Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Menswear

A contemporaneous sketch of that famously well-dressed man, Beau Brummel.
1797 to 1810.

This is the prototype of the Regency man: Beau Brummel. He is wearing an absolutely typical men's Regency day outfit. This is transacting-business-about-town dress, versus riding dress or evening dress.

Several things distinguish these clothes as having an earlier Regency date (besides the fact that "the Beau," as he was known, was run out of town by creditors in the 'teens). Most important is that the tailcoat is cut without a waist seam, something that all Victorian coats have. It gives the cutaway area around the hip that distinctive curve, and causes the fabric to pull slightly around the waist (you can see the effect on the line of buttons). Also, the sleeves are extremely long and set high into the shoulder, with practically no shoulder pads.

For some reason, blue coats were always outfitted with gold buttons, while all other colors had self-fabric buttons. Go figure.

H. Eldridge's 1802 painting of Thomas, Earl of Haddington.
Another extremely typical outfit, this one from 1802. The Earl is a bit more buttoned-up than the Beau, but shares much of his manner of dress. More typical Regency features to notice: boots were utterly standard, even for town wear (making obvious the fact that the Regency style of dress evolved from the previous century's riding dress). Also, the cut of the coat is even more evident here. The waistcoat (what modern Americans call a "vest") has a straight front and extends a good two inches below the waist of the cutaway coat. The watch fob, also extending below the waist of the coat, is the Regency man's (and sometimes even woman's) accessory, rather like the pocket handkerchief extending from a man of the 1940s' suit pocket.

Other accessories to notice in this and the picture above: both men carry gloves, and although the Earl's hat is out of the picture it must have been a top hat like the Beau's--the Regency is the first appearance of the top hat, replacing the tricorn. The Beau also carries a cane, a popular accessory for walking about town. It evolved from the time, I believe in the 1700s, when men were newly forbidden to walk around with swords (where do you stand on sword-control laws?) so they started carrying sticks instead.

Self-portrait by Louis Leopold Boilly, c. 1800, from the book The Tie.
This outfit is a bit earlier than the above (sorry to go backwards like that). The period right around 1800 was one where men's fashion was completing a transition from the elaborately decorated but simply cut styles of the eighteenth century to the carefully cut plain fabrics of the early nineteenth. Here, the double-breasted waistcoat, broad lapels, and surprisingly short coat point up the experimental period.

Keep in mind that this is French; the English weren't quite so experimental (they didn't need to be--they had the best tailors). Also, the matching coat and breeches are another indicator of an early date; the standard was white, tan, or yellow breeches worn with a dark blue, green, or brown coat.

Young man by an unknown artist, c. 1800, from the book The Tie.

I believe this image was an illustration for a treatise on tailoring. Note again the cut of the coat, as well as another typical Regency feature: fall-front breeches. Rather than the fly opening we are used to now, Regency (and earlier) breeches had a flap that opened in front, rather like the "back door" on a pair of long johns, that fastened with an elaborate series of buttons. One could have "broad fall" or "narrow fall" breeches, which determined the width of the front panel.

Note also the height-of-fashion "frightened owl" hairstyle, and how widely the boot-heights we're seeing vary.

Painting of George, Duke of Argyll, by H. Eldridge, 1801.
Lord George is dressed for more indoor pursuits, with his stockings and simple leather shoes. The decade up to 1810 was the last gasp for knee breeches worn fashionably with stockings, except for evening dress (although older and more conservative men continued to wear them, just as nowadays they hang onto older hairstyles and tie-widths). You can just make out the series of buttons and drawstring tie that fasten his lordship's breeches.

Detail from a painting of the four Lukin brothers by William Redmore Bigg, from The Art of Dress.
The Lukin brothers are setting out for a hunt, and conveniently demonstrating early-Regency riding clothes in the process. The elder Lukin brother, standing, is wearing a rather conservatively cut coat - you can almost see the collarless, curved-front eighteenth-century coat from which it descends--with the absolutely typical buckskin breeches of the time. Such breeches were always worn for riding but were also worn about town, and they were supposed to be skin-tight. Of course, they couldn't be washed and they gradually would get baggy, so they were something of a conspicuous-consumption item, in a subtle way (if you wanted to continue to look good, you had to replace them before they actually wore through). Sometimes for summer or more casual wear, nankeen was substituted for buckskin: it was a heavy, denim-like cotton fabric, originally imported from Nanking, China, which was naturally yellow in color. Nankeen was also used for women's half-boots.

Note the bright-red watch-fob and the decorative buttons on the back of the seated Lukin's coat. Also, the fact that an inner-leg seam is not visible on the breeches is not artist's license: breeches were usually cut in just two pieces, one piece per leg, wrapping around and seaming on the outside (or occasionally the other way round--there would only be an inseam, no outseam).

Willoughby in picknicking clothes from Columbia Pictures' Sense & Sensibility.

Here is the costume designer from Sense & Sensibility's version of the outfits above. Willoughby would of course be quite stylish, and as the costuming is set right around 1800, his coat is very up-to-date (if anything, the shoulders too square for this early period). Notice how clearly you can see the fall front on his pants--it almost looks like pockets, but it's actually a pair of openings.

Colonel Brandon from Columbia Pictures' Sense & Sensibility.

Brandon, an older and more conservative man, wears darker and more buttoned-up garments. The broad lapels we've been seeing, with their deep notches, are very typical of the first half of the Regency. Again, he wears gloves and carries a cane, and his hat is a sort of relaxed country version of the top hat, almost a straw-hat style rendered in black wool.

Edward from Columbia Pictures' Sense & Sensibility.

Edward is younger but also conservative, and probably not much given to buying new clothes when the old ones would do. His double-breasted waistcoat with its broad lapels and even a slightly pointed bottom are reflective of quite early Regency style. The shallow cutaway of his coat is also early, like the Lukin brother's. Note how the ends of his long sleeves are constructed almost like added cuffs that haven't been turned back.

Edward in his shirt sleeves from Columbia Pictures' Sense & Sensibility.

This is actually a behind-the-scenes shot of Hugh Grant, who played Edward, with his coat off. The benefit is, you get to see his shirt-sleeves, which no proper Regency man would ever have shown, any more than you'd take off your skirt in public and show everyone your slip. One is also treated to a better view of his waistcoat and his very simple cravat.

This is a very typical Regency shirt, with its large volume of shirt fabric tightly pleated or gathered at top into a dropped armhole. The mystery to me is, how did they jam all that fabric into those round-shouldered, slim-sleeved coats? No wonder their arms had a slightly sausage-like quality!

Fashion plate from Journal des Dames et des Modes.

This rather odd fashion plate is French, which no doubt explains it (I have nothing against the French; they just have different sensibilities). Here we see the prototypical overcoat, and really, it hasn't changed much to today! The very broad, heavily notched lapels mark it as early period, as does the man's excessively long sleeves and oddly squashy hat, which has almost no brim. Definitely a transitional-period hat.

A plate from the 1818 manual Neckclothitania, published anonymously.

Whew! I close out this period with a nice selection of methods of tying one's neckcloth. I hope it is inspiring to you! Please see the Links pages for much more on how to tie neckcloths. I have read that it is best to start with a piece of light, crisp cloth (originally would have been linen, but a quality cotton or silk taffeta should also work) about 10" x 60". For the styles with pleats or highstanding collars, the fabric may give a better effect if starched (although it will also be more uncomfortable, sad to say!).

Detail from Le Journal de Debats by Chalon, in the V&A Museum.
1810 to 1825.

Again, a French image, but this one later. The shawl collar on the man's coat is the easiest giveaway, but also notice the way the coat has been cut to puff out from the chest, almost as if he's hooked his thumbs in the lapels and pulled it out. This is very typical of later Regency styling for men's wear. Also, the men's shoulders are becoming less rounded.

Don't miss those mutton-chop sideburns!

Detail from Le Journal de Debats by Chalon, in the V&A Museum.

It was not so obvious in the last image (these are both details from the same painting) but these men are wearing pants. Pants had been slowly creeping into fashion for a good decade, but it was only at this point that they became standard for casual and semicasual wear for young men with any pretensions to fashion. However, the style had not yet settled down; see how loose the ones are in the image above, which the man has stuffed into his boots, versus the leggings that this man wears.

Note the shoes: the difference between men's slippers and women's was that mens seem almost invariably to have had a higher, straighter cut across the top of the shoe.

Detail of a watercolor by Diana Sperling, found in the book Mrs. Hurst Dancing.
This watercolor had the subtext, "The Lord of the Manor and his family going out to a dinner party at 5 o'clock with a tremendous stile before them." He goes with shoes in his pocket and carries a lantern for the return journey. It is September, 1816, and pants have become totally acceptable for a dinner-party. One still must wear leather slippers (there may be dancing), but since they are not practical for crossing fields, the man walks over in his boots and carries his shoes to change into.

J.D. Ingres' sketch of Lord Grantham in 1816.

Lord Grantham is also wearing pants--you can tell because his boots are low enough that the ends of breeches would show, and the buttons would be noticeable.

I want to point out another style shift: see how the cutaway of the coat has changed shape? The earlier upside-down U shape has been replaced by a squared-off waistline and straight angles on the sides. Gradually, the straight area would become wider.

It was not long before tailors, probably influenced by this new straight shape, began cutting a waist-seam into coats. That seam got rid of the slight wrinkles that tended to gather around the waist and is a hallmark of later Regency tailoring.

Colonel Fitzwilliam from the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is sporting a style very similar to the above, particularly in the cut of the jacket. The contrasting velvet trim is something that became more and more popular into the late Regency. The only thing that seems a little odd to me is the pointed detail of his waistcoat. Generally the cut of the waistcoat was straight across, and only about two inches showed, not four as here. Still, the feel is captured, down to the hairstyle and the gloves, hat, and cane.

Detail of a fashion plate, c. 1809.
Full- and Half-Dress.

Having gone over these daytime styles in detail, I want to take a moment to look at more formal styles. Much of what goes above will be applicable, but there are a few important differences and I think it's useful to see them side by side, as here.

Here we see "full and half dress for April," circa 1809. If full dress is a tuxedo, half dress is more like a business suit. And like a tuxedo, Regency full dress retains "fossilized" details from the period before. The bicorn hat went out of style for daily wear quite early in the Regency, but it remained de rigeur for full dress - probably not least because it could be tucked under the arm, unlike a top hat (see image below). Also, the shoes have decorative buckles on them, which is a very eighteenth-century detail. Fancier fabrics were used and I've noticed that for some reason, full-dress outfits usually include a white or off-white waistcoat.

Detail of an 1806 fashion plate.

Backing up slightly to 1806, another full-dress suit, very much the same. Note the monocle on a chain, a trendy accessory for both men and women; the hat under the arm; the shoe-buckles; and the very long watch-fob. The men above have shorter but fancier watch-fobs. Watches were very expensive, but also fragile, and so since one couldn't show off the watch itself (except by checking the time frequently), one advertised its presence with a fancy fob.

Also note that full dress meant extra shirt frills; the man in the image above, particularly, has a huge volume of frilled linen arranged on his neck and shirt-front.

Mr. Darcy from A&E's Pride & Prejudice.

Here is Mr. Darcy's version of the cream-colored waistcoat and neckful of linen. Note that his waistcoat has self-fabric buttons - the only exception to this I have ever seen in period waistcoats are thread-wrapped buttons, never metal, shell, or other materials.

I'll add that they did an excellent job with the hairstyles in this film. He looks as if he's straight out of a painting.

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Copyright 1997-2003 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
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