Fashion for the Regency Gentleman ~ Cover that manly chest!
Let’s start with a brief background–
Gentlemen’s fashions of the Regency Era – broadly 1795-1825 – arise from the equestrian clothing of English “country gentlemen” of the late 18th century, and a melding with the radical new designs which came out of the French Revolution. To us the clothing of the era appears to be conservative and very formal, but in actuality it was an abrupt departure from the prior century and a half during the Baroque and Georgian periods.
For example, breeches, the standard for some two centuries, were gradually abandoned in favor of pantaloons and trousers. Bright colors, matching suits, and gaudy accoutrements gave way to the new concept that a gentleman of taste ought to be subtle and subdued. We can thank dandy Beau Brummell, in large part, for ushering in this ideal, thus leaving brilliancy in color and accessories to the ladies, an idea generally held to this day. The images below reveal what I mean:
Lace, embroidery, and other embellishments disappeared during the Regency. Cut and clean tailoring was the sign of quality and value. The “dandy” arose in the 1790s as the term for a clothes-conscious gentleman who preferred refined, elegant, sober attire over the “fop” or “macaroni” who went for extravagant ostentation.
The misconception that a dandy was a powdered, effeminate caricature is untrue. Being flamboyant or attracting attention was not the goal. Being understated with immaculate cleanliness of person and clothing was a hallmark of the dandy, hence the abandonment of the wig in favor of cropped hair. It was a move toward a classical silhouette, just as seen with women’s fashion. To the left is a drawing of Beau Brummell.
Like everything in history, especially fashion, it was constantly in flux and varied from place to place and person to person. Design “fashion plates” and the magazines of the day give us ideas, as I am sure they did to the Society folk who wanted to look as trendy as possible. Those gowns and garments that have survived aid in painting the image of a Regency Era lady and gentleman. Personally I have always wondered if people 200 years in our future will grab hold of a collection of vintage year-2014 Vogues and think that is how everyone dressed!
The tailcoat was the standard article of clothing for any man of at least middle class standards. It was high in the back of the neck, fitted in the back, chest and abdomen, had tails reaching the knee, and the wide “M notch” lapels so distinctive of the period. Either single or double breasted, it could be worn open or closed, but always so that the waistcoat could be seen beneath.
The tailcoat was usually made of wool though sometimes of linen for warm climates and seasons, and sewn with few seams. There were many color options for daywear but for evenings conservative darker ones such as black and navy were most fashionable. Buttons could be self-fabric covered or of brass or pewter. For some reason, blue coats were always outfitted with gold buttons, while all other colors had self-fabric buttons. Go figure.
Never called a “vest” – let’s get that straight right away! The waistcoat was made from wool, linen or silk and could be a solid but was often a brocade, stripe or pattern. It had a high, stand-up collar and sometimes wide turn-back lapels, especially earlier in the period. The waistcoat extended below the front of the tailcoat and covered the top of the trousers or breeches. It was most often single breasted but could be double breasted as well, with a small pocket to hold the man’s accoutrements.
The shirt was usually of linen or cotton, loose fitting with off the shoulder sleeves and a high standing collar that extended up sometimes even above the jaw line. The shirt had a slit in the front and pulled on over the head. It fell to mid-thigh or even knee length, tucked in to the trousers and serving as the undergarment. Ruffles at the sleeves were unpopular during this period but ruffles at the chest were still an option.
Fashion for the Regency Gentleman ~ Inexpressibles!
I am carrying on the lesson beginning with clothing designed to cover the lower portion of a man’s body. Indeed, those areas of a gentleman’s anatomy that a true lady would never look at or even think about! *gasp
Polite company referred the these garments as “inexpressibles” if they talked about them at all. Clearly the gentlemen did not know this fact about the fairer sex since they went to a great deal of effort to accentuate their assets, as you can see in this drawing of fashion maverick Beau Brummel.
Breeches remained the standard, but were gradually fading out during this period. They were the proper item for evening wear and very formal occasions. Breeches did not disappear entirely for day wear until about 1825, and even then were worn for riding.
Breeches could be made of wool, cotton, linen or silk with the latter best for the most formal events. They tended to have a higher waist in front and a little less baggy seat than the late 18th century version. They had a drop front, or “fall,” that could be “broad” or “narrow” depending on the width, were fitted tightly in the thighs, and buckled, laced, or buttoned just below the knees.
Pantaloons and Trousers
Pantaloons were popularized early in the 1790s by French revolutionaries. They had a drop front, were anywhere from mid-calf to ankle length and were worn exceedingly snug. Trousers reaching to the ankles became commonplace. They too were snug, had a high waist that came up at least to the naval, fall fronts, and often had foot straps to keep them tucked tightly in place.
Each of these lower body garments – called “inexpressibles” by delicate females – were held up by means of braces (suspenders). Braces fit over the shirt and crossed in the back, hidden underneath the waistcoat. Fabrics could be of wool, linen, cotton, nankeen, or buckskin. False calves were worn by the lesser man as a padding to render a more muscular physique.
Cossacks were a Russian inspired trouser, very loose fitting all around, and quite comfortable, if not so stylish. The image to the left shows the mannequin wearing an 1820s ensemble of cossack trousers with the foot straps visible (in real life they would be tucked inside the shoe) with a double breasted tailcoat and accessories.
Shoes, Boots and Stockings
As much as we adore the vision of a man in boots, Regency gentlemen wore light slip on shoes most of the time. These pumps were leather, low-heeled shoes, typically black, some with buckles or laces but usually not, that fit below the ankle. Half-boots, more common for women, were worn by some men as well.
Do not despair, however, since boots were worn! As the Era progressed boots even for casual wear grew more common. Boots were high and of black or brown leather. Hessians with their tassels dangling from the front was a style of boot derived from the standard military wear. The low heel and pointed toe was perfect for mounting a horse and fitting into a stirrup. Wellingtons were similar to Hessians, but made from softer calfskin, cut closer to fit around the leg, and stopped at mid-calf. The taller riding boots that we see in the movies and many portraits of the era were the standard-bearer for a man’s country, outdoors footwear.
Stockings were long and of wool, cotton or silk. Always white.
Fashion for the Regency Gentleman ~ The Cravat!
For some reason ladies tend to get all swoony over the cravat. Hmm…. I am thinking it has to do with the taking off of the cravat, but perhaps that’s just me!
Before I get to the cravat, click the link below to watch the video. It is one of my favorites, not only because the clips are from movies and TV shows I love, but because it is a fabulous montage of men’s fashion in several eras. See how well you can detect the subtle differences in small fashion details, such as how the neckcloths are tied. Even in the stark variances from the Elizabethan fashion as depicted in The Tudors you will note some similarities. Fascinating, I think!
Did you love it? I bet you did! Now, on to the cravat~~~
The cravat is a neckband or neckcloth, the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie.
Prior to the 16th century men wore starched, pleated ruffs around their necks, these white linens strips almost a bib or napkin type of garment whose main purpose was to minimize soiling of a doublet or hide the not-so-clean shirt underneath. It could either be attached to the shirt collar or a detachable “falling band” that draped over the chest. By the end of the 16th century the ruff had evolved into a “band” type neckcloth that was long and wrapped around the neck.
The true cravat, however, originated in the 1630s with – Are you ready for this? – the Croatians! Shocking, I know!
So what is the history of the cravat?
Like most men’s fashions between the 17th century and World War I, it was of military influence. In the reign of Louis XIII of France, Croatian mercenaries were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duc de Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. The unusual, picturesque scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats’ necks were a part of Croatian battle dress and their only form of identification because uniforms did not exist at the time. The cloths that were used ranged from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers to the fine linens and silks of the officers, but in all cases they were draped and tied loosely without the need of heavy starching. On the battlefield this was certainly an advantage! They were elegant and easy to wear, plus they were more visible beneath the thick, long hair men wore in those days.
The French were fascinated by the look and readily switched from old-fashioned starched linen ruffs to the new loose linen and muslin cravats. The king began wearing a cravat because it was more practical and beautiful than the high-lace collar the French wore, and when a powerful monarch donned the cravat a new fashion became popular! The court even employed a cravat-maker (cravatier) who delivered a few cravats to the king on a daily basis so he could choose the one that suited him most.
For your etymology lesson portion: The word “cravat” derives from the French “cravate,” a corrupt French pronunciation of “Croat.”
Right image: 1639 lace cravat
On returning to England from exile in 1660, Charles II imported with him the latest new word in fashion:
“A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them”. Randle Holme, Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688
Cravats during this time were made of lace, primarily, as a sign of one’s wealth and prestige, but also linen, cotton, or silk. Nearly always the fabric was then adorned with ribbon, tassels, embroidery, etc.
For a short time the cravat was replaced with the military “steinkirk” which remained popular for men and women from the 1690s to 1720s. After that came the “stock.” Starched to within an inch of its life the stock grew to heights of such extremes that it reached the ears and were held in place by whalebone stiffeners, and one couldn’t turn their head without moving one’s whole body. Both the stock and steinkirk were demure and minimal compared to the voluminous, fancy cravats of the prior decades, but in time the stock grew ridiculous in its stiffness and severity, leading to an eventual softening to the fabric with a looser styling. And of course there were always those men who desired a bit more style, adding on “jabots” and “solitaires” of lace to fancy it up a bit. Fashion eventually went in a full circle, the macaronis reintroducing the cravat with a vengeance in the 1770s. They elaborated the manner of knotting it as indication of a man’s taste and style, and once again added lace and other frills.
Enter Beau Brummel. Are you getting the idea that this friend of the Prince Regent was important to Regency fashion? I sure hope so! He advocated well-cut, tailored clothes in what has essentially become known as the “British look.”
He was particularly adamant about the whiteness of his cravats. As he made his daily rounds from the park, various gentleman’s clubs and fashionable homes, Brummel would stop and change his cravat as often as three times a day. He preferred neck cloths that were lightly starched and carefully folded. Intricate knots and ties became an art form with some 85 different ways to design the cravat noted in books, such as Neckclothitania published in 1818 as a somewhat satirical document that nonetheless was important as a guide to 14 popular ways to tie a cravat with careful illustrations. It was also the first recorded incident of the cravat referred to simply as a “tie.”
Another book popular was The Art of Tying the Cravat published in 1828 which you can read on Google Books. In most cases during the Regency proper, the cravat was white. Black was seen for formal, evening wear, and the occasional colored cravat popped up, but white was the preferred choice until the latter years of the 1820s and into the 1830s.
The images have been spaced randomly for your enjoyment. There are many more examples of cravats, and men’s fashion, on my Pinterest boards.
Fashion for the Regency Gentleman ~ Finishing Touches!
A very tall, straight top hat with a narrow curled up brim was the height of fashion during much of this period. These were called beaver hats due to being made of beaver skin, or “toppers” or simply top hat. The curve, slant, and size of the brim varied, as did the height of the hat. Typically black, top hats could be of any color.
The bicorn was popularized as a military fashion and was worn by Napoleon, though some civilians wore it too. Many specialized types of headwear were in use as well such as the flat, round hats of sailors, the shakos of soldiers or the coonskin caps of American frontiersmen.
Men’s hairstyle of the Regency Era was short to medium at the sides and back but longer on top where the hair was often brushed upwards for height. Volume and curl was the key! If one was follicly-challenged the hair was ruffled with wax, twisted, and fluffed into a wild style. Short curly bangs and curls at the sides of the face above the ears were also fashionable. Some men did wear their hair long, particularly on the European Continent. Sideburns became increasingly common, but virtually all men were clean shaven. Mustaches were worn by a few military officers, but beards and goatees were unheard of. Wigs were only worn by the older gentlemen who clung to their ways.
Accessories, or Accourtements
Gloves, canes, pocket watches, watch fobs, snuff boxes, and wallets of leather or fabric all enjoyed wide usage. Rare was the item owned by a wealthy gentleman not of the finest materials and adorned lavishly. Swords were not carried by civilian men by the late 1700s, although the smart man did not travel without protection. Blades were frequently hidden inside walking sticks, and small pistols were kept in jacket pockets.
Long overcoats, or greatcoats, with collar and lapels styled similarly to the tailcoat, were worn for cold or inclement weather.
Nightshirts, usually, would have been the same shirt worn all day long tucked into pants or breeches. This long shirt also filled the role of underwear for men, as drawers were still decades away from popular acceptance. Some men did wear hats to sleep in, primarily for warmth.
When lounging about or eating a casual breakfast, a “nightgown” was worn over the nightshirt and trousers were added. Essentially this “nightgown” is what we think of as a “robe.” These nightgowns were heavy or lightweight fabric, depending on the time of year, with pockets on the inside, styled and sewn in a variety of ways but always long. A “banyan” was another name for this type of garment.