Stripping the 18th Century English Male

How To Undress Your Hero

The basics:

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!

(Attribution: By After Polykleitos (Ophelia2) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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

9 thoughts on “Stripping the 18th Century English Male

  1. All my romantic heros start out as Mr. Darcy, Its only during the second revision that they take on an persona of their own. But, does your man in the jabot look a little like Kevin Spacey, or is that just my imagination?

    I’m reading an interesting book right now called The Politics of Fashion in 18th Century America as part of my research on fashions during the American Revolution. The jury is still out on whether I’m going to find it useful as it seems to be heavily influenced by the lens of an 21st century feminist. I think the opinions offered may be a bit too skewed by the modern view, but I’ve really not read far enough to know for sure.

  2. I love this! What an alluring way to set up a post about fashion. Is that Benedict Cumberbatch in the white wig? What movie is that from?

    1. That is Benedict Cumberbatch, playing William Pitt in Amazing Grace. Good eye! He looks a bit different than normal there, at least to me. In addition to being an all around interesting film, it has many great costumes. I especially love Romola Garai’s eggplant colored dress, but the men’s styles are pleasing (and accurate!) as well.

  3. “Men during this period either [strike “either” and replace it with “never”] wore a jabot”. The jabot was likely invented either in the 1970s or 1870s for one of the centennial celebrations. What gentleman tended to wear was a stock with ruffles sewn to the bosom slit of their shirt.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Paul. I understood jabot to be an early 19th century word, not strictly correct terminology for the 18th century given its etymology but the simplest explanation for ruffles around the neck. Are you perhaps thinking of a woman’s jabot when dating the word? The online etymological dictionary says: 1823, “frill of a men’s shirt,” from French jabot “gizzard (of a bird), frill on a shirt front” (16c.), a word of unknown origin. Klein suggests a connection with gaver “to cram, gorge,” and thus ultimately with English jaw (n.). Of women’s clothing from 1869.

      1. I’ve definitely seen “jabot”, but the source is French, from 1644, and refers to the ruffles on the front of the shirt with no connection to the neckwear. (“…the opening of the shirt in front is called the jabot, and it must always be trimmed with lace, for it is only an old fogey who buttons his doublet all the way down.”) My impression is that cravats went out of favour for dress wear from 1740s or so till 1790s, with most well-dressed men wearing a pre-pleated stock that buckled at the back of the neck and required much less fussing to look nice. Also, you could get fancy with the buckle, as they were removable. (Shoe buckles were also removeable, and could be fancy, plain, or replaced with string for the truly impoverished.) The not-so-well-dressed man wore a handkerchief, wound once or twice and tied, and the ends might be tucked down the neck of the shirt or waistcoat to keep them out of the way. Something else one sees in portraits is a shirt buckle– a small metal ring brooch, sometimes heart or flower shaped, pinned partway down the front opening to keep it from gapping.

        Speaking of fancy things– cuffs on shirt sleeves generally did not have buttons attached, for ease of laundering. Separate sleeve buttons were used instead, and ran the gamut from plain brass to gold with paste gems. Cloth breeches (as opposed to leather) could also have buckles at the knee, with similar range. I imagine matching one’s various buckles and buttons to have been a mark of extra fancy distinction.

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