Reference Guide on Men's Attire In the 1860's
category has a listing for these three typical situations:
B. Everyday & Business Clothes
C. Full Dress & Evening Wear
A. Stout muslin (cotton cloth) or flannel (soft
B. Stout to fine muslin or flannel (clean and not
C. Finer muslin or flannel (cleaner)
A. Cotton or wool
B. Clean cotton or wool
C. Clean cotton, wool, or silk
A. Anything but a fancy white shirt, but of the
correct pattern (placket front or "fireman's"),
with or without collar. Could even be a knit shirt or
B. Wool flannel, cotton, linen (solid, check, plaid
or stripe) with attached or detachable collar.
C. White with starched front (pleated bibs are
even fancier) with fine small buttons or studs and cuff
buttons. A stand-up or short falling detachable collar.
A. Sturdy cloth; wool, cotton, linen or jean, with
or without pocket(s) in front. None in the rear.
B. Wool, linen or blend; solid, tweed or plaid;
sometimes lighter or contrasting with coat. When worn
with a frock coat; colors: black, navy or dark blue, dark
C. Fine black worsted wool broadcloth or wool sateen
A. Worn if necessary, or with a belt *over* trowsers
(NO belt loops. They were only found on baseball trowsers)
B. Ordinary plain braces, but a nice quality pair
preferred with a frock coat (can button to inside or outside
C. Fine, often embroidered. (Silk was very popular.)
A. Over shirt or smock sometimes worn for heavy
or very dirty labor instead of a vest.
B. Similar to, or matching trowsers, in wool or
linen. Bottom edge straight, no points. The back should
be made of black or brown polished cotton (See also Trowsers
C. Fine black worsted wool or silk for semi formal.
Fancy white silk (satin, brocade or embroidered) for the
ballroom. Self fabric covered buttons on all types or
pearl or fancy buttons on white waistcoats.
A. Neck cloth, cravat or very large bandana (multi-colored)
B. Striped, solid or patterned in dark color, worn
in a variety of knots. Also ascot, cravat, or stock. (of
silk or cotton)
C. Black silk for most occasions, but a white silk
bow tie (with white waistcoat) for the ballroom.
A. Sturdy shoes or boots, appropriate to the occupation
and weather conditions.
B. Boots, brogans or elastic sided low boots ("Congress
C. Polished shoes or dancing pumps (boots and spurs NOT
WANTED in the ballroom please!)
A. Sack or short coat of similar material to vest
and trowsers if worn, depending on work to be done.
B. Sack (considered informal) frock, paletot or
overcoat (see also Trowsers for material)
C. Tail coat or frock of fine black wool
A. Simple hat or cloth mechanic's cap, appropriate
to season, weather, and occupation
B. Fur or wool felt or silk hat, cloth mechanic's
cap, straw hat (in season), beaver or silk top hat sometimes
with frock coat.
C. Fine beaver, beaver/silk (out of fashion, but
often handed down to men in the family) or silk top hat.
A. Seasonal -- scrap of canvas, oil cloth, rain
coat, overcoat, shawl, greatcoat, old cloak, knit mittens
B. Seasonal -- oil cloth, rain coat, overcoat,
shawl, greatcoat, cloak, knit mittens or gloves.
C. Seasonal -- rain coat, overcoat, shawl, greatcoat,
cloak, cape, knit mittens or gloves.
A. Shop apron or smock, little or no jewelry, perhaps
just a time piece, handkerchief (about 18 inches square)
and any tools of your trade.
B. Simple jewelry including: watch chain and fob,
cuff buttons, mourning or organizational jewelry (Masons,
etc.), umbrella or walking stick, valise or carpet bag
when traveling, small notebook and pencil, hard rubber
comb and kid or cotton gloves.
C. Braided hair watch chain with fob, fancy jewelry
or pin, shirt studs, gloves (at least two pair of white
ones for dances) and walking stick.
Short Sketch of Men's Attire in the 1860's
published in The Citizen's Companion, October/November 1994)
April, I attended a civilian seminar hosted by "Under
Two Flags" in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This new
organization is working to provide serious historians
with information, research programs and a site for interpreting
all aspects of mid Victorian life during the 1860's in
America. The seminar, and in particular the two sessions
on men's clothing and material culture, are positive indications
of the strength and direction of the "Under Two Flags"
session featured Bill "Mac" McIntosh, a thirty
year veteran of living history and reenacting, who in,
recent years, has focused his attention on men's civilian
clothing. He filled three hours of the morning session
with just a small portion of information garnered during
those thirty years of experience. Talking to him afterward,
he agreed to let me share my notes and his "clothing
guidelines" through the printed media.
have taken his information and rearranged it slightly.
I added what my research has uncovered. I hope to someday
expand on this with documentation, period photographic
references and pictures of actual items. I invite you,
the reader, to contribute your knowledge to the pages
of The Citizens Companion. Hopefully, it will be put to
use as "Mac" had stated to those attending the
is meant to be a simple guide to proper dress for any
occasion or activity, whether historical or otherwise.
Rag picking was a trade in those days, so if this is what
you want to be, dress appropriately for it. Don't forget
that modern wrist watches, eye wear, and non period rings
are not appropriate."
these are meant to be guidelines for getting properly
attired, and for use as a basis for your own research.
The information contained in the listing is gleaned from
research that I have done over a long period of time using
period photographs, printed materials, and original garments.
If you use this in the spirit that it was intended, you
will be able to present an appropriate appearance for
almost any situation that will arise."
information is also basic for those doing military impressions.
At one time all the soldiers in both armies were civilians.
Knowledge of clothing worn in everyday civilian life certainly
applies to the military.
the Victorian era men's clothing did not change to any
great extent. The tradition of black tailcoats became
standard for formal evening dress as it remains today
with only subtle changes. The frock coat became everyday
business wear throughout the rest of the century. The
sack suit of the 1840s had evolved into a standard cut
by the 1860's and survives today as the modern business
suit or sport coat. Slight variations and new innovations
(some that remain in fashion today) were many times the
result of improved technology. The sewing machine, after
some years of development, helped to stimulate the ready-made
the 1860's "ready-made" was another term for
clothing a commissioned merchant was paid to make for
someone else or to sell to the public. "Slop shops"
produced rough clothes that required finishing by a tailor.
Tailors generally contracted to make clothing for a specific
individual. The second hand clothing business (almost
exclusively men's clothing until later in the century)
was greatly effected by the growth of ready-made apparel.
one of the reasons that so few examples of men's clothing
from the first two thirds of the nineteenth century have
survived is that most of the clothes were reworked more
than once. Men's garments in particular were also often
worn until no longer repairable. Also, men's clothing
was not at the mercy of fashion as was women's. A man's
suit was generally worn more frequently than typical for
a reception dress or ball gown.
production of shoes and boots also changed as technology
brought mechanization to the manufacturing process. Elastic
cloth and improvements in metal hardware manufacture contributed
to changes in shoe production. Industrialization also
changed how the speed and the quality raw material was
processed into cloth and finished goods. Improvements
in farming also effected the raw material quality and
follows is a summary of Mac's notes and a matrix for basic
men's civilian impressions. Keep this guideline in mind
as you study photographic images and drawings of the period.
I am very grateful for Mac's generosity and willingness
to share his knowledge of men's clothing in the nineteenth
on Men's Clothing During the 1860s:
consisted of shirt and drawers. Wearing of two shirts common
as the undershirt keeps the other shirt clean and free from
body odor. Made of stout muslin, flannel and flannel and
knit fabrics sewn together. Knit types resemble long underwear
of today without elastic and with button closures. The US
Army did issue knit underwear in the middle of the war (documented
only in photographs). Samples of knit undershirts and drawers
were found on the steamship Arabia (sunk in 1857). Flannel
drawers resemble modern pajama bottoms in shape, but with
buttons at the waistband, a tie adjustment in the back and
occasionally ties or drawstrings at the bottom of the legs.
Three button, Y-front drawers also existed.
most commonly of cotton and wool, sometimes silk for formal
wear. Often had 1 inch or less of ribbing at the top. Hand
and machine knitted. Came in white, black, and many drab
colors (often drab, rarely bright). Examples of black socks
found on the Arabia. Seamed on the back or side, sometimes
with reinforced heel.
to utilize full shoulder yoke with minimal tailoring. Most
shirts cut full in late 18th or early 19th century style;
placket front, drop shoulders, with or without collars (button-on
cloth or paper collars available). Dress shirts made from
fine linen and, increasingly, from cotton. "Good"
shirts often had pleats and even decorative needlework.
Ordinary shirts made from heavier cotton, wool, or wool
flannel, (not modern muslin) in white, drab solids (wool
only), woven plaids, stripes, checks and prints (not modern
at the natural waist (belly-button height, on a line with
the elbows) not on the hips as today. Waist bands fairly
narrow (1 to 1 1/2 inches) following the waist shape, rising
higher in the back than modern trousers. Eyelets and ties,
buckles or straps at the back seam for adjustment. Fly buttons
inside plackets. Legs straight, or slightly narrow at the
bottom; somewhat baggy from the hips down. Pleated fronts
found on some examples. Should fit well enough at the waist
to go without suspenders, while baggy in the seat. Creases
seen in about ten percent of period images. 1860's length
should allow the back of the pant legs to be at the top
of the shoe or boot heel with the front creased over the
arch of the foot. Lined or unlined. By late war years some
civilian pants had stripes running down the outside seam,
similar to military trousers for NCO's or officers (a fashion
take-off?). Side seam or flap pockets in front. Rear pocket
extremely rare.. A watch pocket in the waistband or just
below it. (A nice touch in formal wear and some military
trousers had them). Materials varied according to the intended
use. This applies to coats and jackets as well. Black super-fine
wool broadcloth for trousers worn with frock coats, full
dress or tail coats. Other materials were light to medium
weight wool in plaids, checks and solids of natural colors
in various weaves. "Shoddy," reprocessed wool
produced during the war, produced mainly in dark colors,
sometimes flecked with light colored threads. Natural and
light colored cottons and linens in plaids, checks and (natural
color) solids used for hot weather clothing. Corduroy used
for casual and sporting clothes. Jean or Negro cloth (mixture
of coarse cotton or linen warp and wool weft or "fill")
a common material for work clothing.
with trousers that are well fitted for show and a necessity
for loose fitting ones. A popular type was basically two
straps of leather, cloth or knitted material with button
holes at one end and either button holes or straps and buckles
for adjustment. Leather suspenders, sometimes with designs
stitched into them and cloth types with embroidered designs
often done in Berlin wool work (a type of needlework popular
in the 1860's similar to modern needlepoint). Elastic used
occasionally, but only on about the last three inches of
the back of the suspenders.
from silk and common worsted wool, often matching coats
and trousers. Silk worn with almost any better coat. Most
vests lined with white polished cotton. Backs from brown,
black or white polished cotton. Commonly made in subtle
colors and patterns. By the 1860s vests started losing the
color and flamboyance of the early part of the century.
Most had a shawl collar and lapels and three pockets. Adjusted
near the waist in the back with straps and buckle or, less
often, a series of eyelets for lacing. Cut straight across
on the bottom. Low cut vests worn with evening wear. If
the cloth was patterned, it was subtly done, such as white
embroidery on a white background. High cut vests worn with
everyday attire. Single breasted vests could be worn with
either single or double breasted coats, but a double breasted
vest could only be worn with a double breasted coat.
and ties not as long or colorful as before the 1860s. They
retained a standard width of about 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Narrower
tie widths appeared about this time. Wide cravats worn with
high collars, narrower ones with turned down collars (more
prevalent in the 1860s). The double Windsor knot known today
appeared in the 1860's. Ties were tied in every way but
the modern bow tie. Pre tied cravats were available, fastening
with a tie, buckle, button or spring steel coil. The preferred
tie material were luxurious like silk, satin or anything
of a silky feel. Colors included black, white, or contrasting
or complimentary to the outfit. White ties were worn with
white formal evening vests. Black ties, while not worn with
white formal vests, were worn with informal white summer
vests. Men, like women of the Victorian era, minimized the
amount of skin shown and would generally keep their shirt
buttoned unless at strenuous labor.
and shoes are the basis upon which all attire is built.
The predominant feature of men's footwear was square chisel
toes and smallish heels. Most common material for working
footwear was waxed calfskin that presented a rough outer
surface and a smooth inner. Goat skin, in red or green,
was used to trim better boots of waxed calf and kid (a fine,
soft, supple leather). Men's shoes were commonly unlined.
Rough outer leather was smoothed by waxing and polishing.
Most boots had one piece fronts, but the two piece Wellington
were still being made. An alternative shoe or boot was the
"Spring-sided Congress gaiter", or elastic sided
shoe (introduced in the 1840s). Other types of boots existed,
but were not exceedingly common such as canvas sporting
shoes. The lowly Oxford shoe, pretty much as it is today,
appeared in the 1850's. Brogans, with their larger heels,
were used by working people and were standard issue in the
military. Patent leather available and often used for men's
dancing pumps for formal balls. (Available today from Italy).
As a fashion fad of the 1860's, low boots were more popular
than brogans for civilians. Factory produced shoes came
in rights and lefts. Shoes made by hand were often straight
or "no-handed". Unless the wearer changed from
one foot to the other regularly, they naturally became rights
or lefts. Some tradesmen such as millers wore wooden soled
shoes similar to brogans. Toes appeared square from above
and chisel shaped from the side. Shoes that laced had cloth
laces with metal caps and metal eyelets.
were a popular accessory that gave the appearance of financial
well-being. Watch guards or chains were made of gold, gold
substitute, silver, nickel silver, polished or cut steel
and braided hair. Chains attached to the vest with an "S"
hook or 'T' bar. Wide range of types and designs of chain
were in production: single, double or triple strands with
moveable slides that were decorated in various ways. Sometimes
the slides had a ring to attach a fob or for the ever present
watch key. (Stem wind watches did not become common until
the 1870's). Other jewelry included rings, stickpins, shirt
studs and cufflinks or buttons. Sometimes a memorial or
photographic brooch or mourning band when appropriate or
patriotic ribbon was worn. Flattened gold rings (no studs!)
for ears were an ethnic and naval tradition.
from sack coats to tail, or claw hammer styles. Most common
materials: wool of various weights, cotton and linen. Silk
coats were known to exist. Superfine wool broadcloth used
for finer clothing was produced with a finish that literally
glowed (it will shine in nineteenth century photographs).
Better wool broadcloth was so finely woven and finished
that the edges could be left raw. Best clothing was black.
Wool of tweed, check or plaid patterns were used for sack
suits, everyday paletots and sports and hunting attire.
Linings were made from ordinary cheap cotton, wool plaid,
silk and silk silesia. Frock coats generally had one or
two breast pockets on the inside, two pockets in the tails
and occasionally pockets on the outside. Sack coats mainly
had the outside pockets with or without flaps. Full dress
or tail coats usually worn only in the evening for formal
occasions. Linings and tailored look are defining clues
in dating mid-century frock coats. Sleeves were cut quite
full, especially in the elbow, and commonly worn much longer
and caps a feature of daily life, offering protection from
the elements and occupational hazards, a badge of social
distinction and a covering for unwashed hair since frequent
hair washing was not the norm. All sorts of hats and caps
were popular, including all shapes of wool felt hats, beaver
or silk plush hats and several styles of straw hats, watch
and mechanic's caps with a flat top and visor of the same
fabric, tarred paper, or leather, derby or bowler to a limited
extent and stovepipe hats were crowding out top hats in
all but formal wear. By 1860 beaver hats were made of a
combination of beaver, rabbit and wool fur. Collapsible
top hats were not available until the 1870's. Fully constructed
hats had a lining and/or a hat band, ribbon on the outside
and most often a bound or sewn edge. Many of us are wearing
unfinished hats. Proper etiquette of hat wearing and removal
was very important.
or Irish knit, pull-over or buttoned, also includes knit
shirts. Worn for warmth rather than as a fashion statement.
Photographs of the 1862 Dakota conflict in Minnesota show
Native Americans clothed in knit shirts furnished by the
are a necessity in cold or wet weather. Wills and inventories
of the time indicate that a good civilian greatcoat of the
standard caped style was something of value to be handed
down from one generation to the next. Modern overcoats can
sometimes be easily modified to look correct for the period,
especially Brooks Brothers and Lord and Taylor (both in
business before the war). Shawls were universal to all classes
and both men and women up to the end of the 1860s. Capes
were really just formal shawls for men. Rainwear includes
coats of oilcloth and waterproofed wool. For extremely cold
weather, Buffalo and other fur coats for those who could
and mittens were a necessity and dress gloves were a part
of the etiquette of the day. Gloves for occupational use
might be leather or wool while fine white kid (goatskin)
was used for formal wear (White cotton is used for a substitute
today). White gloves of knit cotton were known as "Berlin".
No respectable gentleman. went out of doors without a hat
and gloves (two pairs often necessary for this, darker for
ordinary or sporting use, and white for offering a hand
to a lady for the appearance of cleanliness.) Many military
and civilian coats have been found with a pair of gloves
stuffed into tail pockets. "Yellow" or ecru color
gloves were considered quite dashing.
Umbrellas of stout and commodious design were in common
use. Generally have straight or bent wooden handles. (Umbrellas
were also used by women for rain protection as parasols
were for sun protection only.) Walking sticks and canes
were either an affectation or a necessity, depending on
age, social status or the need for a protective weapon.
Canes were generally constructed of hickory or ash (very
flexible and resilient woods), or dense, heavy woods such
as ebony and lignum vitae. Canes were even made from plant
stalks such as sugar cane. Cane heads or pommels could be
of silver, gold, antler, horn, bone or ivory. Handkerchiefs
were a necessity. They were normally large (18" x18"
or so) and generally of cotton. Some bordered, paisley,
or multicolored (three or more colors, not bicolor bandannas