The Writer’s Guide to 1820s Men’s Fashion

The Romantic Movement impacted men’s fashion just as it did for women. Describing this decade, fashion historian Jane Ashelford wrote: “The Romantic movement stressed the creative power of the ‘shaping spirit of Imagination’ and was motivated by a desire to escape from the chilly neo-classicalism of the turn of the century and the harsh realities of the Industrial Revolution. It manifested itself in dress by an enthusiasm for extrovert personal display and theatrical fashions which, in the 1820s and early 1830s, led to men wearing their clothes with a swaggering bravado and panache.”

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

Silhouette

The fashionable male silhouette mirrored that of the ladies with wide sleeves and chest, a cinched in waist, volume at the tops of the trousers, and flaring coattails. [1] Collars on coats, waistcoats, and shirts were tall to frame the face. Padding was used to achieve the fashionable silhouette, most commonly in coats and stockings to create a shapely calf. [2] The styles of the decade were roundly mocked in the press and the satirical cartoons of the day. [3]

An 1826 fashion plate showing the stylish silhouette of the decade. Photo source.

Underwear

The base layer was a cotton or linen shirt with a standing collar. Daytime shirts had pleats or tucks on the front while those worn for evening had frills. [4]

Male corsets became increasingly common during this decade and were pretty much required to achieve the severely nipped in waist that was in vogue. [5] However, they were usually referred to as “girdles,” “belts,” or “vests” to distinguish them from female corsets and stays. They were made in several styles ranging from a fully boned corset to waistcoats with baleen boning that laced in the back. Male corsets had been in use since the late 18th century and become common among military officers.

The Suit

The style of suit was determined by the formality of the occasion and the time of day.

There were three main types of coats: the dress coat, the morning coat, and the frock coat. The dress coat was worn for formal occasions, both daytime and evening. It was cut straight across at the waist with tails in the back. The morning coat was a variation of the dress coat with front panels that gently curved to the back. The frock coat from the previous decade was a fashionable informal choice. All coats were usually made in dark colors, often wool, and were commonly single breasted. [6]

Waistcoats were usually a solid color, with white or black being worn for evening. Most had either a standing collar or a rolled shawl collar. [7] It was trendy to wear more than one in keeping with the fashionable large-chested silhouette. [8]

Trousers were becoming the standard daytime fashion, with pantaloons being commonly worn for evening events, paired with a black dress coat. [9] Breeches were only worn for evening, at court, or out hunting and paired with tall boots. [10] Trousers were still narrow but had widened a bit from the previous decade. They reached to the top of the shoe and were often secured with an in-step strap. [11] They closed with a fall front although the fly front appeared during this decade but it did not become widespread until the 1840’s. Voluminous cossacks remained in fashion from the previous decade. Lighter colors were worn for day and darker for evening.

A dress coat and Cossack trousers. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.
An 1827 morning coat. Note the in-step strap. Photo source.
A fashion plate depicting a frock coat. Costume Parisien, 1829. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

Short curly hair with sideburns was fashionable.

The silk top hat was king and came in several colors. [12] During this decade, the style was for the crown to curve outward from the brim.

Fashionable hair and sideburns. Conte Ninni painted by Francesco Hayez, 1825. Photo source.

Footwear

Besides the boots which remained fashionable from the previous decade, men wore low narrow shoes. The introduction of rubber to Europe and America paved the way for the invention of galoshes.

A closeup of the shoes in an 1826 fashion plate. Photo source.

Accessories

By far, the most important accessory for the well-dressed gentleman was his immaculately tied cravat. It was a large square of silk or muslin knotted in a variety of bows and knots. [13] The stock, which was borrowed from military uniforms, was also worn. It was a stiff band covered in velvet or satin that fastened at the back of the neck. Black and white were the standard colors, especially for formal affairs, but patterns were worn for casual events. [14]

Watches on fobs tucked in a specially made watch pocket were still the standard. [15] Gloves were worn for daytime and evening.


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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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 16.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 162.
[2] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 96.
Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 202-203.
[3] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 162.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 p. 191.
[4] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 94.
[5] Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 199-204.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 340.
[6] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 117.
[7] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[8] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 115.
[9] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 91-97.
[10] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 116.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341-342.
[11] B. Payne, "Men's Wear in the Nineteenth Century", History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century (1965).
[12] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 76, 85.
[13] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p.119.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341.
[14] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 94.
[15] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 p. 186.
Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 83.

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