Undressing a Victorian Man...

They say that clothes make the man. Perhaps not, but in historical fiction, getting the costume details right is something readers demand. And rightly so!

When I’m researching my stories, one of the first things I do is fill my character’s closet. While there is tons of material about women’s clothing from the Victorian era, there’s much less about men’s wear.

However, I couldn’t let my heroes run about naked (at least not all the time) so I dug deep and came up with some outfits for them to wear.

The basic pieces of a Victorian’s man ensemble are the trousers, vest and jacket. In this most formal age, a gentleman would never been seen by a lady in just his shirt, unless the lady was his wife. Garters on the sleeves allowed a man to adjust the length of the sleeve so the cuff showed correctly at the wrist of his jacket. In the early years of Victoria’s reign, men’s jackets had a cinched waist (and yes, men did wear corsets of a sort to conform to this silhouette.) Later in the era, jackets morphed into the longer and boxier frock coat.

Though somber colors were popular, it wasn’t uncommon for the vest to be a brighter color, rust or green, with a buff jacket and dark trousers. I’m sorry to tell you that sometimes the trousers were striped. And worse yet, the stripes might have been horizontal!

The ornately tied cravats of the Regency faded from fashion. Victorian men’s shirts often had stiff detachable collars which required three studs to attach. Suspenders were the best way to keep a man’s trousers up. Weathy gentlemen wore silk stockings. Working men settled for wool ones.

Underneath it all, drawers and flannel undershirts were worn. The one piece “union suit” didn’t appear till 1868. The drop seat garment actually started out as women’s wear in an attempt to simplify feminine underthings. It was soon adapted for men’s use as well and was available only in red or white.

A man’s social standing was immediately apparent based on the cut of his coat and the richness of the fabrics used. His accessories also spoke volumes about his place in the world. A walking stick with an ornate head was a popular accoutrement. They were often hollowed out to hide a blade or a vial where perfume could be stored. An ornate pocket watch and fob was part of a gentlemen’s jewelry. In his pocket, he might carry a compass, a deck of playing cards, or perhaps an engraved token entitling him to a night in a popular brothel. A monocle could be used regardless of whether the gentleman needed help with his vision or not. A beaver top hat was the ultimate statement of masculine wealth and power.

Part of the charm of the very buttoned up Victorian male is the prospect of “unbuttoning” him. How about you? Do you like seeing a man in formal attire?

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