Discover the gentleman’s elegant garments of the 18th and 19th century through the dress collection at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin
The Elegant: Men’s Fashion of the 18th and 19th Century
Garments of the 18th century, a time when men and women alike dressed resplendently, are often vestments of an aristocratic origin, for fashionable dress was a luxury. To the end of the 18th century technological changes triggered by the French Revolution affected the processing of materials, woollen fabrics in muted colours replaced the patterned silks and paved the way for modest and rational attire. In the realm of men’s fashion, the bourgeois age of the 19th century brought about the permanent abolishment of gloriously coloured silk attire in. The dress coat was gradually replaced by the frock coat that was in turn edged out by the more fashionable jacket after 1870. Thus the development of the men’s suit, as it is ultimately still worn today, was complete.
Men’s Coat – Justeaucorps
France or England, ca. 1750
Up until the middle of the century the jacket, called justeaucorps, was worked to be collarless and cling down to the waist. This simple collarless men’s coat, made from wool twill is a rare item. Its still very bell-like coat skirts, still fashionable in the 1750’s, correspond to the basic cut of the justeaucorps, but differ from the elegant cuts of the nobility in the rustic material and the very simple features.
Men’s Nightgown - Banyan
England, ca. 1730
Nightgowns, which were worn over a shirt, breeches and waistcoat, provided elegance and comfort for men in indoors. The name Banyan points to this article’s Indian origin, they had been imported from India by the East India companies of England, France and the Netherlands since the 17th century.
France, ca. 1760
This collarless waistcoat with its à disposition woven decoration demonstrates the artistry of the French silk industry. The course of the arching guided edges, the measurements of the future owner and all other components of this piece—even the pocket flaps—had to be taken into consideration before the weaving process began.
Three-piece Men’s Suit
France, ca. 1765
Between 1730 and 1750 the jacket tails were cut to be less voluminous and the vest was truncated. Around the middle of the century the term justeaucorps was abolished, and the jacket was now named for the full ensemble: habit. It was worked to be continuously slimmer and tighter and the front components were cut back more and more.
France, ca. 1780
Waistcoats were worn increasingly shorter and straighter during the second half of the 18th century. Of particular splendour is this sleeveless waistcoat made from gold lamé, a fabric in which metal filaments, or flattened metal wires, are worked from selvedge to selvedge.
Men’s Waistcoat – Gilet
After 1780, white vests, now called gilet, with multi-coloured embroidery became fashionable. In 1787 The Baroness d’Oberkirch said of the fashion of the many various vests that: “It was absolutely trendy to own dozens, even hundreds of gilets if one wanted to be fashionable. They were masterfully embroidered ...” (Oberkirch 2010: 652)
Pattern drawers drafted new motifs, by which pattern pieces were created and presented in the capitals of Europe each year and customers could thus always order the newest designs. The design for this embroidery pattern has been preserved and is located in the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs in Lyon.
Buttons of Striped Men’s Jacket
France, ca. 1780
Another crucial decorative element for men’s attire was richly designed buttons. These could be wrap-spun, embroidered, underlaid with colourful metal foils or lined with rhinestones. After 1780 buttons were worn larger and more extravagantly on increasingly more plain jackets. This highly stylish, ornamental buttons, which are particularly eye-catching, are covered with the primary fabric and equipped with mother-of-pearl. In 1787 Baroness Oberkirch commented on this fashion: “The buttons of men’s jackets were no less bizarre. They showed ortraits, such as that of the kings of France, the twelve Caesars and sometimes family miniatures” (Oberkirch 2010: 652).
The Habit de Ville
Three-piece Men’s Suit
France, ca. 1790
This simple suit of iridescent silk velvet shows the colour scheme popular in the late 1780s, bottle-green and bronze. Its stylish cut with high, upright collar, deeply drawn neckline and far set tails shows it to be a so-called half suit, habit de ville.
Striped Men’s Frock
In terms of tailoring, this frock displays all crucial fashion hallmarks of its time: a high turndown collar that is pointed at the back, fronts that cut sharply back and oversized buttons covered with the top fabric, of which only two can be fastened. The fitted, high set sleeves with slim cuffs were also in vogue in the late 1780s.
Journal des Luxus und der Moden, 1788
The image of an elegant gentleman en chenille (or “colourful as a butterfly caterpillar”) in the Journal des Luxus und der Moden, of August 1788 shows how such a striped tailcoat would be worn: “A stylish modern gentleman ‘en chenille’. He is wearing a lowcut tailcoat of red, grey, and yellow striped cloth en rayes ombrées fringed down with red and mottled tassels. With either identically coloured multicoloured buttons or boutons à l’architecture”.
Men’s Stovepipe Hat
Carl Oberer and Lor. Gutseel
Vienna, ca. 1820
At the end of the 18th century the revolutionary top hat replaced the aristocratic tricorn and continued on as typical men’s headwear until the middle of the 19th century. The material was altered according to season. In summer, a lighter hat of woven cane was favoured.
England, ca. 1900
In 1850 the bowler hat, or bowler, was introduced by Englishman Thomas William Bowler. The rounded head rendered it as a compromise between the now conservative top hat and the casual floppy Calabrian hat popular among artists. The bowler hat was worn to semi-official occasions and still belongs in among the wardrobe of an elegant English man.
Portrait of Dr. Wilhelm Bode
Max Liebermann, 1904
The dress coat was gradually replaced by the frock coat that was in turn edged out by the more fashionable jacket after 1870. Thus the development of the men’s suit, as it is ultimately still worn today, was complete.
The painting shows the Director General of the Royal Museums, which later became the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin).
Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Christine Waidenschlager in: Fashion Art Works, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2014
Concept / Editing / Realisation: Merle Walter
Translation: allround Fremdsprachen GmbH von der Lühe, Berlin
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum