Gentleman's Clothing 1860-1880

Victorian Gentleman's Attire

"Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he's well dressed."
"Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat then some people imagine."
Charles Dickens"
'The dress of a gentleman should be such as not to excite any special observation, unless it be for neatness and propriety.  The utmost care should be exercised to avoid even the appearance of desiring to attract attention by the peculiar formation of any article of attire, or by the display of an immoderate quantity of jewelry, both being a positive evidence of vulgarity.  His dress should be studiously neat leaving no other impression than that of a well dressed gentleman."
Martine's Handbook of Etiquette, 1866

"The prosperous emerging middle class strove for respectability and homogeneity and was heavily influenced by the solemn Protestant movement of the time."  We will limit our discussion of attire to the middle period from about 1860 to 1880.  As the evening outfit became more understated and uniform, the need to execute it well became critical.  Superb materials, expert tailoring and the latest styling were not the only traits that could distinguish the attire of a true Victorian gentleman.

The Victorian middle period from about 1860 to 1880, was also known as the beginning of the American Gilded Age.  This period was notable for codifying the standards.   As we look at each of the elements of Victorian men's attire, understand that these are general guidelines for gentlemen of the period.


Generally speaking, the frock coat of the 1860's, was black in color and single breasted.  One would occasionally see other conservative colors such as dark green or brown as a frock suit. The collar remained of black velvet material through the remainder of the Victorian period.  The length of the tails and the height of the waist varied according to the whims of fashion.  With regard to the dress tails, there would be slightly varying styles throughout the 1860's and 1870's. Consult period prints and a reputable seamstress for the look you wish to obtain.


By the 1860's the waistcoat was generally cloth or silk, and limited to black or a complimentary color to the coat and/or trousers. In formal dress the only two variables were the waistcoat and the necktie. The waistcoat is to be black or white with the tie to match. White is the acceptable for the more formal occasion.  More formal occasions called for the waistcoat to be single breasted.   Period images and a reputable seamstress will be good sources for accuracy.


The trousers will either match the black material of the frock coat or can be a muted stripe or plaid in a complimentary color. The trousers and waistcoat often will be of matching material, the coat and waistcoat can match or all three pieces can be of matching color or pattern.

Shirt & Collar

A white shirt with or without pleats is acceptable, depending on the occasion.  Ruffled shirts were falling out fashion by the 1860's. 

Neck Wear

The necktie or cravat were standard wear in the 1860's, a self-tie or pre-tied bowtie in black or subdued colors are acceptable.  Black or white only are acceptable for evening or formal wear.  The style of the tie varies with small changes during the 1860's & 1870"s.  Refer to period prints for your preference.


By the 1860's, the congress boot has become the foot wear in style.  The dress boot, shoe or pumps (often in patent leather), were common for balls or formal wear.  Evening stockings are of black silk.  Black stockings of varying material are acceptable for day and business wear.


The top hat (aka topper) is generally acceptable as the fashioned head wear of the 1860's.  the beaver topper was beginning to be over shadowed by the silk top hat.  This occurred because of the depletion of the American beaver and the significantly lower prince of the silk hat.


"To touch the pure glove of a lady with uncovered fingers is impertinent!" (1857) 

Day wear is grey or other dark color.  White doeskin (or cotton) are mandatory for evening or formal wear.  If wearing leather gloves, it helps to carry a small amount of talcum powder on your person to facilitate the putting on ofthe gloves.


A topcoat or cape is appropriate outerwear.


Be wary of wearing too much jewelry.  A watch with a chain (watch guard) embellished with a trinket or memento is almost expected.  A handkerchief is also an acceptable item to carry on ones' person.

edited from: The Black Tie Guide, 2nd Edition, John Avery

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