Most of my novels are set during the first two decades of the 1800s. That era is roughly referred to as the “Regency” due to the nine-year rule of the Prince of Wales as Regent while his father King George III was incapacitated from mental illness. Technically the Regency Era began in 1811 and ended in 1820 when George III died and the Prince Regent became King George IV, and was a mere sliver in the broader Georgian Period spanning 1714 to 1830. Taking the looser interpretation of the Regency, the era refers more to the tone, style, and philosophy of those early decades, all of which were starkly different from the decades before 1800.
My eighth novel, The Passions of Dr. Darcy, opens in 1789, and although George Darcy spends the bulk of his time in India rather than England, the influences were from a period well before the Regency. So what was different? A ton! But fashion is the most fun, right?
Period portraits or preserved garments are the best way to get the visual across. I have a plethora of both on my Pinterest boards.
The man chosen to grace the cover of The Passions of Dr. Darcy is not only a near-perfect vision of George Darcy, he is an excellent example of 1818 style. In truth, this is off-the-mark for a young George in late-1780s. For this post, however, the portrait is a fine contrast for men’s fashion in the final three decades of the 1700s.
A Georgian man’s suit consisted of the same three basic pieces as in the Regency, and still today for that matter: waistcoat (vest), jacket, and breeches (pants). Rarely were the three pieces not matching in color and style. Vivid, bold colors were normal, but whether colorful or a subdued brown or cream, jackets and waistcoats were highly embellished. The over-the-top braiding of the mid-1700s had fallen out of fashion, but compared to the minimalist Regency, the 1780 man’s garments were fancy. Simplicity was beginning to creep in as 1800 approached, but primarily for casual, county-wear only. Formal, city-style remained ornate until well into late 1800s to 1810.
Jackets, sometimes called “frockcoats” especially when worn for hunting or other casual pursuits, exhibited a tighter cut than previously seen. The tails of the jacket fell to the knees, and the front edge curved toward the back in a smooth line. Buttons were large and either fabric covered or fancily designed, as were the buttonholes too. Only the buttons across the chest were functional, those along the waist and further down for decoration.
Although breeches with white stockings were the standard leg coverings, pantaloons existed and were worn by some. The color matched the jacket and waistcoat. Suits were made to be a single ensemble, and not necessarily to mix and match.
Waistcoats were starting to shorten in length, but typically fell well below the waist with the V-angle right at the groin region. Keeping the jacket buttoned was standard, hence the longer waistcoats so that all the pretty details would be seen. Not until the very late 1790s did the jackets sharply cut horizontally above the waist, sometimes at mid-chest, with the straight coattails hanging from the sides. This is when waistcoats really took a turn and shortened to the breeches waistband level, as seen in the example below right.
Neckcloths were a must, of course. Strangely, during the elaborate clothing periods up to 1790 the frilly jabots, folded stocks, and colored solitaires – all which tended to be small and simply tied – were the norm (see the image below). Then, as the main garments slowly veered toward a restrained appearance, the cravat again took over. The twisting, draping, and tying reached increasingly ridiculous levels as the century flipped into 1800. White for a neckcloth was the most common color, but not exclusively as it tended to be during the Regency.
I am sure you also noted in the images shared that men’s hairstyles were about the same. Wigs were common all the time, and an essential at formal affairs. If a wig was not worn, the hair was powdered, slicked back off the forehead, curled at the temples, kept long, and tied into a pigtail with colorful ribbons. Young or old, this was how it was done with very few exceptions. After the French Revolutionists condemned wigs and powdering as another symbol of the nobility, the style began to wane amongst the young in England as well. Not until very late in the century (note the 1796 brothers above) did the trend for looser, tousled hair gain popularity. Still, it would be another two decades before it was only the oldest gentlemen who clung to the old ways.
Men’s shoes had heels, low heels, but heels just the same. Big buckles and other decor were common, and the shoes were often as brightly colored as the suit.
Yes, I could go on and on about men’s fashion! What did you think? We love Regency style, no doubt, but there is something special about the incredible detailing and unique colors of the earlier Georgian period that is appealing. Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!