Well-dressed 18th-century men bore striking differences to their male counterparts today. What aristocrats of the period considered good taste now appears pompous and constrained. Yet each era adopts some fashions that make sense, along with fads or other idiosyncrasies. When comparing men's clothing of the late 1700s with that of earlier periods, certain changes, such as streamlined wigs and a reduction in lace frills, added to men's comfort in the post-Revolutionary era.
Coats and Waistcoats
Men of the period wore a "frock coat" for everyday use. The loosely cut garment sported either a standing collar or one that lay flat. For more formal wear, a tight-fitting dress coat completed a man's outfit.
A banyan, or loose robe, resembled a kimono. Men donned this casual attire over a shirt, waistcoat and breeches, for relaxation at home or in casual settings. Banyans were usually worn with caps rather than wigs.
Waistcoats, or vests worn under the frock coat or dress coat, often boasted many more buttons than necessary. Aristocrats flaunted large numbers of decorative buttons as a fashion statement and symbol of wealth.
Throughout the 18th century, men wore breeches, a garment made of woven fabric or leather. Breeches clung tightly to the leg, although the roomy seat area of the garment afforded the wearer room to bend. Men covered this extra fabric with their coats.
Sailors sometimes wore "slops," loosefitting outer breeches that covered their regular leggings. Fall Front Breeches, or breeches with a flap of material covering the front of the garment, became more popular as the century waned.
Shirts and Smocks
Shirts of the period sported a back panel that fell nearly to the knee, so that the shirt tail could be pulled between the legs. Most men wore the same shirt for both sleeping and daytime wear for long periods of time. While shirt cuffs and collars widened as the century drew to a close, shirt sleeves narrowed. Smocks, or overshirts, covered the undershirt and flowed loosely about the body.
Head and Footwear
Material for men's hats included straw, felt or beaver skin. One of the most popular head coverings, the tri-cornered felt hat, found favour with the military and upper-class men. Another felt hat, with a narrow brim made from beaver fur, gained popularity with American militiamen.
Caps of plain fabric with an upturned brim enjoyed wide use among working men of the period. Men also used caps for nightwear. These could take the shape of a working man's cap, a tube or a turban.
"Cordwainers," or shoemakers, fashioned leather shoes so that they could be worn on either the left or right foot. Buckles fastened them to the feet. Soles made of leather and iron prevented excessive wear to the undersides of the shoes.
A well-appointed man of the late 1700s sported a cane and tight-fitting stockings made of linen, silk, wool or cotton. Powdered wigs and temple spectacles, with round circles pressing the temples to hold the eyewear in place, remained popular until the end of the 1700s. Pocketbooks, or fabric shoulder bags worked with intricate stitching, completed the ensembles.
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