The Writer’s Guide to 1800-1810 Men’s Fashion

Men’s fashions of the first decade of the 19th century were buffeted by the same winds of change that influenced women’s styles. The French Revolution had an outsized impact although the revolutions in Britain’s American colonies and Haiti influenced fashion as well. The Napoleonic War also had a large effect with various elements of military uniform seeping into civilian wear.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Influences

A distancing from the elaborate styles of the 18th century was due in large part to the shock of the French Revolution. Nobody wanted to look like an aristocrat after that. However, a move towards a more sober style was already underway, starting as early as the 1790’s.

The rise of the dandy in this period set the tone for men’s fashions throughout the century and still holds sway over men’s styles to this day. George Bryan “Beau” Brummel is considered the father of dandyism. The son of a minor noble, he rose to prominence with his exquisitely tailored coats, crisp perfectly tied cravats, and immaculate linen shirts. [1] The impression he made was so lasting that fifty years after his death, the English essayist Max Beerbohm wrote: “In certain congruities of dark cloth, in the rigid perfection of his linen, in the symmetry of his glove with his hand, lay the secret of Mr. Brummell’s miracles.” [2]

The restrained clothing of the English country gentleman had been gaining popularity in Britain and on the Continent. It was a rebellion against the ostentatious styles of the older generation as well as becoming the new standard for the professional man. [3]

“Beau” Brummel, the first dandy. Photo source.

Underwear

The shirt was the standard first layer and was made of either linen or cotton with a standing collar that skimmed the jawline. Ruffles decorated the front, giving way to pleats as the decade progressed. [4] Some men had begun to discretely wear a male version of the corset to achieve the flat-bellied fashionable silhouette.

The Suit

The suit continued to be the mainstay of men’s fashion although it underwent several changes from the elaborate and heavily embellished suits of the 18th century. Under the influence of the dandy, the decorations disappeared and sober colors such as black, navy, brown, red, and green became the standard. [5]

The coat could either be a formal dress coat or an informal riding coat. The dress coat either cut straight across at the waist or in the shape of an inverted U before flowing into the tails at the back. The high collar featured an M shape at the back which is unique to this period. [6] The riding coat sloped gently from the waist into the tails. Unlike the coats of the previous century, both styles were meant to be worn buttoned.

Waistcoats were either single or double breasted. They were also the only piece of a man’s wardrobe where he could indulge in color and pattern. [7] They were cut straight across with only a bit of them peeking out from under the bottom of the coat. They had tall collars and wide lapels.

Pantaloons extended to the calf or ankle where they fastened with ties or buttons and were cut on the bias to hug the body. They still had the fall front of the previous century. White or cream breeches were worn for formal affairs while dark colors were favored for daytime. [8] Beau Brummel is credited with inventing the instep strap to keep his pantaloons taut and straight. [9] During this period, trousers became acceptable as an informal option.

The gentleman on the left is wearing full dress with a dress coat, short breeches, low shoes, and bicorn. The other man is wearing the informal riding coat, long breeches, and jockey boots. “Le Beau Monde”, December 1801. Photo source.
Royal Navy captain’s uniform from 1801-1805.
Captain Gilbert Heathcote painted by William Owen. Photo source.

Outerwear

For outdoors, greatcoats were popular, often sporting contrasting collars of velvet or fur. A style of coachman’s coat called a garrick with three to five short capes attached at the collar was also worn. [10]

Accessories

The cravat was an essential accessory and was usually made of fine muslin or silk. Dandies were overly concerned by the proper wrapping and tying of their cravats and there were several instruction manuals that advised on the correct methods. [11]

Watch fobs or a decorated strip of ribbon or metal were still popular from the previous century. [12]

Hairstyles and Headwear

The wig fell out of fashion except among older men and specific professions such as lawyers, judges, and physicians. In fact, you will still see judges in the UK wearing white wigs to this day. The Duty on Hair Powder Act of 1795 introduced a tax that radically decreased the demand for hair powder. The abandonment of the wig was also championed by Beau Brummel. Hair was instead cut short and naturally tousled, a look known as à la Titus or Brutus in keeping with the classical influences of the decade. [13]

The top hat had replaced the tricorn as the dominate hat, coming in a variety of heights and shapes. It was originally made of felt, but silk began to be used around 1803. [14] The 18th century bicorn was still worn, especially as part of military uniforms. It was fashionable at formal evening events where it was carried under the arm. [15]

American painter, Washington Allston, with fashionably tousled hair. Self-portrait, 1805. Photo source.

Footwear

Boots were the most popular footwear and took after the military fashions of the day. Hessian boots, named after the German soldiers, had heart-shaped tops with tassels. The jockey boot, which had previously only been used for riding, also came into style. They were dark colored with a turned-down cuff of lighter colored leather. [16] Low shoes were worn at court.

Court Dress

Just like with the women’s styles, the court dress for men stayed old-fashioned and was the last holdout of the embellished and elaborate suits of the 18th century. This was true for the English as well as Napoleon’s court that returned to the styles of the ancien régime that had been wiped out by the French Revolution.

An elaborately embroidered court suit. Italy, c. 1800–1810. Photo source.

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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Payne 1865, pp. 452–455
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1795%E2%80%931820_in_Western_fashion#Men's_fashion
[3] https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1800-1809/
[4] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/865480300 pg 319. Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/26300526 pg 94.
[5] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/26300526 pg 91.
[6] Payne 1865, pp. 452–455
[7] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/865480300 pg 321. Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1115106379 pg 28-29.
[8] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/26300526 pg 93. Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/61302743 pg 14
[9] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/26300526 pg 94
[10] Payne 1865, pp. 452–455
[11] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/26300526
[12] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/243850605. Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1003643284.
[13] Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1115106379 pg 57. Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/966352776 pg 153.
[14] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 pg. 85-86. le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 pg. 112-113.
[15] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 pg. 322. Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 pg. 200, 226.
[16] Payne, p. 456.

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