What Did People Wear In The 1800s In America – So much value is placed on the usual evening wear that it could almost be classified as a uniform. The American Gentleman’s Guide to Courtesy and Fashion (1857)
When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Striving for respectability and homogeneity, the wealthy emerging middle class was heavily influenced by the celebratory Protestant movement of the time. As a result, the impractical dandyism of the Regency leisure class was replaced by a functional and somber style of fashion favored by those men who, in the words of one historian, “wanted to appear as serious and staid as the banks and factories they owned”. It was thus that the concept of the gentleman trumped the concept of the courtier, leading to TheTailor and Cutter declaring in 1878 that “clothing in our day is no longer the indicator of a man’s social standing.”
What Did People Wear In The 1800s In America
The general fashion hierarchy of the regency of dressing and undressing continued into the Victorian era. A popular etiquette guide of the time summarized: “To be undressed means to be dressed for work and ordinary occupations,” while “dressed” meant to show respect for society by wearing the garments “that society sees as suitable for certain occasions”. ”
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New to this era was a clearer division of the “dresses” category into morning wear and evening wear. Morning wear was formal day wear. Evening wear—often called “tails”—remained the pinnacle of patrician attire, and the practice of dressing for dinner was essential for men striving for refinement. Taught Routledge’s Etiquette Manual:
Wear only black in the evenings, even if only with your own family, and be sure to put on a tailcoat as conscientiously as if you were expecting visitors. If you have sons, raise them to do the same. It is the observance of these little details of domestic etiquette that distinguishes the true gentleman.
Thanks to Britain’s global influence, this fashion practice has been adopted around the world. America’s Brahmins, then among the elite, strove to incorporate the refined traditions of their previous rulers to bring an old-fashioned civility to their fledgling country. The hugely popular American etiquette book Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society states:
True evening dress, accepted as such throughout the world, eventually, though not without difficulty, firmly established itself in this country. As culture has progressed, we have become more cosmopolitan, and the cosmopolitan evening wear, recognized everywhere from industry to pole, has gained undisputed supremacy.
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However, the basic etiquette of this new costume remained hidden from Americans. To the author’s dismay, most of her countrymen did not understand that evening wear was meant to be worn in the evening, and instead considered it appropriate for any formal occasion, day or night.
In theory, the new Gala Guard retained the old sub-hierarchy of relatively informal formal wear, general evening wear, and the most formal ballroom and operatic attire. However, differences between strata were increasingly minimized due to the new era’s emphasis on uniformity and practicality. “Evening attire is the same regardless of the type of evening entertainment,” Sensible Etiquette said. “The theory is that a gentleman dresses for dinner and is then equally prepared for visits, visits to the opera or balls.”
With the era spanning more than 60 years, there is no such thing as a typical formal wear for Victorian men. Instead, there are three fairly distinct phases:
The following review looks at the evolution of individual garments over the first four decades of this era, as dress codes gradually became more streamlined. Unless otherwise noted, the trends described here apply to both the UK and America.
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Short coats all cut in a full-length coat silhouette in 1871 – note the choice of top hat with a short coat
The more subtle and uniform the evening outfit became, the more important the need to implement it well became. Superb materials, expert tailoring and the latest styling were now the only attributes that could define the dress of a true Victorian gentleman.
First of all, the tailcoat – also called “address coat” at that time – continued to be used for both the evening dress and the morning dress. By the 1860s it was only worn in the evenings.
As in the Regency era, various dark colors were initially acceptable. The popularity of the blue version with gilt buttons and the brown version waned over time until, according to The Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion, by 1853 “the proportion of black evening dresses to all other colors was twenty to one”. There were several reasons for this increasing allure of black during the Victorian era: the aforementioned somber Protestantism of the time, the pragmatism of living in the soot-covered cities of the Industrial Revolution, and an ordained year of mourning following the death of the Queen’s husband in 1861.
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According to The American Gentleman’s Guide to Politeness and Fashion, vanity also played a role in men’s preference for black. It stated that it had a slimming effect and was a sophisticated look. “It is a great compliment for any man to be told that black suits him, and it is probably thanks to this quality that black is the quintessential choice for evening or prom dresses.”
Dress coats continued to be single or double breasted at first, and while morning dress coats were now designed to be buttoned up, evening coats were still designed to be worn open to show off the front of the waistcoat and shirt. This made the buttons of the double breasted purely decorative and by the 1870s the most common style of evening dress had two buttons on either side of the front.
The V and M collars continued to be popular in the early Victorian era, but the latter faded from history by the 1870s. Silk lapel trimmings appeared in the 1860s, which the menswear author Nicholas Antongiavanni attributes to the envy of civilian men who wore their tailcoats with heraldic finery or a military uniform. Unlike today, the trim did not cover the entire lapel, but ended at the edge of one of the many buttonholes that were common on lapels at the time.
A stylish alternative in the 1860s was the turtleneck (shawl collar), but this fell out of favor by the early 70s. Velvet collars remained another fashionable option well into the late Victorian period.
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The sleeves of dress coats often had false cuffs, sometimes of velvet, to match the collar. Button trimmings first appeared in the 1870s. The pockets remained hidden in the tailcoat, because “in company,” says the Handbook of the Man of Fashion, “as little as possible should be carried in the pockets of the coat.”
The length of the laps and the height of the waist continued to vary according to the whims of fashion.
The waistcoat was the last evening dress to retain its extravagant Regency flamboyant. At first it was made of elaborate materials such as silk, satin, velvet and cashmere and was often decorated with embroidery. By the 1860s it was generally made of cloth or silk and limited to black or white. This choice of waistcoat color was one of only two variations permitted in Victorian evening dress (the other being the color of the tie), although British etiquette authorities advised that white was unfashionable and should only be restricted to the most formal occasions.
Whether ebony or ivory, evening vests were always single-breasted. They were progressively lower cut and had a V-shaped opening until the U-shape emerged in the 1870s. Conversely, the waist kept getting higher, so that in the 1850s the bottom was mostly cut straight.
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The shawl collar was typical of the waistcoat and from mid-century there were two pockets. The buttons were either covered in fabric or gilded or set with fancy stones. A trouser loop was introduced on wedding and evening waistcoats in 1840 and up to its time was a sign of quality waist coverage. The underwaistcoat, a Regency novelty, died out in the 1850s because of the already mentioned shortened waist. (Later period illustrations show what appears to be a panty vest, a pseudo-undervest now more commonly associated with morning wear.)
At first, pantaloons—close-fitting and short enough to expose the foot and ankle—were the norm, and pants were only allowed for less formal evening occasions. Over time, trousers became acceptable at all evening events, although they were still more form-fitting than daytime trousers. Introduced in the Regency period, foot straps fell out of fashion by the 1840s.
Originally evening trousers were made of black kerseymere or sometimes cashmere, but by the 1860s they were being made from the same wool as tailcoats. Similar to tailcoats, silk trimmings were introduced in the 1850s, and breeches also began adding military-inspired bands to the outer seams in the 1850s.
Ruffled shirt fronts became increasingly rare throughout the Victorian era as delicate pleats became the decoration of choice. By the 1850s, plain fronts were the most common style, and required a full bust to give an otherwise very loose-fitting shirt a wrinkle-free appearance. At the same time, grommets appeared to accommodate rivets, and starched cuffs made cufflinks more fashionable.
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Stiffened stand-up collars appeared in the 1860s, which revealed wings in the decade that followed. Turn-down collars were occasionally seen in the 1860s and early 70s.
Ties in April 1874 – note the gentleman on the left in a black tie outfit with a shorter jacket and top hat – very similar to the tuxedo we saw in the 1880s
The usual evening tie was initially a white tie, then by the 1860s a white “tie” or bow tie, all made of washable material. In America there are black ties
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