The Writer’s Guide to 1700-1750 Men’s Fashion

Today I will be diving into the men’s fashions of the first half of the 18th century. Just like with the ladies, the styles during this period were extravagant, over-the-top, and heavily influenced by the French Court. Louis XIV of France, also known as the Sun King, dominated fashion until his death in 1715.

If you just need a basic run down of 18th century fashions, I encourage you to read my previous article.

Underwear & Casual Wear

The shirt was the only “underwear” worn during this period. It had a slit in the front to provide enough room to pull it over the head and was closed with ties or buttons. Sometimes ruffles were used to disguise the slit. A stock or cravat would be worn around the neck of the shirt. The cuffs were closed with either thread buttons or two metal buttons connected by a short light chain. They could either be a plain band or embellished with lace and ruffles. It was often made of linen although cotton was becoming more common although expensive.

Smallclothes or brais had fallen out of fashion in the 15th century and men would tuck the tails of their shirts between their legs.

A loose dressing gown known as a banyan was worn casually around the house either over the nightshirt or the shirt and breeches.

Sir Isaac Newton wearing a banyan. Portrait by James Thornhill in 1710. Photo source.

The Suit

The suit was the standard in men’s wear by this century and consisted of breeches, a waistcoat, and a coat. The suit could be made of matching fabric, called a ditto suit, or of different fabrics although the coat and breeches were often of the same fabric. Silk, velvet, and brocades were commonly used for suits among the well-to-do. The less wealthy would use wool and linen. [3] Embroidery was a common form of embellishment, usually on the edges, cuffs, and pockets of coats and the edges and pockets of waistcoats. The embroidery could be incredibly detailed and cover a large area of the garment.

The breeches were knee length with a front fall flap. They buttoned at the waistband with the fly buttoning over that. Button fly breeches did exist, but they were an older less-popular style. Most breeches had at least one pocket, most commonly two side pockets as well as a small watch pocket on the waistband. They were cut full in the back and gathered at the waist to provide enough room to sit and ride. The legs were narrow with a slit on the outside of each knee that was closed with buttons. The knee band fastened with either buttons or buckles and helped keep the stockings up.

The waistcoat started the century long, coming almost to the knee, per the style of the 17th century but over time it began to shorten. The bottom edge often had the corners cut off producing a V-shape at the front. The waistcoat was normally straight and fitted. Although it buttoned up to the neck the top 3-4 buttons were usually left undone to display the shirt ruffle and cravat. Most had pockets with large, decorated flaps. It was common for waistcoats to be made of the fanciest fabric and correspond but not match the rest of the suit.

The coat, also known as a justaucorps, was worn over the waistcoat. It was long, usually reaching to the knees with the front edge curving to the back. The back had a long vent running from the waist to the hem at the center back and two side-back pleats to achieve more volume. They were often stiffened with buckram or horsehair. [2] Although they had buttons they were usually not meant to be closed and the buttonholes were often fake. The armholes were tight, and the sleeves narrow, ending in a wide turned-back cuff. The coat also had pockets with large flaps that closed with three buttons.

Joseph Leeson, later 1st Earl of Milltown, wearing a blue coat, red waistcoat and breeches, and tall riding boots. Anthony Lee, 1730’s. Photo source.
A 1721 painting showing the back of a man’s coat with the vent and pleated gores. Photo source.

Shoes

Men’s shoes were square-toed and closed with a buckle. Some were flat while others had a low square heel. It became customary in England for a gentleman to paint his heels red if he had been to court and had an audience with the king. The most common color was black, but shoes were made in a variety of other colors and pastels were prevalent in the French court. Buckles could be plain or heavily embellished with jewels. [1]

Stockings were silk, wool, or cotton and came in a wide variety of colors. A decorative design at the ankle known as clocks was popular.

An English gentleman wearing shoes with elaborate buckles and white stockings with his highly decorated suit. 1738 portrait by William Hogarth. Photo source.

Accessories

A variety of accessories were carried by men including handkerchiefs, canes, and snuffboxes. Watches were popular because they were still a novelty. They were usually attached to a decorated strip of ribbon or leather called a watch fob that would hang over the top of the watch pocket.

Hairstyles & Headwear

The wig was common across most social classes except the poorest. They were styled with hard and soft pomatums or pomades and powder. White was the most popular powder color, but other pastels were used. A series of horizontal tight curls above the ears known as buckles were a popular style. Later into the half century, wigs and a man’s natural hair were pulled back into a low ponytail called a club with a black ribbon. Starting in the 1720’s, a black silk bag covered the club.

Tricorns or black felt hats with the brim turned up or cocked on three sides was the most popular headwear for all classes.

A 1736 painting of a man with his long brown hair or wig tied back into a club. Photo source.

Working Class Fashion

Thanks to the new fashion magazines, the lower classes could follow the latest styles. They were limited however by the quality of fabric and embellishment they could afford. Although knee-length breeches were the popular style most working men wore more practical ankle-length trousers. They also favored short jackets which stayed out of the way better than the long coat. Boots were worn by those working with livestock with simple sturdy low shoes worn by the rest.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Warren, Geoffrey (1987). Fashion Accessories Since 1500. New York: Drama Book Publishers. pp. 62, 67.
[2] Byrde 1979
[3] Russell, Douglas A. (1983). Costume History and Style. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. p. 281. ISBN 0-13-181214-9.

2 Comments on “The Writer’s Guide to 1700-1750 Men’s Fashion”

  1. Whats up are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you need any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

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