The Writer’s Guide to 1860s Men’s Fashion

The men’s fashions of the 1860s are marked by an increasing lack of tailoring. An oversized, even baggy silhouette became common. However, military officers, who often had their uniforms custom made by a tailor, wore more fitted styles.

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

Silhouette

The outsized civilian silhouette was characterized by loose coats with large sleeves and baggy trousers. Coats continued to have the dropped shoulder seen in the 1850s. [1]

A fashion plate of men’s fashions from 1863. Photo source.

Readymade & Casual

The American Civil War led to readymade clothing being mainstreamed. The manufacturing of clothing could be cut in half using a sewing machine. According to Brooks Brothers, the time to sew an overcoat could be reduced from six days to three with the help of a machine. [2] In the first half of the decade, the number of sewing machines in use doubled. [3] Not surprising considering the Union army was ordering 1.5 million uniforms a year. It also started collecting men’s measurements, which paved the way for standardized sizing. [4]

Underwear

Linen or cotton shirts were still the standard base layer. Increasingly, they had turned down collars instead of standing. Since the necklines of coats and waistcoats continued to rise, shirts became plainer since less of them was being seen. However, shirts worn for evening were often ruffled or embroidered and heavily starched. [5]

In 1868, the union suit was patented. Today, it’s more commonly known as “long johns.” Starting as women’s underwear, it became popular with men. [6]

An advertisement for the union suit. Photo source.

Daywear

The sack or lounge jacket was the most casual option for daytime. It was cut straight without a waist seam. It was usually made of dark wool although “ditto” suits, what we would call a three-piece suit, of light fabric were also worn. [7] The morning coat was popular for formal or business daytime events. It had a waist seam and tails that gently curved to the back. [8] It was often made of dark heavyweight wools or tweeds. The frock coat was a step above the morning coat in formality but was still acceptable for day. [9] It had a waist seam and full, knee-length skirts and was usually made in black wool. [10]

Trousers came in a variety of light and dark colors as well as patterns such as stripes and checks. However, as the decade continued, patterns became less common. [11] Suspenders or bracers were increasingly used to hold trousers in place.

Waistcoats or vests were cut straight across, were single breasted, and had shawl or notched lapels. [12]

A photograph of a man from 1863. Photo source.
A photograph of a man from 1865. Photo source.

Eveningwear

By this decade, the tailcoat was completely relegated to eveningwear. It was usually worn with a matching waistcoat and trousers and a white cravat.

Outer Garments

Several styles of greatcoat were popular including the chesterfield, the top frock, and the Inverness coat. [13] The chesterfield was usually embellished with braid and had a silk velvet collar. [14] The top frock and Inverness coats had attached capes at the shoulder. [15] A short, double-breasted jacket known as a reefer was also popular. [16] Cloaks were worn for evening. [17]

An 1863 fashion plate showing evening dress and an Inverness coat. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

Hair was usually short with a side part. A soft wave was considered attractive. [18] A variety of facial hair was popular including moustaches, beards, sideburns, and muttonchops. [19]

The top hat was king and reached incredible heights during this decade, known as a “stovepipe.” President Lincoln worn this style almost exclusively. However, the top hat was increasingly seen as a formal option and was gradually being relegated to evening. [20] The bowler was a popular informal choice. It came in black or brown for summer. [21] Flat crowned straw hats were also worn during summer.

In 1865, the Boss of the Plains hat was introduced by hatmaker John B. Stetson. It had a rounded crown and a wide brim that became popular with cowboys and settlers because of how practical it was.

A man’s hairstyle from the early 1860s. Photo source.
A reproduction of the Boss of the Plains. Photo source.

Footwear

There were several options for men’s footwear including low shoes or boots, which either laced or buttoned, mid-calf boots, and tall knee-high boots. Most styles had low to no heel.

Accessories

The cravat was still an essential accessory. It was usually loosely knotted and secured with a stickpin or tied into a bow. Gloves were required for evening, but men were starting to forego them during the day. Pocket watches on chains were common and practical. Walking sticks and canes were popular.


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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 209.
[2] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 208.
[3] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 356, 358.
[4] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 358.
[5] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370-371.
[6] https://www.realmenrealstyle.com/history-origins-mens-underwear/
[7] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 209.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 34-35.
[8] Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 135.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370.
[9] Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p 87.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 209.
[10] Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p 87.
Severa 209
[11] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 371.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 209.
[12] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 209.
[13] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 205.
[14] Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p 46.
[15] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 205.
[16] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 371.
[17] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 371.
[18] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 210.
[19] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 371.
[20] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 35.
[21] Byrde, Penelope (8 July 1979). Male Image: Men's Fashion in Britain 1300-1970. Great Britain: Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-0860-7.

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