
The backless evening waistcoat was designed without a back and held in place by means of bands, fastened with a buckle or button across the back at the waistline. It became a hugely popular piece of formalwear because it was significantly cooler than a classic waistcoat, it was renowned for its comfort and it always remained in position under the tailcoat.
Because of these characteristics, 42nd Street costumer designer Roger Kirk uses backless waistcoats in all the big show dance numbers “as they are easy for quick changes.” 42nd Street is set in 1930s New York and was made famous by the 1933 film starring Ginger Rogers. Kirk’s costumes are all based on or inspired by original 1930s designs and they have been altered to make them suitable for the dancers.
Famous Fans of the Backless Waistcoat
British aristocracy including the Duke of Windsor were fans of the backless waistcoat and subsequently Hollywood stars discovered the benefits of this innovative piece. Fred Astaire allegedly approached Hawes & Curtis to have one made of his very own, only to be regretfully refused due to the high demand for such garments from the British aristocracy. Nevertheless, Fred Astaire and many other Hollywood stars embraced this trend.
See 42nd Street for yourself
To celebrate Hawes & Curtis’ links to famous stars of the 1930s, we have partnered with the West End’s biggest show – 42nd Street. The show exudes the height of 1930s charm and is renowned for being the most glamorous and exuberant musical on the West End. Enter Here to be in with a chance of winning a trip to London to see 42nd Street