MEN’S CLOTHES ~ THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN LOOK
18th Century England ~ 21st Century
An English three piece suit. Matching coat, waistcoat and Pantaloons. Thomas Gainsborough, 1780.
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.
This resulted also in 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.
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.
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.
Gentleman’s Garrick greatcoat and hessian boots.
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
|Sense and Sensibility. The Three-Piece suit wasn't favored in the Regency Era.|
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.
The cravat which required several meters of expensive cotton was a great symbol of flair and individuality. Tying it took a considerable amount of time and assistance. These were predominantly white, although some striped fabrics were used, similar to ties worn today.
By the Regency era, cleanliness became an important factor - again the Beau's influence - and white fabrics demonstrated that the wearer’s clothing was clean. Regular bathing and the use of soap replaced the heavy use of perfume to disguise body odor.
The movement away from powder, perfume wigs, silks, lace, embroidery and stockings segregated the fashions of men and women to become more like our modern day understanding of menswear and masculinity, through the many changes during the Victorian and Edwardian periods.
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.
Robert Pattinson wears the Victorian version of the three-piece-suit
A contemporary three-piece suit. A Victorian groom wears the frock coat.
A groom’s attire today - a version of the frock coat.
Facebook: Maggi Andersen Author
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.