Victorian Fashion for Men
by Michelle J. Prima 

Prior to Victorian times, a man's social standing could be distinguished by his clothing.  A man of noble birth wore rich and extravagant clothes, while his lowlier counterparts wore coarser fabrics and less accessories.  As the industrial revolution created more wealth among the lower classes, the lines began to fade, and it was considered in poor taste to parade one's wealth in his clothing.  Therefore, by mid century, a man who was born into wealth looked very much like a man who had made his wealth.

Men's clothing was much simpler than women's, with dark colors to combat the soot and grime which collected in the cities and towns of England.  Let's look at what the well-dressed gentleman wore from the inside out.


Men's undergarments consisted basically of drawers with button closures.  Buttons made of ivory or pearl were common in upper classes. Drawers were worn long to the ankle, and made of silk.  During cold winter months, they might be made of wool.  The waistband was bound with tape and cut with six holes to secure the braces.  They were light-colored, often ivory or pink. 



Trousers were a dark color with a narrow cut.  They were long enough to cover his shoes.  As the century wore on, lighter colors and patterns became more common in day wear, such as plaids or stripes.  By the end of the century, these plaids and tweeds were carried into the jacket also for a matching suit.  As for evening wear, approaching the middle-to-end of the century, a man's trousers were black to match his coat. 


Shirts were cotton or silk, with tucking in the front.  Again, pearl buttons were common in the upper classes.  Turn-back cuffs were kept secure with cuff-links or buttons. 


This is one area where a gentleman could express his personality with some color.  Waistcoats were often made of silk, and could be of a patterned fabric, such as stripes or plaid, or they might be embroidered.  If a waistcoat was single-breasted, it was worn with a double-breasted coat.  If a waistcoat was double-breasted, it was worn with a single-breasted coat.


What we think of as a suit coat was a London gentleman's frock coat.  This was a dark color, and either double-breasted or single-breasted.  It was worn to the knees, and flared slightly below the waist.  By the 1860's, frocks were becoming less fitted, with the straight cut of today's suit coats.  And by the end of the century, a man's day wear was often a tweed or other patterned suit, with trousers and coat in the same fabric.

For more formal evening wear, a gentleman's wore a short coat with tails, or a frock coat cut back slightly at the waist to reveal elegantly embroidered waistcoats.  By the end of the century, the coats were tails only, and black to match his trousers.


A gentleman's overcoat was a loose, unfitted garment, worn in varying lengths from mid-thigh to just below the knee.  Short capes sometimes covered the shoulders.

For evening, a cape or other loose garment was common.


To complete his outfit, a man wore a tie or cravat. He wore lace-up shoes or button-up ankle boots.  He always wore a top hat and gloves while out in public.  Gloves were fawn or tan for day wear, and white for evening wear.  A gentleman was rarely seen without a walking stick or umbrella--the walking stick being more common in the middle of the century. 



Costume in Context: The Victorians by Jennifer Ruby, 1987.

Men's Fashion: The Complete Sourcebook by John Peacock, Thames & Hudson, 1996.

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Copyright 2007, M. Prima 

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