In this period, men’s dress was exceedingly formal and every true gentleman was expected to wear a coat, vest, and hat.  To walk around in shirtsleeves without a vest or coat would be the modern-day equivalent of traipsing about in one’s underwear.  Very unseemly, and most ungentlemanly!

However, for gentlemen of the 19th century, formalwear was constrained to a range of styles and colors that would seem somewhat narrow and unimaginative today. Very often, a man made his mark largely through his choice of waistcoat and neckwear. Luxurious silks from the Orient were readily adopted in lively vests—no pattern or color was too flamboyant!—coordinated with a bow tie, cravat or ascot. A modern gentleman observing a budget would do well to start here. Lightly-worn vests are readily available at thrift shoppes (in both the gentlemen’s and ladies’ sections). Pair it with a modern bow tie or improvise a ribbon tie (simply a piece of ribbon tied like a shoelace). Or create an ascot or cravat with a cast-off necktie or a strip of patterned fabric (tying one is simpler than you might think), and thieve a earring from a lady friend to serve as a tie-pin. To this, add a white or ivory shirt and a suit. A modern tuxedo shirt with its winged collar would have seemed perfectly en vogue a century ago, and a dark-colored, conservatively-cut modern suit would be difficult to distinguish from an early sack suit, with the right accessories.

Perhaps the single best investment a man might make in pursuing a vintage look would be in his head covering. Derbies and top hats would be most authentic, and they may be had cheaply. But fedoras too originated in this period and would serve well, as would a tweed cap, popular with more than just newsboys and Scots.

If you are feeling particularly dapper, add a walking stick and pocket watch. And never underestimate the impact of well-cultivated facial hair, a most inexpensive accessory!


Sack Coat, by River Junction Trade Co.

Innovations in men’s fashion of the 1870s included the acceptance of patterned fabrics for shirts.  Frock coats (a coat with a full skirt both front and back that reached just above the knee) remained fashionable, but new shorter versions arose, distinguished from the sack coat by a waist seam (see photograph). Vests were generally cut straight across the front and had collars and lapels, but collarless vests were also worn.


Full-length trousers (often striped) were worn for most occasions; tweed or woollen breeches were worn for hunting and hiking.

Top hats remained a requirement for upper class formal wear; bowlers and soft felt hats in a variety of shapes were worn for more casual occasions, and flat straw boaters were worn for yachting and other nautical pastimes.

Straw Boater Hat

Bowler Hat

Top Hat

Felt Cap


Norfolk Suit by Black Addek Costumes

During the 1880s, formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers with a dark waistcoat, a white bow tie, and a shirt with a winged collar. In mid-decade, the dinner jacket or tuxedo, was used in more relaxed formal occasions.

The Norfolk Jacket and tweed or woolen breeches were used for rugged outdoor pursuits.

Shirt collars were turned over or pressed into “wings.” Dress shirts had stiff fronts, sometimes decorated with shirt studs, and buttoned up the back.

The usual necktie was the four-in-hand and or the newly fashionable Ascot tie, made up as a neckband with wide wings attached and worn with a stickpin. Narrow ribbon ties were tied in a bow, and white bowtie was correct with formal evening wear.


During the 1890s, the blazer was introduced, and was worn for sports, sailing, and other casual activities. Hair was generally worn short, often with a pointed beard and generous mustache. This period was a “renaissance of facial adornment and experimentation. Never before or since has the beard been such an exquisite presentation of unabashed masculinity.” Herein find but a poor sampling of the magnificence that was the Century of the Beard.


In the 1900s, the sack coat or lounge coat continued to replace the frock coat for most informal and semi-formal occasions. Three-piece suits consisting of a sack coat, vest and trousers were worn, as were matching coat and waistcoat with contrasting trousers, or matching coat and trousers with contrasting waistcoat.

Vests fastened high on the chest. The usual style was single-breasted. The blazer, a navy blue or brightly-colored or striped coat cut like a sack coat with patch pockets and brass buttons, was worn for sports, sailing, and other casual activities. The tweed Norfolk jacket remained fashionable for outdoor pursuits.  Worn with matching knickers, it became the Norfolk suit, suitable for bicycling or golf with knee-length stockings and low shoes, or for hunting with sturdy boots or shoes with leather gaiters.

The less formal dinner jacket, which featured a shawl collar with silk or satin facings, now generally had a single button. Dinner jackets were appropriate formal wear when “dressing for dinner” at home or at a men’s club. The dinner jacket was worn with a white shirt and a dark tie.

In the early 19o0s, Top Hats remained a requirement for upper class formal wear; soft felt caps or stiff bowler hats were worn with lounge or sack suits, and flat straw boaters were worn for casual occasions.

Sources: Wikipedia Victorian Fashion; Top; and Dressing the Part – A Victorian Gentleman’s Personal Guide from Gentleman’s Emporium. Find more photographs here.