It has long been known that in the animal kingdom, more often than not, that it is the male of the species that has been endowed with the most splendid and glorious outward appearance and attractiveness; whereas, the female takes the “back seat”, so to speak. But, to compare man with the beast in this regard, at least on the surface, it would appear to be a different story. The human female has more commonly been known to obsess and fixate on her appearance through the ages, in an attempt to create a glamorous appeal. Alluding to this fact, we have a prodigious history of women’s fashions to date, which tends to make the world of men’s attire pale somewhat in comparison. However, when one considers that the first principal garment noted in history that was worn by men was the schenti, or loin cloth, he will see just how really progressive and flamboyant men’s attire actually became.
From the loin cloth of ancient man and that of the Egyptians, the tunic and fringed shawl of the Babylonians and Assyrians, the chiton and cloak of the Greeks, the draping toga of the Romans, the candy's and coat of the Persians, the jumper and breeches of the Byzantines, the bliaud tunic and stockings of the Medieval or Gothic Italians, Flemish and Germans, we progress to the era of the Italian, French, Hispano-Moresque and English Renaissance in the fifteenth century.
At this time, the masculine costume consisted primarily of a shirt, tunic or doublet and hose. Over the doublet was sometimes worn a garment called a pour point, jerkin or jacket and sometimes a robe, called a gown. The shirt or body linen was made quite full, gathered at the neck and wrists (edged with fine embroidery in gold, red or black silk). Slashings in the fabrics, long “wings” of fabric extending from the shoulders, wide fluted canister-looking collars; large puffed shoulders with tight sleeves donned the tunics. The satin gowns (coats) had wide slashed sleeves trimmed in velvet and were extremely thick and oversized and cloaks were made of silk brocade and velvet with matching puffy, slashed velvet and silk hats. And deep, rich color for evening and brighter colors for daywear was the vogue. Elaborate metal buttons came into existence and covered rich cloth mantles. Feathers and furs began to be incorporated into the dress and with the Spanish influence came long tunic-gowns worn with matching narrow trousers. We do believe ladies, that we would claim “the corset“ once again, just to see our beguiling gentlemen inhabit these “frocks” would we not!?
From the sixteenth century onward, the invention of lace took place and eventually ornamented every article of men’s clothing. A typical presentation for a man of this time may be described in this way: A light blue taffeta cassock with a gold galloon, bold metal buttons, yards of frilly eyelet lace protruding from the short sleeves, crimson ribbon loops and bows on the sleeves, gold and crimson baldric, crimson petticoat breeches with loops and bows and ballooning full lace garters at the knees, lace frilled lingerie shirt, yellow stockings and yellow shoes with big blue ribbon ties and bright red heels, long curly wig, and an ample brimmed light blue hat trimmed with crimson plumes. Not exactly “bland” and “unobtrusive”...what do you think, ladies?
This is an important period in men’s dress because, during it, France definitely established herself as arbiter of the mode. Also, it was from this period on that the evolution of men’s costume as we know it today; the tunic, pour point or doublet phased into the vest or waistcoat, the justaucorps or jerkin into the jacket and the cloak into the topcoat!
Although French refugee couturiers in England during the Victorian Era continued to create fashions for women, English tailors seized the ascendancy in taste and design and continued their hold to the present day. Masculine clothing of the early part of the Victorian Era although the slightest bit subtler was still somewhat colorful especially in day clothes. Evening colors were in various shades of brown, dark green, blue, violet and black. From l850 onward, the claw hammer, or swallowtail coat and the frock coat were reserved for formal occasions. Coats were fitted at the waist with short flaring skirts. (Why not!) The double-breasted frock coat with silk-faced lapels and closed skirt front has always been known as the "Prince Albert", since it was worn by the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria. Pockets were placed in the back of the skirt and usually the coat had a luxurious velvet collar.
An item called the “morning coat” with rounded-off skirt fronts, appeared in the mid-eighteen hundreds, and too, came the sakko, a short informal lounge jacket or sack coat. This eccentric garment was described as any coat without a waist seam, that is body and skirt cut in one. Another move to keep up with the curves of the ladies!
Heavy tweed suits came into use for sportswear, and the dinner coat without tails was used for dinners and dances in country homes. The swallowtail coat in the United States was named the “Tuxedo”, being first worn at Tuxedo Park. Incidentally, it is noted that Berry Wall, a prominent society gentleman and dress authority, was refused admission to a dance at the Grand Union Hotel in New York, because he wore a “smoking” as it was branded, the latest English fad in dress coats from an 1840’s design.
Braid trimmings along with the customary laces came in on men’s clothes in about l850. It was used as decorative trim on coats and stitched down the side seams of trousers and survives today on the trousers of the tail and dinner coats. Both trousers and black satin knee breeches remained the full dress style. We ladies would just adore seeing our spouses in knee breeches, yes? They were worn very tight over a high boot with a strap underneath. Also, they beamed of striped, checked and plaid fabrics in various colors, with the dashing coat usually in a solid color. Coats with a front closing flap gave way to buttons down the center (l845), and a side pocket design.
Now, creases in trousers were not accepted until Edward Vll wore them on the sides of the leg as well as the front and back. Can you just imagine the detail? Cuffed trousers, we are told, were the result of necessity---the Englishmen turned up their trousers on rainy days and this fashion was now “turned on”.
Fitted waistcoats that tapered at the waist almost giving an “hourglass” appearance were constructed of colorful and handsome fabrics and often embroidered. After all, the gentlemen had to “keep up” with their lady counterparts! The white evening coat was of brocade, satin, velvet cashmere or pique. (Nothing too good for our gentlemen). The short box coat was a single or double-breasted coat made in a fawn-colored cloth. An amusing fashion in the 1890’s was the use of the box coat over the evening habit, thus, allowing the tails to hang below to about 6 inches. Somewhat “revolutionary” we’d all agree; a “sort of grunge” of the era! Coats with raglan sleeves appeared as well as a sleeveless version cape coat of Scotch origin, the reefer, adopted from coats of the British Navy, the Ulster of Irish origin, the pall coat or pale tot (a heavy overcoat) and the Chesterfield, a classic dress overcoat that appeared during this period. Overcoats often had velvet collars, were fur-trimmed and fur-lined and were fastened by heavy braided loops. Shawls were even worn for about 20 years after 1840!Can you not just envision “your gentleman” in a shawl, ladies? Well, it’s true!
Shirt collars to this day have always added an interesting touch. During the Victorian Era, varieties in sizes and position, the use of starch and accessories such as the “cravat” with jeweled stickpins or ties in a bow, scarves fastened by means of a strap and buckle, and the Ascot puff and starched linen and lace cuffs gave much distinction to men’s dress.
Shirts of light colors, line checks and stripes became known in the middle of the century, but the fine white shirt was touted the "mark of a gentleman". Hey, it is still “the neatest” in our book! Likewise, men’s casual clothes were in light colors of fabrics such as nankeen, alpaca and foulard. The Norfolk jacket, a hunting jacket style, appeared in the 1880’s with knickerbockers (a revival of knee breeches for daywear). Just the thing to set Ma’ Lady’s heart ablaze was it not? At home, for negligee, men wore "lounging clothes" or smoking suits, with a velvet cap. The robe d'interieur was of brilliantly figured silk or velvet. And, what lady would not like to curl up next to her gentleman in home attire such as this? It surely beats the "sweats and jogging pants"!
An interesting note...the laced-up shoe first appeared in the ‘fifties and in the second half of the century, black patent leather became fashionable with men’s clothing. Handsome gold-headed canes were carried, and rings, scarf pins, heavy gold “pocket” watches in the vest pocket, color matching buttons on suits and coats, cloth buttons and pearl buttons were made. Beards and whiskers disappeared but mustaches were worn “oh so handsomely”. Moderately long curly hair with middle “parts”, sidewiskers and a hair dressing called Macassar oil was used all through this period. Hence, in order to protect the backs of chairs from staining when men laid their heads back to snooze--- an “antimacassar” or tidy doily was placed upon them. We could have done without the Macassar, but just think; the doily may never have been handcrafted! “ A monocle” or an eyeglass with string fastenings completed the “look”. It was fashionable for men to wear soft felt hats with wide brims, straw and woolen styles for country wear, and caps took a definite place in the wardrobe of the well-dressed gentleman of the day.
Well now ladies and gentlemen, after having gotten a glimpse of the past history of men‘s attire, we’ve got to admit that the words “vanity fair” do not only apply to the feminine gender, but we must also conclude to those of the masculine! And, if we may say our piece---to us ladies, they were “just as pretty as peacocks”!
No items on this page are for sale. This page is a recap of the Victorian Era. To visit Victorian Bazaar's Shopping Boutique of products, CLICK HERE!
No part of
this, or any page from our online internet site may be copied, reproduced,