The History of Victorian Era Men's Clothing

Updated March 29, 2018

The Victorian Era in the Western part of the world was a time of elegance, formality, propriety and strict attention to etiquette and social mores. For men, the historical period was marked by fashions that were formal, elegant and somewhat sombre during their work and leisure hours. Clean, basic lines, dark colours and an attention to detail were integral elements of the Victorian man's style of dress.


The Victorian Era is defined as the period of Queen Victoria's reign in Great Britain from 1837 to 1901. According to Gentleman's Emporium, clothing, dress and personal grooming in the Victorian Era were significantly more formal than they are today. With the exceptions of workmen performing hard labour, men were expected to wear a coat, hat and vest at all times in public. Anything less would have been considered inappropriate and run counter to societal values.

Basic Elements

According to Gentleman's Emporium, one of the most basic elements of the Victorian man's wardrobe was the waistcoat or vest. This piece was considered to be the axis of the man's ensemble. Vests could be brightly coloured or dark and would often be used as an accessory to change the tone of a suit. The same suit could be worn a number of times with different vests, thereby changing the appearance of the overall outfit. Vests or waistcoats made of wool or cotton were common for daytime or for office wear, whereas colourful silk vests were more common for formal events.

Hats were of equal importance to the Victorian man's ensemble, and there were many popular variations. Top hats were reserved for more formal occasions, although they were occasionally worn during the day by men of means. Bowler hats or derbies grew increasingly common as the years passed and were considered appropriate day wear. The outerwear of choice for Victorian men was the frock coat, a long coat with a full skirt and a hem that hit above the knees. This garment was worn day or night and was a staple of any Victorian man's wardrobe.


Careful grooming of facial hair was also characteristic of the Victorian Era man. According to Victoria's, the years preceding the Victorian Era were known as the Regency period in which the style for men was to be clean shaven without a beard or a moustache. In the Victorian era, however, the fashion was quite the opposite, and moustaches, mutton chops and all manner of whiskers were a significant part of the period's style.


According to Gentleman's Emporium, ties (which were also known as cravats), pocket watches and walking sticks were popular accessories for men of the Victorian era. Ties could be thin and basic or wide and frilly, and pocket watches of the highest quality were considered status symbols. Walking sticks could be simple wood or topped with or brass decoration. It went against the laws of propriety for men and women to touch each others' bare skin in public, and so gloves were very common for both men and women.


According to Victoria's, the Victorian era was a time of great modesty and attention to social propriety. There were definite and formal laws that governed all kinds of social intercourse between men and women, and dressing appropriately was considered to be of the utmost importance. The formal nature of social interactions and the strict rules of conduct may be helpful in explaining the Victorian affinity for formal dress in nearly every situation.

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About the Author

Ashley Friedman graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Social Sciences. She has experience writing copy for the websites of creative professionals, and regularly contributes to several blogs covering popular culture, travel, food, and social action.