The Writer’s Guide to 1840s Men’s Fashion

The sobering of fashion during this period impacted men’s styles as well. This decade leached most of the color and swagger out of men’s attire. The flamboyant influence of the “Prince of Dandies,” Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d’Orsay, was displaced by the restrained and carefully cultivated clothing of Prince Albert. An increasing amount of importance was placed on respectability. [1]

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

Silhouette

The fashionable figure for men followed that of women. This decade saw a lowering of the waistline and a sloping shoulder. Sleeves were now smoothly fit into the armhole, removing the puffed shoulder of the previous decade. [2] The dramatic curvy silhouettes of the 1830s gave way to a long line although with a rounded chest. Only the upper class clung to the hourglass figure.

Men’s clothing was available readymade unlike women’s clothing that was still mostly constructed at home or by a seamstress. [3]

An 1848 fashion plate showing the long, round-chested fashionable silhouette. Photo source.

Underwear

The standard was still a white linen or cotton shirt with a standing collar. They were almost always white. During this decade the dickey, a false shirt front, was introduced [4] Underwear consisted of simple, homemade, cotton or linen boxer-like garments. The upper class was still wearing the male corset to achieve the nipped in waist.

Day Dress

The frock coat was standard for daytime occasions. It was commonly wool in a dark color. [5] It had full skirts that ended at the knee and had a waist seam. The “newmarket” coat was introduced during this decade. A type of dress coat, it was an informal style with gradually sloping tails that began above the waist. [6] This coat was the ancestor of the later morning coat. The lounge or sack jacket was another new informal style. They did not have a waist seam and had a snug fit. [7]

Trousers were light-colored for daytime, although patterns such as stripes, plaids, and tweeds were seen. [8] Generally, they were not made of the same fabric as the rest of the suit, although “ditto” suits could be purchased. [9] The in-step strap was still in use but fell out of fashion by the end of the decade. The fall-front had completely disappeared, replaced by the fly front. [10]

Knee breeches and pantaloons were worn for riding and sporting, usually with tall boots. [11] Suits made of tweed were also popular for the country. [12]

Waistcoats or vests were worn for all occasions, and they were the last holdout of color and pattern in men’s fashion. They came in a rich variety, with silk being a popular fabric. [13] They could have shawl or notched collars with a deep V neckline and could be single or double breasted. They had lengthened from the previous decade, often ending in double points.

An 1843 fashion plate of day dress. The gentleman on the left and right are wearing “newmarket” coats while the man in the middle is wearing a frock coat. Photo source.
The lean sober style of the 1840s. Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant (1800–1886), 1st Lord Penrhyn of Llandega. Eden Upton Eddis (British, 1812-1901). Photo source.

Eveningwear

The dress coat or as it was increasingly being called, the tailcoat, was the standard for evening although it could also be worn for formal daytime affairs. They were still cut straight across at the waist with long tails in the back.

Trousers were commonly dark-colored.

1840s men’s eveningwear. Photo source.

Court Dress

The court required a dress coat, a white satin or black silk waistcoat, and knee breeches with white stockings and buckle shoes. Trim and embroidery reminiscent of the late 18th century was common. In fact, the whole look was a throwback to the previous century.

Outer Garments

The greatcoat was still popular for outerwear and was usually long and double breasted. The carrick coat was a variation of the greatcoat that sported shoulder capes. The paletot, a short loose coat without a side seam, was another option. [14]

A carrick coat. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

The tousled curls of the previous decades gave way to a more restrained straight side part. Being cleanshaven was the standard although facial hair made a reappearance at the end of the decade. [15]

The silk top hat was still the standard. During this period, it had straight sides and gradually increased in height, foreshadowing the stovepipe top hats of the 1850s. [16] Wide brimmed hats were used outdoors in sunny locals.

The stylish side part of the 1840s. Photo source.

Footwear

Men wore plain black shoes. The heel ranged from flat up to two inches (5.08 cms).

Accessories

The cravat was still a vital accessory and stood with the waistcoat as the only spots of bright color and pattern in a man’s wardrobe. It could be tied in a variety of styles. The stock, a stiff back-fastening neckband, was also worn. [17]

Men carried a variety of canes and walking sticks, some of which were quite decorative. However, they could also be handy in a fight against street ruffians. There is, in fact, an entire fighting style for canes known as bartitsu.

Gloves were necessary for most outings and essential for evening in keeping sweaty hands off women’s silk dresses.


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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 169-170.
[2] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[3] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 2, 19.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 144.
[4] Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion In History. Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1979.
[5] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 30.
[6] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 140.
[7] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 19.
[8] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 168-169.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[9] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 20.
[10] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 116.
[11] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[12] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 87.
[13] Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 p. 198.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31.
[14] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 343.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 114-115.
[15] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 23.
[16] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31.
[17] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 21, 63.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 118.

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