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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Breeches or Trousers:
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.
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. Cuffs 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.
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.
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.)
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.)
Hessian-boot photograph courtesy of S.B. Juniper Handsewn Boots and Shoes
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.
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.
Hairstyles and Facial 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
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.
Making Your Outfit
Patterns, Books & Other Resources
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.
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.
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: