The Writer’s Guide to 1850s Men’s Fashion
In previous decades men’s clothing had followed the basic shape of women’s fashion. Yet during the 1850s men’s styles remained slim despite the growing width of women’s dresses. Increasingly, men’s suits were looking more and more like those we see today.
For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.
The first half of the decade continued with the lean silhouette from the previous decade. Around 1855, everything became roomy and more relaxed. Sleeves became looser and coats became longer. Trouser legs became more generous and were either straight tubes or wide in the hips while tapering to the ankle.  Overall, the style became less restrictive and more comfortable.
The Rise of the Readymade & Casual
The adoption of the sewing machine had a massive impact on the availability of readymade clothing.  Most men’s items could now be purchased ready-to-wear from shops such as Brooks Brothers rather than going to a tailor and having a garment made. Sewing machines dramatically cut production time. A machine-sewn shirt could be turned out in a little over an hour compared to fourteen and a half hours if sewn by hand. A frock coat could be done in two and a half hours instead of seventeen. 
This availability also meant even lower-class men could dress well and in fact, there was some complaint that it was now impossible to tell the classes apart by their clothing. 
This decade also saw the invention of the blue jean by Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1850. Seeing the demand for hard-wearing work pants, he first began using the canvas he had originally intended for tents and wagon covers. Within a few years, he switched to denim dyed blue with indigo. 
The white cotton or linen shirt was still standard with either a standing or turned over collar. Detachable collars and cuffs became all the rage.  It is likely the men’s corset began to fade from use with the more relaxed silhouette.
The frock coat was still the standard for daytime formal events. It had full tails and a waist seam and was usually single breasted.  The morning coat, also known as the cutaway for how the waistline “cut away” sharply to the back, was another formal option. The sack or lounge jacket from the previous decade was popular for informal occasions. It lacked a waist seam, had small lapels, and was cut straight.  Although usually made in dark wool, summer coats of light-colored linen were worn in summer.
Vests were increasingly dark colored and matched the coat.  However, colorful or patterned silk vests were still seen. It became fashionable to leave the bottom button undone.
Trousers were often light colored for daytime although patterns such as stripes, plaids and checks were popular at the begin of the decade. The fall front had completely been replaced by the fly front and the in-step strap disappeared. Increasingly though, plain black was becoming more common. Breeches or pantaloons paired with tall boots were still worn for riding or country pursuits.
Eveningwear & Court Dress
The dress coat or tailcoat was necessary for formal evening events. At the beginning of the decade, it was still occasionally seen at formal daytime affairs but by the end it was limited to nighttime only.  Both the tailcoat and trousers were commonly black and paired with a white cravat.
The 18th century inspired embellished coat, waistcoat, breeches, white stockings, and buckle shoes were still required to be seen at court.
The greatcoat was still the standard outer garment.
Hairstyles & Headwear
The popularity of facial hair came roaring back during this decade and remained popular into the 20th century. I recommend you look at the photographs of the day to see the wide variety of styles.
Most hairstyles involved a side part. 
The top hat was still king and growing in height. It usually had straight sides.
During this decade, Locke’ of St. James, a London hatter, introduced the bowler hat. While it would go on to challenge the top hat’s supremacy in time, during this decade it was mainly worn by working class men.  Wide brimmed hats were also worn outdoors in sunny locals.
Flat black shoes and boots were common although some shoes did have a low heel.
Cravats slimmed out along with the rest of men’s styles. The four-in-hand knot that is still used for modern ties was popularized during this decade. Other styles included tying the cravat into a flat bow or a knot with the tails sticking out. 
Accessories such as pocket watches on chains and walking sticks or canes were still popular and practical.
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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.
 Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31-33. Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 104-105.  Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 358.  Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 92.  Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 85.  Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 356. McNeil, Peter and Vicki Karaminas, ed. The Men’s Fashion Reader. Oxford: Berg, 2009 p. 331.  Chenoune, Farid (1993). A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion. pp. 99–105. ISBN 2080135368.  Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 87.  Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370. Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31-34.  Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 105.  Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1850s_in_Western_fashion#Men's_fashion  Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 32.
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