Following the American and French Revolutions of the late 1700s, an appreciation for democracy and for the common man spread over the Western world. This led to a plainer style of dress for the men of the 1800s than had been the fashion in the centuries before. Elaborate frills and fancy decorations were replaced by simple styles in basic colors. The coat was one of the central elements of the nineteenth-century man's everyday wardrobe, and, though there were many different popular styles, they all reflected the less showy fashion of the times.
During the early 1800s, the desired masculine shape featured a large chest and a small waist, and the coats of the day were designed to help achieve this figure. Shoulders and chests were often padded to make the top appear larger, and coattails were cut full to emphasize the slim waist. Depending on the wealth of the wearer coats were made of wool, cotton, or linen, and different fabrics were worn in different weather. The most popular coat styles of the first part of the century were the frock coat and the cutaway coat. Both were rather formal coats with a design based on the British hunting coat, cut up to the waist in the front with long tails in the back. The cutaway had a curved line along the side and rounded tails in the back, while the frock coat was cut in a straight line to a pair of pointed coat tails in the back. Frock coats also had a trim piece at the back waist with two buttons for decoration. The frock coat remained the most common coat for daytime wear into the 1890s. However, while bright reds, greens, and yellows were popular in the early 1800s, by the second half of the century most men wore only dark colored coats, such as black and navy.
The fitted silhouette of the coats of the early 1800s was replaced at midcentury by straight-cut jackets that hung loose from shoulder to hip. Another development during the second half of the century was the introduction of special clothing for sports. In 1837 the captain of the British ship H.M.S. Blazer outfitted his men in a short boxy double-breasted (two rows of buttons down the front) jacket. The new style caught on and "blazers" became popular wear for such sporting activities as boating and tennis. In 1890 the
Norfolk jacket was introduced; it was a hip-length loose coat which was meant to be worn with the knee pants called knickerbockers. The Norfolk and knickers, or knee-length pants, soon became popular casual wear for men and boys of all classes.
Men of the 1800s also had a variety of overcoats to choose from. For those who preferred an old-fashioned look, cloaks were still acceptable, such as the dramatic Garrick, which was a long velvet cape trimmed with fur. The Chesterfield was the most common modern coat, a long, straight-cut single-breasted coat, usually made of black wool with a velvet collar. Some stylish men wore buffalo or beaver fur coats that reached their ankles, while others preferred the dashing look of the Inverness, a sleeveless wool plaid coat with a short cape that hung from the collar around the shoulders.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Full crinoline underskirts were necessities of popular women's fashions of the mid-1800s. As skirt styles became fuller during the century, women were burdened by having to wear several layers of petticoats, or stiff, heavy, and uncomfortable, fabric underskirts. Petticoats were replaced by lightweight hoop crinolines, which allowed skirt styles to expand even further.
The word crinoline comes from the French word crin, meaning "horsehair," because early crinolines were made from horsehair and wool. Elegant ladies of the mid-nineteenth century wore very wide skirts, and stiff horsehair crinolines held the skirts out from the body. Some crinolines measured more than four yards around the bottom, and women wearing these skirts had to move carefully to avoid knocking things off of tables as they moved around a room.
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