The Writer’s Guide to 1750-1800 Men’s Fashion

Men’s clothing in the second half of the 18th century followed the trajectory of women’s fashion. The trends moved away from the elaborate and formal rococo styles, instead adopting a more informal mode known as “undress.” The half century also saw an expression of individuality become more important as well as the macaroni and dandy fads. The trendsetters of this period transitioned from the elites to the middle class. The Enlightenment revolutions of France, America, and Haiti also had a large impact on fashion.

Underwear and Casual Wear

Just as during the first half of the century, the main undergarment worn by all classes of men was the shirt. It was often made from linen although expensive cotton was becoming more common. It had full sleeves that gathered into a cuff that was either plain or sported ruffles. The neck slit and cuffs fastened with buttons and a stock was worn around the neck. The shirt usually extended to mid-thigh and the tails were tucked around the crotch in place of underwear. [1]

The banyan was still popular for wearing casually around the house. It became fashionable for men who styled themselves as intellectuals to have their portraits painted in their banyans, often with their own hair instead of a wig. [2]

A 1767 painting of Denis Diderot wearing a silk banyan over his shirt and waistcoat with his natural hair. Photo source.

1750-1775

The gap between formal and informal or “undress” styles became more pronounced. Informal fashions were better suited to the outdoor pursuits that had become popular. There was also a growing desire to appear effortlessly fashionable and composed.

The suit, made of a coat, waistcoat, and breeches, was still king through most of this half century. Over the decades some changes were made. The wide coat cuffs of the 1750s gradually shrank and the skirts became narrower as the gores were removed. Waistcoats became shorter, breeches became tighter. A new style, the frock coat, became fashionable in Britain and America for outdoor activities such as hunting. [3] Common footwear was still low buckle shoes worn with clocked stockings although boots were worn for riding.

Hair was becoming shorter as were wigs although both were usually still clubbed (tied at the nape) with a black ribbon. Powder and pomade were increasingly only worn for formal occasions. The cocked or tricorn hat was still the most popular.

The rise of Macaroni fashion began in the 1760s. Young elite men would travel across Europe, especially to Italy, in what became known as the Grand Tour. The tour was supposed to expose them to other cultures but usually was just an excuse to drink, party, and chase women. Young men returned wearing foreign fashions and often behaved in an extravagant and gender ambiguous manner. [4] The macaroni favored large wigs with small hats, delicate shoes, and short, tight breeches. By the 1770’s, men who had never been on the Grand Tour were imitating the fashion. The style was roundly criticized for being pretentious and inauthentic and satirized in the press. [5]

A man wearing a suit from 1761. He is not wearing a wig and his hair is not powdered. Photo source.
Henry Fane wearing a frock coat as part of his casual style. Portrait by Sir, Joshua Reynolds, 1762. Photo source.

1775-1789

This period saw the continued prevalence of casual styles of “undress,” especially in Europe’s colonies around the world. Dark, more muted colors became more prevalent and embroidery and fancy fabrics such as silk and velvet began to disappear. [6] Benjamin Franklin shocked the French court during his visit by wearing his plain Quaker outfit and no wig.

Suits were still the standard. Coats began to cutaway and had less full skirts. Waistcoats became shorter until they were waist-length and cut straight across the bottom. Breeches became tighter since they were more visible. Shoes were the same as the previous period as were hairstyles. The tricorn hat still enjoyed popularity although a new style of cocked hat known as the bicorn emerged, which was turned up only at the front and back. Narrow brimmed, tall, conical hats, the forerunner of the top hat, also came into fashion at the end of this period.

A 1789 painting of Elijah Boardman of Connecticut wearing a cutaway coat and waist-length waistcoat. Photo source.
A Royal Navy officer wearing a bicorn, 1786. Photo source.

1789-1800

Just like women’s trends, the French and American revolutions and a renewed interest in the classical aesthetic had a huge impact on men’s fashion. Darker, more somber colors became the standard. Overall, clothing became simpler with an increased emphasis on tailoring. The cutaway coats and waist-length waistcoats of 1775-1789 continued to be worn.

Breeches lengthened, first reaching to the top of the boot, then gave way to ankle-length trousers. Breeches became associated with the nobility, which nobody wanted to be part of in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In fact, the French rebels were known as sans-culottes or “the people without breeches.” [7] French citizens were pressured to incorporate the red, white, and blue of the flag into their clothing with the cockade being a popular way of doing this.

Overcoats, also known as greatcoats, became stylish. They often had several caplets attached at the collar, which was often a contrasting fabric such as fur or velvet. Boots replaced buckle shoes.

This period also saw the rise of the dandy, a man who placed great importance on style, impeccable tailoring, and immaculate outfits. [8] The father of dandyism was Beau Brummell, a middleclass Englishman. He pioneered the replacement of breeches with trousers, short hair, and the reintroduction of facial hair.

A French dandy from 1797. Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley, the Deputy for Saint-Domingue, by Girodet. Photo source.
Beau Brummell, the first dandy. Photo source.

Working Class Clothing

Lower class men wore the suit the same as the upper classes but made of sturdier and plainer fabric. Working men would often wear long trousers instead of breeches and short jackets. This was especially common among sailors. Smock-frocks were worn over a man’s clothes to protect them and were popular with shepherds. They were often embellished with decorative gathering known as smocking. Broad brimmed hats were worn without the sides cocked up. Shoes were sturdy and closed with plain buckles, if they could be afforded, and boots were worn when working with livestock.

A group of 18th century farmers. The one in the center wears a smock frock. Photo source.
An 18th century sailor. Photo source.

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.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here. https://rebeccashedd.com/contact-me/

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Ribeiro, Aileen: The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995, ISBN 0300062877.
[2] "Franklin and Friends". Retrieved 2006-03-19.
[3] Ribeiro, Aileen: The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995, ISBN 0300062877
[4] S. West, The Darly Macaroni Prints and the Politics of the Private Man, Duke University Press
[5] Chenoune, Farid (1993). A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion. ISBN 9782080135360.
[6] Ribeiro, Aileen: The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-300-06287-7
[7] Perl, Lila (1990). From Top Hats to Baseball Caps, From Bustles to Blue Jeans. New York: Clarion Books. p. 33. ISBN 0899198724.
[8] Payne 1865, pp. 452–455

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: