Men: From Shoulder to Ankle

For today’s post I decided to concentrate on the clothing being worn in Europe.  I have, however, included a tidbit of Americana that the astute observer can easily find.  I’ve used images from each decade, beginning with the 1850s.  Several of these are paintings.  I so enjoy the work of artists depicting their own culture and society.  So, here we go.

Men’s Fashion: 1850-1899

1856 fashion plate showing the morning coat (left) and two versions of the frock coat.

As Jennifer said in Tuesday’s post, men’s fashion changed little during the 19th century. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the basic coats prevailed.  The morning coat, which curved over the hips toward the back; the frock coat, which hit at mid-thigh or knee-length; and formal evening tails were standard wear. The short jacket, also called the box coat or the sack coat, was similar in length to today’s suit coats and popular among young men.

Parisian composers: The Circle of the Rue Royale, 1868 by James Jacques Tissot. Note the morning coats buttoned high up on the chest.

Gentleman in a Railway Carriage, 1872, James Jacques Tissot. The fur on this man's coat was most likely a complete lining, not merely the trim. At this point, usually only males wore fur. It wasn't fashionable for women until the 1890s.

Bat Masterson in a sack coat. 1879

Sketch of John Delacouur in formal evening tails, 1885, for Vanity Fair magazine by Sir Leslie Ward (Spy).

In the 1880s, several different sports grew in popularity and men needed looser clothing to participate.  Knee breeches, which had lost favor early in the century, came back in style for everything from hunting to bicycling.

"Penny farthing" bicycle

In Costume & Fashion, British clothing historian James Laver states that double-breasted “reefer” jackets were worn for yachting, and the Norfolk jacket, with its belt and vertical pleats, for shooting. Cricket outfits were the same as today, except players could wear colored shirts.

“For the new sport of cycling, which was still in the ‘penny-farthing’ stage, an extraordinary costume was devised: tight-fitting knee-breeches, a very tight, military-looking jacket and a little pillbox cap.  The really smart wearer of this outfit carried a bugle to warn pedestrians of his approach.” (Laver, 204)

Turn of the century cyclist in Plymouth, England. This man apparently saw no need for a pillbox hat!

I’m sorry I couldn’t find an illustration of that outfit in the public domain to share.  You can imagine how humorous it looked.  That particular costume, Laver says, was not used in France and Germany where cycling was also popular.  Men opted for the basic outfit of Norfolk jacket and knee-breeches, which was useful for sports like shooting, golfing, and cycling.

Man on motorized bicycle, 1898. This is a good example of the Norfolk jacket and breeches worn for sport. Courtesy of

The 1880s also saw a new style with the beginnings of Aesthetic costume and the Rational Dress movement.  The basic aim was to follow current fashion but with looser clothing and fuller sleeves.  I’ll discuss this more in my post on women’s clothing of this period, but suffice it to say, even though the style was ridiculed, it brought change.

Oscar Wilde in Aesthetic clothing, 1882.


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