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Shopping Victorian Style
The Well Dressed Gentleman

Victorian Menswear Department

The Victorian man is well known for his taking great pride in his appearance and being well dressed is something not to be taken lightly. And the clothing manufacturers and shopkeepers certainly do their part. The line of shops frequented in order to accomplish this task are the hosier, hatter, glover, shirtmaker, shoemaker and tailor.

A popular menswear shop, Burlington Arcade, was the place to go. After a devastating fire in 1836, the shop rose again to its former glory. Hosiers and glovers have also been part of the arcade from its earliest days. Other famous shopping establishments to be found are Jermyn Street and Savile Row.

Hats are an essential part of Victorian man's wardrobe when he goes out and by its quality, one is able to distinguish the gentleman's social standing. A silk top hat denotes wealth, whereas tradesmen will wear hats appropriate to their trade.

One popular hatter Lock and Co. has their premises on St. James Street. In 1850 they received an order from a Mr. William Coke of Norfolk to make a special hat for his game-keepers' heads. It was to be a hard, round felt hat.  James Lock developed the specification and hired Thomas and William Bowler of Southwark to make it; hence the name "Bowler" or "Coke" hat.

Thomas Burberry, at the age of 21, opened a menswear store in Basingstoke in 1856. Coming from a farming background, he took the idea of smocks worn by shepherds and farmers, and with the help of a fabric manufacturer developed Gabardine. The material was completely waterproof, cool and comfortable to wear and did not tear.

As you can imagine, not many people during this period could afford to dress in style, and even some of the upper class sometimes resorted to loaning or renting clothes for special occasions.  National journals carried advertisements for "left-off clothes, uniforms and miscellaneous property." Monmouth Street, a short distance from Covent Garden, became known as "Rag Fair" because of the large number of shops selling secondhand clothes, boots and shoes. It was believed that much of the goods sold in these shops was stolen.

Regarding what was and is fashionable, early in the period, although slightly more subtle, colour in menswear was still quite popular even during the day. Evening garments could be found in various shades of browns, dark green, blue, violet and black. Swallowtail (tuxedo) and frock coats were reserved for formal occasions. These coats were fitted at the waist with short flaring skirts. Pockets were typically placed on the back of the skirt and the jacket had a velvet collar. "Morning coats" featuring rounded off skirt fronts also came into fashion as did the lounge jacket or sack coat.

Heavy tweed suits came into use for sportswear, and dinner coats (without tails) are used for dinners and dances at country homes. Braid trimmings and lace was also used in men's fashion during the 1850's and was used as decorative trim on coats and stitched down the side seams of trousers. Trousers and black satin knee breeches still remained a part of the full dress style.

Light-coloured shirts, checks and stripes came into style also around the middle of the period, but the "fine white shirt" was the "mark of a gentleman". Shirt collars in their various sizes and position, the cravat with its jeweled stickpin and scarves fastened by a strap and buckle all added to the elegance of men's fashion . . . and don't forget lace cuffs.

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