How To Undress Your Hero
Everyday Coat, Waistcoat, and Breeches on the 2nd Lord Vernon, 1767. Note the stockings and the buckled shoes.
It was quite fashionable in the early 18th century to contruct the three piece suit out of monochromatics colors and one type of cloth. Later on, each piece would be diffferent (and perhaps dandy) with the waistcoat made of the most expensive fabric, ususally velvet, silk, or satin.
Formal Coat & Waistcoat
The lavish embroidery on this three piece suit suggests court wear, although day wear for the rich would also include painstaking detail and the use of lush fabrics. As a rule, the more extravagent the suit, the more costly, and the more likely to be worn by the aristocracy. With great affluency came an abundance of ruffles and a freshly laundered state of dress not seen in the lower classes.
However, in a nod toward the simpler fashion plates produced during the French revolution (1789-1799)–not to mention the revolution’s ideals of equality–a pared down style was adopted by the gentlemen of England. The jabot gave way to the cravat, the ruffled sleeves disappeared. By 1785 wigs were already losing their popularity. In 1795, the heavy tax on powders all but killed the trend that had lingered for the past 135 years. The full bottomed wig of the early 1700’s at first gave way to a shorter style before disappearing completely in society (they were still, however, worn in the courts).
Men eventually started wearing their hair natural and shorter, which one can imagine was a godsend for the itchy scalp associated with the cumbersome hair-pieces By the regency period (1810-ish to 1820, although some say it extends to 1790’s despite the fact that Mad George was still on the throne), short hair a la the handsome George Fiztroy, the 4th Duke of Grafton, became the norm.
The 18th century was an era of great upheaval, politically and fashion-wise. Note the main changes in style: the coat cuts more and more away from the waist until by the late 1780’s, men no longer button their coats. The breeches get tighter, the hair becomes shorter, natural instead of powdered. The waistcoat’s arms disappear entirely, the frock skirt shortens, the collar becomes more defined. Near the late 1790’s, the jackboots we see in the Regency period are preffered over buckled shoes. Overall, the trend leans toward streamlined cuts as seen on Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Notice the lack of ornamentation, the abundance of black, the absence of lush fabrics.
Got the basics down? Now for the fun part. Let’s get on with stripping the 18th century man!
Undressing the Neck:
Men during this period either wore a jabot, a ruffled neck piece, as below . . .
Or a cravat like this one shown on Ralph Fiennes in The Duchess.
Coats are collarless in the first half of 1700’s; revers abound in the second half. During this period, fashion also saw the cut of the coat change, curving away from the midline until eventually we have the evolved Regency style, which is cut very high upon the waist. Then we have the waistcoast, sleeveless or with sleeves. . .
followed by the simple linen shirt, worn by the masses, and breeches (no fly before 1730’s; after we find a drop front where the center flap buttonned near the waistband). Later in the 18th century, the fit became tighter so as to seem completely fitted against the thighs, a second skin if you will. Popular fabrics were nankeen and leather.
Lastly, the stockings (we’ve already kicked off those dreadful buckled shoes, perhaps heels of red or black, perhaps not!) and the linen drawers similar to modern day boxers but longer. The stockings would be gartered at the knee.
And then finally, voila!
Or at least one can hope.
More on Men’s Fashions: Wigs & Wig Curlers
Interested in Ladies’ Fashions? Look at my post on Dressing the English Lady