The Late Victorian Era was humming with activity as the Industrial Revolution hit full stride, bringing revolutionary technologies and mass-produced products to market. The manner in which people worked and lived was forever altered, mostly for the better, and these advancements included electric sewing machines in factory settings providing access to ready-to-wear fashion. This period was between 1870 to 1890.
The frock coat, with its slim fit, seamed waist and narrow “skirt” falling to mid to low thigh continued to be a standard “uniform” for more formal daywear, and was mostly found in black, gray and other darks. However, as the era progressed, the shorter, less structured sack coat stepped onto the scene, appropriate for appointments and casual social calls. Sack coats were often spotted in a variety of plaids, checks and tweed and were a way for a man to mix things up a bit. However, the cutaway experienced a revival in the late 1880s and once again became the coat of choice for day wear by businessmen and gentleman.
Commonly called waistcoats, the vest remained a staple of the male wardrobe for all classes – shirts were basically considered undergarments and a man dared not be seen in “bare shirtsleeves” by anyone other than his wife or close family. For business and conservative affairs, vest frequently matched the dark color of the coat. However, men of affluence and bon vivants would often don colorful silk, brocade and embroidered vests made from imported fabrics. Even farmers, railroad workers and hired hands wore practical vests made of denims and heavy twills as they went about their business.
During the late Victorian era, strides in manufacturing and distribution brought ready-to-wear to the public. While a gentleman could pick up a new shirt quite affordably, it was still quite an ordeal to have it laundered frequently. Detachable white collars and cuffs became affordable for the middle class, and a proper gentleman would stock his wardrobe with at least six collars and sets of cuffs to last a full year. These cuffs and collars were the only part of a shirt that really showed, thus keeping a neat and tidy appearance – and the remainder of the dirty shirt hidden from public scrutiny until laundry day.
Black was the basic color for trousers, but light colored or patterned pants were also gaining a leg up. As the modern-day zipper wasn’t yet invented, pants featured button flies and suspender rivets as belts did not gain popularity until the 1920s. For rugged, outdoor endeavors, such as hunting, woolen breeches were worn and knickers were appropriate for sporting events. The biggest innovation in trousers came in 1873 when Levi Strauss offered blue jeans to prospectors in San Francisco.
Tall black top hats continue to be required for evening occasions, but beyond that many different hat styles are available. Derby hats remained popular while the stiff Homburg found favor during the 1880s among gentlemen and businessmen. A straw boater hat with grosgrain band might be spotted on a gentleman during warm weather months.
Bowties were popular during the late Victorian era, but the “four in hand” and ascot both gained popularity as the decade progressed. Other types of ties including the English square, silk puff and silk imperial were fancied for their availability in abundant designs and patterns, and “Teck” Ties, with their convenient pre-tied straps, also gained favor. Men’s fashion was quite a bit less ornate than that of female counterparts; however, neckwear was an accepted way to express a bit of sartorial style.
These were some of the popular elements of the late Victorian Era Men’s Fashion.