Regency Men's Fashion
What was the style of Regency men's fashion worn by the male characters of Jane Austen's famous novels. Jane Austen wrote about people - their characters and situations, she did not regale the reader with too much detail about what a character is wearing, a trait I often find so annoying with modern authors. With Jane it is the conversations held and the subsequent behaviour which conveys the character's personality and the plot. I am not really interested in what designer brand can be slipped in to a novel - does it advance the plot? When Jane's novels are portrayed through television or film adaptations we are introduced to the costumes of the day, houses, home furnishings and landscapes. We finally see what type of house her characters inhabited and what outfits they may have worn.
In this blog I am concentrating on what Jane's male characters would have worn. Male dress in the Regency period was very formal with a dash of flair thrown in! This was the era of the dandy and Beau Brummell a fashion icon of the early 19th century, his look was elegant and tasteful, the over elaborate style of King George III was no longer a la mode. The effect of the French Revolution caused fashions to change in England as the well dressed man about town wanted to distance himself from the fashion style of the French aristocrat. There were a number of items of clothing to be worn to achieve the desired look.
In 'Pride & Prejudice' Mr. Darcy is never seen without his tail coat, morning or evening, these coats made from natural materials such as wool with velvet trim were cut away at the front with a high collar. The coat would be a dark colour contrasting with the lighter colour trousers, but could be enhanced with braiding or brass buttons. This solid colour coat was tailored to accentuate the waist, sometimes this was achieved with the addition of padded shoulders, more portly gentleman would wear corsets to achieve the desired shape.
Beneath the coat a waistcoat with lapels most likely in a contrasting colour, worn longer at the front than the short cut coat to add a flash of colour to the look. This would be made from woven wool or silk.
Under the waistcoat the very famous white shirt, its fame due in no small part to the BBC's adaptation of the novel and Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy's swimming in the lake at Pemberley scene. This would always be white linen often with a ruffled front, frilled sleeves and turn-up collar, which would be tied with a matching white neck cloth, tied in a number of different styles to complete the look. The shirt would be tucked straight into their pants before mens drawers were introduced.
These became longer during the Regency period, the shorter knee length breeches so beloved of the aristocracy were becoming less fashionable. The distressing news from France during the revolution paid a large part in persuading English tailoring to quickly acquire a different look. We were now beginning to lose the rather attractive breeches and riding boots combination, often the daily attire of all Jane Austen's on screen heroes. These trousers were worn tight to the leg and would achieve the required slim looking silhouette, the bottom would be baggy to allow a comfortable sit while horse-riding. The breeches made from cotton were buttoned at the front and tied at the knee. For evening attire silken breeches would be worn with black buckled shoes and stockings. These were replaced by the longer pantaloon style, which covered the leg from waist to ankle, held under the foot with a strap. These would have a slightly more loose feel and look, and in my opinion not quite the dashing, swash-buckling breeches and boots look of old!
BOOTS & SHOES
The new sport of horse racing had been introduced in the 1700's and this influenced the Regency mans footwear fashion. Boots became the more common footwear of the day. They were shorter than the traditional riding boot, were made from leather, black outers with a brown inner lining turned down for contrast. Regency men's footwear had to be practical and able to withstand inclement weather. At the turn of the century patent leather was introduced, which helped solve the challenge of keeping boots shiny and polished. For evening wear and the inevitable dances and balls this type of footwear would have been inappropriate, evening shoes or dress slippers were worn, always in black with very low heel, either tied with cord or silk ribbon, or could be buckled. The longer riding style boots would eventually be replaced by a much shorter boot or shoe to be worn with full-length trousers.
The final piece to a Regency gentleman's outfit was his hat. The young fashionable man was no longer courting the powdered wig look and would wear a large top hat upon their natural curly short hair style. This style of hat which was tall and cylindrical is the forerunner of today's top hat, it was however a much taller hat with a smaller brim turned up known as the stove-pipe or with a downward brim called the chimney. These hats certainly added to a gentleman's stature and required a snug fit as they were worn constantly when walking or riding. Other styles of hat at this time were the bricorne a very wide brimmed hat where the front and back brim are lifted and brought together above the head, this style was often worn by the military, easier to carry under ones arm when indoors. There was also the tricorne hat where the brim was
pinched together to create three corners, the front corner was worn to the front of the head, this was a very popular hat in the late 1700's eventually replaced by the tall top hat.
And with the addition of a pair of kid leather gloves and walking cane your Regency gentleman was finally ready to take tea with the ladies of Longbourn! They really were very smartly dressed with their long tail coat, white shirt and boots. Would Mr. Darcy have had such presence and appeared so handsome and dashing in a pair of chinos? I think we all know the answer to that!