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Last updated:29 apr 2014/csb
 

 

In Memoriam

Patri J. Pugliese
1950-2007

Please visit the
Patri Memorial
Page.

dancers

Gentlemen’s Fashions
of the Regency Era
Compiled by Mark Millman
The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers

This is a very basic guide to men’s fashion of the early nineteenth century meant primarily to help gentlemen attending balls set in this era dress themselves in reasonable approximations of contemporary styles. As such it makes broad generalizations and neglects many details and exceptions. A very useful source to which the author owes a great debt is “Faking Regency Fashion for Men” by Antonia Pugliese, on her blog Experiments in Elegance. Much of the information here is from her post, as are all of the images except for those of the boots.
For Ladies’ Dress visit our Ladies’ Regency Dress page.

dancers

The styles of the early 19th Century are known by several different names, depending on what country you are describing:

  • Regency (England, 1811-1820)
  • Federal (United States, 1785-1815)
  • Napoleonic (France, 1799-1815)

Gentlemen’s Fashions

beau brummel blue coat The gentleman’s Regency silhouette has three chief features: very high standing collars; close-fitting coats with high waistlines (men’s waistlines as well as women’s are high at this time); and tailed rather than skirted coats. The cut of trousers varies during the period, and can be very tight or quite full. Breeches also continue in fashion, particularly early in the era and as formal evening wear. Other details are influenced by the reigning classicism, which demands an elegant—sometimes almost negligent—simplicity, until the Romantic movement comes to the fore around 1820. This is also a period dominated by warfare in Europe, and military uniforms are widely worn.
 
The variety of colors available to gentlemen is much greater than it would be later in the nineteenth century. Even evening wear can feature bright hues. In general, dark coats with light waistcoats and trousers, or colored coats with neutral waistcoats and trousers, seem to be most popular. Suits in a single color exist but are uncommon. Dark blue and black coats are very common; about half of all contemporary images seem to show them. Other shades of blue, including some very bright, almost electric, blues; browns; and greens, especially bottle-green, are popular coat colors. Trousers and breeches are tan, fawn, or pale yellow; pale to medium gray; or other light neutral colors. Breeches in particular are often white, but trousers rarely if ever are. Waistcoats can be of any color, and are more often chosen to complement the coat and trousers than to contrast with them. They tend to be brighter early in the period and become more subdued over time.

UNDERGARMENTS

shirt

Shirt:
Shirts are of white linen or cotton and blousy, with buttons at the neck and wrists. The collars are high and worn turned up to cover the neck, and often the jaw-line as well. The neck openings are frequently decorated with ruffles, but these become less common later in the period. Cuffs are plain and do not show beyond the sleeves of the coat.

shirt

Drawers:
Gentlemen’s drawers are cut like breeches, and made of linen or cotton. They fasten with a combination of drawstrings and buttons. As there is virtually no chance they will be seen, and as they do not strongly influence the appearance of the breeches or trousers, it is safe to ignore these in favor of modern underwear. Note, however, that with tight breeches or trousers, lines caused by the edges of the undergarments or by bunching (e.g., of the legs of boxer shorts) should, as much as possible, be avoided.

GARMENTS

Coat:
Coats can be single or double-breasted, although double-breasted coats predominate by about four or five to one. They descend in front only to the natural waistline (i.e., about to the navel). regency coat regency coat They are uniformly cut so that the tails descend directly from the back panels; that is, there is no waist seam at the back, unlike modern tailcoats. Collars and lapels can be of moderate width or very wide. Especially early in the Regency, they are often arranged to stand up around the face and neck, but tend to lie flatter as time goes on. Sleeves are long, and the cuffs cover the base of the hand nearly as far as the thumb-joint. Earlier coats have scooped waistlines, in which the tails curve downward from a horizontal or slightly curved front edge. Later ones develop perfectly straight waistlines from which the tails descend at an angle. Coat fabrics are most often fine wool broadcloths, but can be silks or linens. If there is a pattern, it is small-scale and uniform—small windowpane patterns and strongly ribbed silks survive—but most coats are plain. Collars are occasionally faced with velvet. Buttons are flat and may match the coat’s fabric or be made of smooth metal.

coat coat coat coat

regency man Waistcoat:
Waistcoats are sleeveless but have collars and, usually, lapels. Early-Regency examples are likely to have standing collars, but later the collars are turned down. The body descends just below the natural waist, so that it projects an inch or two below the front of the coat; and, like the coat, it has a straight waistline (unlike the points on most modern vests). It should cover the waistband of the trousers or breeches. There may be lacing or an attached belt at the center back to ensure a close fit. Waistcoats may be single or double-breasted; the numbers of each style seem to be about equal. Any combination of single or double-breasted coat and waistcoat may be worn. Since double-breasted coats greatly outnumber single-breasted ones, the combination of either a single-breasted or double-breasted waistcoat with a double-breasted coat is most common, but both single and double-breasted waistcoats can also be worn with single-breasted coats. Earlier waistcoats are often striped, vertically or horizontally, or patterned, but grow plainer with time. Fabrics can be silks, wools, or linens. The buttons can match the fabric, particularly if it is fancy, or be of smooth metal.

regency vest regency vest regency vest regency vest

regency suit Breeches or Trousers:
regency man Breeches are prescribed for evening wear. They are close-fitting, with much less fullness in the seat than earlier eighteenth-century examples (although, especially early, the crotch can be just as tight), and with higher waistlines, which should come to the natural waist or just above it. The waistband and top of the fall should be hidden by the waistcoat. The back of the waistband may have laces for a precise fit. The legs descend to just below the knees and are buttoned. There may be supplemental ribbon ties or straps with knee-buckles. The front is closed with a flap called a fall, rather than a fly as in modern trousers, which is not fashionable at this time. Falls are commonly narrow (as opposed to the broad-fall fronts of the late eighteenth century), with the fall covering about half the breeches’ front width. The fall may be set quite high, so that only the bottom corners of the opening appear below the waistcoat. Falls get narrower over time.
 
playing graces Trousers initially resemble breeches, being tight through the thighs and knees, and continuing into close-fitting lower legs, almost as if the idea were to make breeches with attached stockings. Stirrup-straps are common on narrow trousers meant to be worn inside boots. Later in the Regency, trousers get wider, and can be quite full by the end of the period. Trousers worn with shoes commonly fall only to the ankles, rather than resting on the shoe-tops as modern examples do. regency figures 1809Cuffs are not worn. Breeches and trousers can be made of fine wool broadcloths or linens. Leather, particularly doeskin, breeches are also seen, and are especially prized by fashionable young men because they can be soaked and shrunken on to the body, making them skin-tight. Buttons, like those on coats and waistcoats, may be covered in fabric matching that of the breeches or trousers or may be of smooth metal. Breeches seem to have metal buttons somewhat more often than other garments, as do the breeches belonging to the three-piece suit in the image above right.

breeches breeches breeches

ACCESSORIES

Neckwear:
The cravat, a long strip of white linen, frequently starched, is the almost universal neckwear for Regency gentlemen. It is wound around the neck over the shirt collar (which should project above it) and tied in front. The cravat typically covers the entire neck up to the jaw-line. For knotting options, consult Neckclothitania (though please note that, although it has genuine information, it is satirical), or look at portraiture and fashion plates and experiment. Beau Brummel is supposed to have ruined, on average, more than half a dozen neck-cloths a day before managing to arrange one to his satisfaction, but he was a famously fastidious dresser.

neckclothitania

Shoes, Stockings, and Gloves:
Gentlemen’s evening shoes are low, almost slipper-like, and usually buckled; they may also slip on and have bows like modern opera pumps. (For dancing, modern men's ballet flats or jazz oxfords, or lightweight dress shoes, will serve very well.)

boots

top-boot photograph courtesy of
S.B. Juniper Handsewn Boots and Shoes

It is very fashionable to wear equestrian or military boots with daytime clothing. Two of the most widespread styles are cuffed riding boots, called top boots—almost exactly like today’s jockey boots—and Hessian boots, which feature a high, notched front, a dip in back, and colored trim along the upper edge. Boots rarely reach as high as the knees; they most often come just above mid-calf, or slightly higher. They are usually worn with close-fitting trousers, but may be worn with breeches. When they are, the stockings show between the knees of the breeches and the tops of the boots. While not in fact appropriate for evening wear, and potentially difficult to dance in, boots will give an iconically Regency appearance. (The author plans to wear his to the upcoming ball.)

boots

Hessian-boot photograph courtesy of
S.B. Juniper Handsewn Boots and Shoes

boots
Image of Hessian Boots courtesy of Wikipedia

Stockings, especially when worn with breeches, are usually white silk, cotton, or very fine wool, and are always opaque. The stockings’ tops are held in place by the knee-fastenings of the breeches or, perhaps, by tied garters under the breeches or trousers. Garters do not clearly appear in contemporary illustrations. Some images show bands or ribbons that appear to be ties at the knees of breeches, but may actually be the ends of garters projecting from beneath the breeches; in any case these bands match the breeches. When not white the stockings will occasionally match the breeches in color.
 
For gloves, white kid leather is most popular; other pale, neutral colors, such as taupe, pale gray, and pale yellow are also worn.

coat

Hats and Overcoats:
These are not worn indoors at a ball. For traveling to the ball, a very popular style of hat is an early top-hat, with a narrow to moderate brim and a tapered crown. A caped overcoat called a garrick, named for the Shakespearean actor, is fashionable. It can have up to five layered capes on the shoulders and a long, wide body, cut straight from armpits to just above the ankles, almost in an A-line pattern—though it is belted just under the armpits to give the typical Regency high-waisted silhouette.

coat

Hairstyles and Facial Hair:
regency hair Hair is relatively short, in contrast to the long, braided queues of the previous era. Gentlemen’s hairstyles are inspired by Classical models, especially Greek and Roman statues. The hair usually follows the shape of the head, and if the hair is straight or mildly wavy is combed flat, often in bangs, or forward and high above the forehead. Hair that is very wavy regency hair or curly can be cut in locks. Young, fashionable men, especially those with curly hair, will sometimes keep the top of their hair long and pile their curls on top of their heads. Hairstyles tend to be loose, rather than rigid and fussy, and grow longer as the period progresses, descending to collar length with the Romantic fashions of the 1820s. Regency lips, chins, and cheeks are clean-shaven ones, but sideburns are popular.

regency hair
regency hair
regency hair
regency dance

Making Your Outfit
Patterns, Books & Other Resources

Civilian Clothing

There seem to be only two or three accurate patterns for the Regency coat. Of these, the best in practice is likely to be the Country Wives: Men’s M-Notch and Roll Collar Tailcoat, c. 1800 - 1820 pattern. Saundra Altman’s Past Patterns has a trouser pattern that seems to work for the first quarter of the nineteenth century, although she calls it #008 1830s-1840s Small-Fall Trowsers. On that pattern’s page, she recommends the Kannik’s Korner Man’s Shirt 1790-1830 for early-century use. The Kannik’s Korner Man’s Waistcoats Single-Breasted c. 1790-1815 and Man’s Trousers High-Waisted c. 1790-1810 should work as well (all the Kannik’s Korner patterns are also available on the Men’s Patterns page at Wm. Booth, Draper, along with the Country Wives coat).
 
regency play Note, however, that for evening wear in this period, breeches remain fashionable (in fact, mandatory; trousers are for day wear only), but there don’t seem to be—at least, the author has been unable to find any—breeches patterns for the Regency or Federalist era. One approach would be to modify either of the two trouser patterns to be breeches, as Revolutionary War-era breeches have too low a rise and won’t meet the bottom of the coat or waistcoat. That probably means getting a breeches pattern (it should be possible to use one of the patterns at Wm. Booth, such as the Mill Farm Man’s Breeches, about a third of the way down the page linked above) in order to copy the treatment at the knee.
 
regency man Reconstructing History also has a wide variety of accurate Regency patterns which, unlike all other pattern publishers that the author has seen, cover style changes within the period. Again, however, they list only a trouser pattern; for a breeches pattern, one must go back to their RH812 — 1770s-1790s Fall-Front Breeches, which isn’t shown in the Regency section. But their patterns are difficult—they seem to assume that users will know how to tailor garments, and may require that users already be familiar with period clothing—and are very tough for beginners. Experienced tailors probably won’t have a problem with them, but those with even moderate experience very well may.
 
Note, by the way, that Burnley & Trowbridge has Regency-era men’s shoes and wool, cotton, and silk stockings, which many other eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century re-enactment retailers carry. Another supplier is Robert Land who has Regency era boots (both top boots and Hessians; Hessian boots are not a stock product, but are available on the early-nineteenth-century page) and pumps (both dance pumps and buckle pumps). And G. Gedney Godwin offers an item that seems to be unique among suppliers, a post-1800 shoe buckle.

Military Uniforms

uniforms

For those interested in presenting an 1812-era military impression, Saundra Altman’s Past Patterns has four military coats for Napoleonic and Regency-era uniforms. Three, the #032 1804 U.S. Army Issue Artillery Coat, the #041: U.S. Army Roundabout Matching 1812 Specs, and the #042: 1806 to 1815 State Militia Regimental Coat are American; and one, the #040: Napoleonic Era British Foot Soldier’s Jacket circa 1806-1820, is British. All three can be used with Past Patterns’ #008 1830s-1840s Small-Fall Trowsers with Frog Pockets, or with the Kannik’s Korner Man’s Trousers High-Waisted c. 1790-1810; the Kannik’s Korner pattern has specific instructions for a military version of the trousers. Note that all of these patterns are for enlisted men’s uniforms.
 
G. Gedney Godwin lists two styles of 1812 enlisted men’s military shoes and two ready-made military coats, as well as one coat available by custom order. As with the patterns above, these are coats for enlisted men.

Books, Websites, and Shopping

Summary of Web addresses of patterns and suppliers listed above:

Please visit the Ladies’ Regency Dress page for an extensive listing of books, exhibition catalogues, Websites, and shopping resources.

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