According to “The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette,” the first rule of guidance for the 1860s Victorian gentleman in matters of clothing is, "Let the dress suit the occasion." It is advised that it is just as absurd for a man to go into the street in the morning with his dress coat, white kid gloves, and dancing boots, as it is for a lady to promenade the fashionable streets in full evening dress, or for the same man to present himself in the ballroom with heavy walking boots, a great coat, and riding cap.
In a gentleman's clothing, any attempt to be conspicuous is in excessively bad taste. If he is wealthy, then the luxury of the clothing consists in the fine quality of each article and in the spotless purity of gloves and linen. He never wears much jewelry or any article conspicuous on account of its money value. Simplicity should always preside over the Victorian gentleman's wardrobe.
Another good rule for the dressing room: while the gentleman is engaged in dressing, he gives his whole attention to it. He sees that every detail is perfect, and that each article is neatly arranged... from the curl of his hair to the tip of his boot, let all be perfect in its arrangement; but as soon as he has left the mirror, he must forget his clothing. Nothing gives evidence of the dandy more decidedly than to see a man always fussing about his dress, pulling down his wristbands, playing with his moustache, pulling up his shirt collar, or arranging the bow of his cravat. Once dressed, do not attempt to alter any part of your costume until you are again in the dressing room.
Above all, let your figure and face have some weight in deciding how far you are to follow fashion. For a very tall man to wear a high, narrow-brimmed hat, long-tailed coat, and tight trousers is not more absurd than for a short, fat man, to promenade the street in a low, broad-brimmed hat, loose coat and pants, with the latter made of large plaid material.
In order to merit the designation of a well-dressed Victorian gentleman, you must pay attention, not only to the more prominent articles of your wardrobe, coat, pants, and vest, but to the more minute details. A shirt-front which fits badly, a pair of wristbands too wide or too narrow, a badly brushed hat, a shabby pair of gloves, or an ill-fitting boot, will spoil the most elaborate costume.
1863 Traveling Dress
Change your linen whenever it is at all dirty. This is the best guide with regard to collars, socks, pocket-handkerchiefs, and undergarments. No rule can be laid down for the number worn per week, for everything depends on circumstances. Thus in the country all linen remains clean longer than in town; in dirty, wet, or dusty weather, socks get dirty sooner and must be changed. More than one pocket-handkerchief per day.
In his own house, and in the morning, there is no reason why the Victorian gentleman should not wear out his old clothes. Some men take to the delightful ease of a dressing-gown and slippers; and if bachelors, they do well. If family men, it will probably depend on whether the lady or the gentleman wears the pants.
1863 Out Door Dress
1860s Out Door Dress
There are four kinds of coats which the Victorian gentleman must have: a morning coat, a frock coat, a dress coat, and an overcoat. An economical man may do well with four of the first, and one of each of the others per year. The dress of a gentleman should not cost him more than a tenth of his income on an average. If a man, however, mixes in society there are some things which are indispensable and every occasion will have its proper attire.
1863 Walking Suit
The best walking costume for a non-professional Victorian man is a suit of tweed, ordinary boots, gloves not too dark for the coat, a scarf with a pin in winter, or a small tie of one color in summer, a respectable black hat and a cane. The best substitute for a walking-stick is an umbrella, not a parasol unless it is given you by a lady to carry. The main point of the walking-dress is the harmony of colors. The walking-dress should vary according to the place and hour.
In the country or at the sea-side a straw hat or wide-awake may take the place of the beaver hat. But in the city where a man is supposed to make visits as well as lounge in the street, the frock coat of very dark blue or black, or a black cloth cut-away, the white waistcoat, and
1863 Walking Suit
lavender gloves, are almost indispensable. Very thin boots should be avoided at all times, and whatever clothes one wears they should be well brushed.
The shirt, whether seen or not, should be quite plain. The shirt collar should never have a color on it, but it may be stiff or turned down. The scarf, if simple and of modest colors, is perhaps the best thing worn round the neck; but if a necktie is preferred it should not be too long, nor tied in too stiff a manner. The cane should be extremely simple, a mere stick in fact, with no gold head, and yet for the town not rough, thick, or clumsy.
The frock-coat should be full and loose, and a tall well-built man may throw it back. At any rate, it should never be buttoned up. Great-coats should be buttoned up, of a dark color, not quite black, longer than the frock-coat, but never long enough to reach the ankles. If the gentleman has visits to make, he should do away with the great-coat, weather permitting. The frock-coat, or black cut-away, with a white waistcoat in summer, is the best dress for making calls.
Evening or Dress Fashions:
1863 Evening Dress
For the ball or evening party there is little opportunity for a gentleman to exercise his taste for coloring; black and white are the only colors (or no colors) admissible. Withstanding the lack of color in his garb, however, a man can make himself agreeable in the ballroom by rising above the “mourning” of his coat to the joyousness of the occasion. He may make himself admired for his wit, not his toilette; his elegance and refinement, not the price of his clothes.
1860s Evening Dress
For all evening wear — black cloth trousers. The only evening waistcoat for all purposes for a man of taste is one of simple black, with the simplest possible buttons. These items never vary for dinner party or ball. The only distinction allowed is in the neck-tie. For dinner, the opera, and balls, this must be white, and the smaller the better. It should also be of a washable texture, not silk, nor netted, but a simple, white tie, without embroidery. The black tie is permitted for evening parties, and should be equally simple.
The shirt-front, which figures under the tie, should be plain with small pleats. The gloves must be white, not yellow or lavender. Gloves should always be worn at a ball. At a dinner party in town they should be worn on entering the room and drawn off for dinner. As to gloves at tea-parties and so forth, it is generally safer with than without them. If it is quite a small party, they may be left in the pocket; and in the country they are scarcely expected to be worn.
1863 Sporting Dress
The Victorian gentleman does not dress for shooting and fishing. An old coat with large pockets, gaiters in one case, and if necessary, large boots in the other, thick shoes at any rate, a wide-awake, and a well-filled bag or basket at the end of the day, make up a most respectable Victorian sportsman.
For cricket he wants nothing more unusual than flannel trousers, which should be quite plain, unless his club has adopted some colored stripe thereon, a colored flannel shirt of no intense hue, the same colored cap, shoes with spikes in them, and a great coat.
1863 Shooting Dress
For hunting, clothing should insure comfort and safety. Thus cord-breeches and some kind of boots are indispensable. So are spurs, so a hunting-whip or crop; so too, either a hat or strong round cap that is to save the gentleman's skull from cracking if thrown on his head. The red coat is only worn by regular members of a hunt. An ordinary riding coat of dark color is acceptable, though undoubtedly the red is sophisticated in the field. The cord-breeches should be light in color and fine in quality; the waistcoat is light also. The scarf is of cashmere and of a buff color fastened with a small simple gold pin. The hat should be old, and the cap of dark green or black velvet and should be made to look old.
[From The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette by Cecil B. Hartley, 1860]