During the Regency era, men’s fashion changed dramatically from the powered-wig peacocks of the late 1700s. Throughout the last decade of the 18th Century, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat, and breeches. However, changes were seen in both the fabric used as well as the cut of these garments, with each element undergoing stylistic changes. Some believe the growing enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits planned a role in the changes noted in dress. The elaborately embroidered silks and velvets characteristic of “full dress” or formal attire earlier in the century gradually gave way to carefully tailored woolen “undress” garments for all occasions except the most formal.
The later part of the 1700s saw coats exhibiting a tighter, narrower cut than seen in earlier periods, and they were occasionally double-breasted.Toward the 1780s, the skirts of the coat began to be cutaway in a curve from the front waist. Waistcoats gradually shortened until they were waist-length and cut straight across. Waistcoats could be made with or without sleeves. [Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995.] As in the previous period, a loose, T-shaped silk, cotton or linen gown called a banyan was worn at home as a sort of dressing gown over the shirt, waistcoat, and breeches. Men of an intellectual or philosophical bent were painted wearing banyans, with their own hair or a soft cap rather than a wig. [“Franklin and Friends,” http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/franklin/rush.htm] This aesthetic overlapped slightly with the female fashion of the skirt and proves the way in which male and female fashions reflected one another as styles became less rigid and more suitable for movement and leisure. [Hollander, Anne (1994). Sex and Suits. Kodansha. p. 53.]
A coat with a wide collar called a frock coat, derived from a traditional working-class coat, was worn for hunting and other country pursuits in both Britain and America. Although originally designed as sporting wear, frock coats gradually came into fashion as everyday wear. The frock coat was cut with a turned down collar, reduced side pleats, and small, round cuffs, sometimes cut with a slit to allow for added movement. Sober, natural colors were worn, and coats were made from woolen cloth, or a wool and silk mix. [1775-1795 in Western Fashion]
The early 1800s found men’s fashion toning down the colors and the construction, choosing to wear clothes that identified their place in society. Many credit Beau Brummel with the change from intricate embroidery and the overuse of color to a more polish look. the cut of the man’s coat and the quality of the fabric from which it was made became the standard of the day.
“As fashion promenaded into the Regency era (1800s – 1820s) and strolled into the Romantic era (1830s-1850s), men’s style stepped away from the once-popular look of a powdered-wig peacock and toward that of a notably understated yet impeccably dressed dandy. Gone were flamboyant vests, coats and pantaloons cut from rich fabrics in vivid colors adorned with elaborate embroidery. High heels worn with knee-length breeches and stockings also fell out of favor.
“Instead, the Regency gentleman began donning more practical fabrics such as wool, cotton and buckskin – shapes and drapes changed as well. Limited availability of fine textiles during the French Revolution, along with the fear of looking aristocratic enough to be delivered to the guillotine, were partially behind this swing toward a more sedate silhouette.” [Historical Emporium]
Romance author Isobel Carr tells us, “Coats come in several varieties. The terminology is confusing, and sometimes contradictory. On most of the coats in the Regency (shooting coats excepted) the pocket flap is for decoration only. The actual pocket (if there is one) is inside the coat, usually in the tail (as with the extant example on display at the Jane Austen Center in Bath). This pocket was sometimes reached from the outside of the coat, and sometimes from the inside (which seems inconvenient, to say the least). Later in the period (post 1813) a single breasted pocket, on the inside of the coat, began to be seen.
Frock coat was the term used for the skirted coat of the 18th century, and was again applied specifically to the skirted coats that became fashionable in the 1820s (and lived on well into the Victorian period). I have also seen this term used to describe the morning coats of our era (just to confuse things!).
One finds a rounded, sloping edge on what we term as “morning coats.” This edge can be found all the way down from the collar to the tail. Also the buttons were usually decorative only by Regency period. If they did button, it would have been the top 1-3 only.
18th century coat of the same shape (but fuller, esp. through the skirts), 1770s
Coat with pantaloons, c. 1800-1810 (note how much narrower the whole line has become)
The most common men’s coat of the Regency was the dress coat (also referred to as the “tail coat”). It was open and cut away in the front and had “tails” in the back. Most were single breasted, but double breasted dress coats were worn. Generally, these were made from wool of varying colors, but most often in a solid color. That being said, some were made of linen and of various patterns and plaids. Blue coats are invariably shown with brass/gold buttons, all others with self fabric covered buttons.
Fashion plate of Beau Brummell in a cutaway or tail coat
Cutaway coat and breeches, c. 1795
Cutaway coat, c. 1805-1810 (no waist seam = early)
1805-1810 coat inside out
Fashion plate from Costume Parisien, 1820. This one shows the stiff, open tailcoat.
Colonel Fitzwilliam in a recreation of a cutaway with a velvet collar and cuffs.
Wool example, c. 1815 (shown with buckskin breeches).
Men also had jackets worn purely for outdoor use. Shooting jackets were cut along the same lines as what we now call a “barn coat.” These were usually double breasted, and could be worn open, with the sides folded back on themselves or buttoned up.
Detail of a Gainsborough painting showing a chamois shooting coat (c. 1740s)
Extant chamois example, mid-late 18th century. Note the gold buttons and gold bullion trim.
Extant example, c. 1800-1830
SKIRTED FROCK COATS
At the end of the Regency period, the skirted frock coat appeared. It was the fashion of the early Victorian age.
Fashion plate from Costume Parisien, 1820. The man’s coat is long, nipped in, and buttons in a single row up the front. The waistcoat is spotted, and the cravat striped. The trousers have straps on the bottoms.
Men’s dark blue suit. Made in the United Kingdom. c 1840. This suit with its skillful tailoring is an excellent example of Nineteenth Century menswear. Suits at this time comprising a jacket, trousers and waistcoat often of non-matching colour and fabric as found in this example. The frock coat was the most popular style of coat for day wear for middle class and professional men, its full skirt modestly hiding the crotch and buttocks.
THE WELLINGTON COAT
The “Wellington,” named after the country’s hero of the Napoleonic Wars was popular in the 1820s. It was long, with a single row of buttons up the front, always shown with trousers. It seems to have been another style of morning coat.
Caricature (full figure) of William, Sixth Duke of Devonshire – “A View of Devonshire ~ “A View of Devonshire.” Right side view of figure in tan overcoat with brown collar, white trousers and shirt, black top hat and black shoes with spurs. A riding whip is held in the right hand. Figure stands on paved pathway.
Thanks to the lovely ladies and gents at the Beau Monde (the Regency-based chapter of the Romance Writers of America) for the discussion forum. I learn so much from you. Some of the images above came from suggestions from this group. Isobel Carr, in particular, shared a wealth of knowledge on the subject.