The Origins of the Modern Look Men’s Clothing
18th Century – 21st Century by Maggi Andersen
I don’t pretend to be an expert on fashion. I wanted to show some of the changes which have taken place over the last few hundred years to men’s clothing, as well as the styles which have remained constant.
I’ve added a few tidbits I thought might be of interest. I’ve had to be selective here –the military influence on fashion, for example, is for another blog.
The three piece suit was popular in the 18th Century.
Matching coat, waistcoat and breeches.
It was not in France, but Britain that the classic style of clothes worn by men today began to evolve.
During the Georgian period, upper-class Englishmen were busy running their country estates. They needed fabrics which supported their sports, travel and life in the countryside.
Surprisingly, the French, who remained in court and dressed accordingly, came to admire the sensible dress of the English. And in the 1780s, France became obsessed with all things English. This frenzy was known as Anglomania.
Sir Walter Scott describes it well:
“France, who had so long dictated to all Europe in matters of fashion, seemed now herself disposed to borrow the more simple forms and fashions of her ancient rival.”
Aside from the adoption of English butlers, carriages, dogs and horses, the French began to use wool for jackets instead of the traditional silks and satins.
The French Revolution influenced this, with the turning away from aristocratic forms of dress for both men and women.
The result was a turning away from bright colors for men. The colors of jackets were limited to brown, grey, dark green, blue and black. Blue was acceptable for any occasion, and black reserved for morning (informal) or for evening wear.
ENGLAND 19th Century
Pantaloons were skin tight and worn with gleaming hessians.
The colors were predominantly light-colored: yellow, biscuit, buff and fawn.
Normally they were one plain color, but sometimes pin-striped. Materials were wool, cashmere, corduroy, cotton, linen, leather and silk, with satin and velvet for formal occasions. Breeches were worn with Hessians or half boots, but never with top boots.
By the 1820s trousers of a knitted material, (inexpressibles) became the dominant item of clothing for men instead of breeches and pantaloons. Light colored, they were made of nankeen or jean fitting closely to the leg, but cut wide at the ankle. They could be worn with half-boots, boots or shoes.
Waistcoats were the main item used for color and variety. Sometimes two waistcoats were worn simultaneously to show contrasting colors. They were made in a variety of fabrics and often exhibited expensive embroidery.
Many wore white or flesh colored waistcoats to give the impression, should the man remove his coat, that he was naked. Influenced by the Grecian Ideal, men were proud of their bodies and sought by fair means or foul (a little padding or corsetry) to display them at their best.
Boots became de rigueur.
There is a wide range of acceptable boots for daywear and riding with a low heel. Regency men did not wear heels like their fathers and grandfathers did.
Lady Lyttelton writes of the Barouche Club gentry in a letter in 1810:
‘a set of hopeless young men who think of no earthly thing but how to make themselves like coachmen … have formed themselves into a club, inventing new slang words, adding new capes to their great-coats and learning to suck a quid of tobacco and chew a wisp of straw …
Under the influence of Beau Brummel, shirts were white linen and clothing for day wear was a tightly fitting, dark coloured tailcoat with non-matching usually pale) trousers, pale waistcoat, white shirt and cravat and tall boots.
A great symbol of flair and individuality was the cravat, which required several meters of expensive cotton. Tying it took a considerable amount of time and assistance.
Brummell’s morning toilette was a long drawn out affair, often taking upwards of two hours. He often allowed his friends to sit in the room adjoining his dressing room as he tied his neckcloth, discarding cloth after cloth until he was satisfied.
These were predominantly white, although some striped fabrics were used, and colors were more prevalent after Beau Brummel’s death, similar to ties worn today.
Beaver hats were a fashionable item in 18th and 19th century Europe.
Shown are the cocked hats (top left to right), the Continental Hat, the Naval Cocked Hat and the Clerical Hat; the Paris Beau, the Wellington and the D’Orsay (second row); and the Regent and an army hat (third row) (courtesy “The Beaver”, Spring 1958).
The demands for beaver fur brought the animal to the brink of extinction.
Men often wore silk banyan’s while relaxing at home.
THE VICTORIAN ERA
The frock coat was introduced during the Victorian Period and was popular for business and formal occasions (with the tailcoat showing up in evening dress).
There was a wider variety of coats for men to choose from, including the sack jacket which later became the tuxedo jacket.
This tall, stiff-crowned Victorian hat has a rolled-edge brim; worn in black silk with white tie, also worn in gray felt with black band with morning dress. The bowler hat was popular too.
The early 20th Century to the 21st Century
The black frock coat popular during the Victorian and Edwardian eras with silk-faced lapels, light grey waistcoat, Cashmere striped trousers, button boots, gloves, Ascot-knotted cravat, and cravat pin; April 1904.
Left: A contemporary three-piece-suit and bowler-style hat.
For formal occasions, the cutaway continues to be popular.
Groom wearing the 21st Century version of the Victorian frock coat, and looking very handsome in it!
Article written by Maggi Andersen, member of The Beau Monde chapter of Romance Writers of America and member of Romance Writers of Australia.
The Reluctant Marquess
Facebook: Maggi Andersen Author
Sources: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester.
Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, Skira.
Fashion in the time of Jane Austen, Sarah Jane Downing, Shire Library.