How many outfit changes does it take to make an Edwardian gentleman?

2:05 AM

All right you guys, please let me know if this post makes any sense at all. The Edwardian period is one of my least favorite in all of fashion history, and I loose interest in menswear after the 1830s, so I was completely out of my comfort zone with this one. Points for trying? If you want to know more about menswear, from some one who actually knows what they're talking about, I highly recommend the Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950 by Alan Mansfield and Phillis Cunnington (1973) and A History of Mens Fashion by Farid Chenoune, my version was translated by Deke Dusinberre (1993).



The Edwardian period covers the reign of King Edward VII, from 1901 to 1910. This was the last hoorah of the Age of Innocence, to steal a phrase from Edith Wharton, before World War I completely changed the world (including fashion). So how would an Edwardian gentleman go about his fashionable day?

Your day would start out with you wearing a nightshirt or pajamas. While enjoying a leisurely breakfast in bed and reading the paper you might wear a dressing gown or smoking jacket, which was often made of a decorative fabric and had quilted lapels.

For a morning stroll and other casual daytime activities, the lounge or sack jacket was worn. This was the standard suit jacket for the 20th century man, called the sack jacket by Americans and the lounge coat by the British. It could be single breasted or double breasted, the single breasted version featuring three or four buttons and the double breasted version featuring six. It had a high neck and short lapels, the lapels of the double breasted style featuring sharp points. It would be worn with matching trousers and a contrasting waistcoat. On your head you would wear a soft felt hat, such as a homburg or trilby.

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After a casual morning out, it's time to get ready for a formal afternoon garden party hosted by the Duke and Duchess. For this and other formal daytime occasions you would wear a morning coat. Morning coats were worn as suits with matching coat and trousers (black or grey), or with a contrasting waistcoat and striped trousers. It was single breasted, with three or four buttons and high lapels. It sloped away from the waist, and featured tails that fell to the bend of the knee. Because this is a formal occasion, a top hat could be worn.

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Morning coat from 1906. Illustration by Valerie Mansfield from the Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950.


Unfortunately, as many formal occasions tend to be, the Duchess's garden party was incredibly dull. Time to liven up the day with some manly sports! But which sport to partake in? Golfing, bicycling, or hiking would involve changing into an English style of belted jacket called a Norfolk jacket, a style of loose trousers ending tightly at the knee called knickers, long socks to cover your legs, and a soft cap with a visor. Riding would involve a jacket with a flared skirt, and jodhpurs- a style of pants which were tight around the lower leg and voluminous around the upper leg, derived from Indian sirwaal. Or perhaps tennis, yachting, or another sport, which would involve changing into a blazer and unmatched trousers. Maybe just a long drive in your fancy newfangled automobile would be best. For that you would only need to change back into your lounge coat- called a sports coat when worn for leisure time-, put on some flannel trousers, a long linen duster to protect your clothes from the dust thrown up by the wheels of the car, goggles to protect your eyes, and a peaked cap.

After a long drive it's time to get ready for dinner at your friends house. A new dilemma arises. Should you wear a dinner jacket? A tail coat? Or a dress coat? They all have lapels faced in silk, and can be worn unbuttoned which will save you from stifling on this hot summer evening. A dinner jacket was a tuxedo style coat, evolving from the smoking jacket. A light, single breasted coat, first considered casual and informal, this might be a good choice considering you have known your friend since you were a boy.

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Dinner jacket from 1912 (post-Edwardian period but as close as I could get). Illustration by Valerie Mansfield from the Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950.


But then again, a double breasted tail coat with either rolled lapels or notched collar and lapels would also work. But that charming young lady you've had your eye on will be there, so perhaps it's best to be dashing in your dress coat, which cuts away at the front waist leaving two knee length tails in back. A dress coat it is then, worn with a waistcoat, a shirt with a stiffened front and a stand up collar, and a white bowtie. Naturally your very dashing top hat will complete the ensemble.

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Dress coat from 1900. Illustration by Valerie Mansfield from the Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950.


On your way to your friends house you pass some elderly gentlemen and giggle at their outdated frock coats, now only worn by the elderly and foreign dignitaries. Falling to the knees and having a pleated back and center back vent (ie the fabric was split), the frock coat had two or three buttons on each side of the coat and two extra button holes on the lapels. Seeing the gentlemen reminds you of the great coat debate which is currently raging, Caran d'Ache writing in Dress Coat or Frock Coat (ca 1901), "Should one get married in a dress coat? Or should one get married in a frock coat? This weighty question has recently become a topic of debate once again. The Brummells say 'yes.' The Orsays say 'no.' Who will finally lay down the law on this point of etiquette?".

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Frock coat from 1902. Illustration by Valerie Mansfield from the Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950.


After a long day it's finally time to change back into your nightshirt and crawl into bed. So, how many outfit changes does it take to make an Edwardian gentleman? Using today as an example, five.

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4 comments

  1. That was great! Very enjoyable to read as well as infomative. I love the Edwardian era. I think it's a Mary Poppins thing.

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  2. This was awesome. It blows my mind to think that a dinner jacket was once considered casual. The Edwardians must think we're slobs.

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  3. When we were examining Edwardian social history in class, I was delighted to refer the students to this post. Many thanks

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