Quick Reference Guide on Men's Attire In the 1860's
(More detailed information and photos follow below.)

Each category has a listing for these three typical situations:

Underwear
A. Stout muslin (cotton cloth) or flannel (soft woolen cloth)
B. Stout to fine muslin or flannel (clean and not ragged)
C. Finer muslin or flannel (cleaner)

Socks
A. Cotton or wool
B. Clean cotton or wool
C. Clean cotton, wool, or silk

Shirts
A. Anything but a fancy white shirt, but of the correct pattern (placket front or "fireman's"), with or without collar.
     Could even be a knit shirt or sweater.
B. Wool flannel, cotton, linen (solid, check, plaid or stripe) with attached or detachable collar.
C. White with starched front (pleated bibs are even fancier) with fine small buttons or studs and cuff buttons.
     A stand-up or short falling detachable collar.

Trousers
A. Sturdy cloth; wool, cotton, linen or jean, with or without pocket(s) in front. None in the rear.
B. Wool, linen or blend; solid, tweed or plaid; sometimes lighter or contrasting with coat
     When worn with a frock coat; colors: black, navy or dark blue, dark brown.
C. Fine black worsted wool broadcloth or wool sateen

Braces (Suspenders)
A. Worn if necessary, or with a belt *over* trowsers (NO belt loops. They were only found on baseball trowsers)
B. Ordinary plain braces, but a nice quality pair preferred with a frock coat (can button to inside or outside or trousers.)
C. Fine, often embroidered. (Silk was very popular.)

Waistcoats (Vest)
A. Over shirt or smock sometimes worn for heavy or very dirty labor instead of a vest.
B. Similar to, or matching trowsers, in wool or linen. Bottom edge straight, no points. The back should be made of black or
     brown polished cotton (See also Trowsers for materials.)
C. Fine black worsted wool or silk for semi formal. Fancy white silk (satin, brocade or embroidered) for the ballroom.
     Self fabric covered buttons on all types or pearl or fancy buttons on white waistcoats.

Neckwear
A. Neck cloth, cravat or very large bandana (multi-colored)
B. Striped, solid or patterned in dark color, worn in a variety of knots. Also ascot, cravat, or stock. (of silk or cotton)
C. Black silk for most occasions, but a white silk bow tie (with white waistcoat) for the ballroom.

Footwear
A. Sturdy shoes or boots, appropriate to the occupation and weather conditions.
B. Boots, brogans or elastic sided low boots ("Congress gaiters")
C. Polished shoes or dancing pumps (boots and spurs NOT WANTED in the ballroom please!)

Coats
A. Sack or short coat of similar material to vest and trowsers if worn, depending on work to be done
B. Sack (considered informal) frock, paletot or overcoat (see also Trowsers for material)
C. Tail coat or frock of fine black wool

Head wear
A. Simple hat or cloth mechanic's cap, appropriate to season, weather, and occupation
B. Fur or wool felt or silk hat, cloth mechanic's cap, straw hat (in season), beaver or silk top hat sometimes with frock coat
C. Fine beaver, beaver/silk (out of fashion, but often handed down to men in the family) or silk top hat

Outerwear (as needed)
A. Seasonal -- scrap of canvas, oil cloth, rain coat, overcoat, shawl, greatcoat, old cloak, knit mittens or gloves.
B. Seasonal -- oil cloth, rain coat, overcoat, shawl, greatcoat, cloak, knit mittens or gloves.
C. Seasonal -- rain coat, overcoat, shawl, greatcoat, cloak, cape, knit mittens or gloves.

Accessories (optional)
A. Shop apron or smock, little or no jewelry, perhaps just a time piece, handkerchief (about 18 inches square) and any
     tools of your trade.
B. Simple jewelry including: watch chain and fob, cuff buttons, mourning or organizational jewelry (Masons, etc.),
     umbrella or walking stick, valise or carpet bag when traveling, small notebook and pencil, hard rubber comb and kid or
     cotton gloves.
C. Braided hair watch chain with fob, fancy jewelry or pin, shirt studs, gloves (at least two pair of white ones for dances) and
     walking stick.


A Short Sketch of Men's Attire in the 1860's

(Previously published in The Citizen's Companion, October/November 1994)

Last April, I attended a civilian seminar hosted by "Under Two Flags" in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This new organization is working to provide serious historians with information, research programs and a site for interpreting all aspects of mid Victorian life during the 1860's in America. The seminar, and in particular the two sessions on men's clothing and material culture, are positive indications of the strength and direction of the "Under Two Flags" organization.

One session featured Bill "Mac" McIntosh, a thirty year veteran of living history and reenacting, who in, recent years, has focused his attention on men's civilian clothing. He filled three hours of the morning session with just a small portion of information garnered during those thirty years of experience. Talking to him afterward, he agreed to let me share my notes and his "clothing guidelines" through the printed media.

I have taken his information and rearranged it slightly. I added what my research has uncovered. I hope to someday expand on this with documentation, period photographic references and pictures of actual items. I invite you, the reader, to contribute your knowledge to the pages of The Citizens Companion. Hopefully, it will be put to use as "Mac" had stated to those attending the seminar:

"This is meant to be a simple guide to proper dress for any occasion or activity, whether historical or otherwise. Rag picking was a trade in those days, so if this is what you want to be, dress appropriately for it. Don't forget that modern wrist watches, eye wear, and non period rings are not appropriate."

"Remember, these are meant to be guidelines for getting properly attired, and for use as a basis for your own research. The information contained in the listing is gleaned from research that I have done over a long period of time using period photographs, printed materials, and original garments. If you use this in the spirit that it was intended, you will be able to present an appropriate appearance for almost any situation that will arise."

This information is also basic for those doing military impressions. At one time all the soldiers in both armies were civilians. Knowledge of clothing worn in everyday civilian life certainly applies to the military.

During the Victorian era men's clothing did not change to any great extent. The tradition of black tailcoats became standard for formal evening dress as it remains today with only subtle changes. The frock coat became everyday business wear throughout the rest of the century. The sack suit of the 1840s had evolved into a standard cut by the 1860's and survives today as the modern business suit or sport coat. Slight variations and new innovations (some that remain in fashion today) were many times the result of improved technology. The sewing machine, after some years of development, helped to stimulate the ready-made clothing industry.

In the 1860's "ready-made" was another term for clothing a commissioned merchant was paid to make for someone else or to sell to the public. "Slop shops" produced rough clothes that required finishing by a tailor. Tailors generally contracted to make clothing for a specific individual. The second hand clothing business (almost exclusively men's clothing until later in the century) was greatly effected by the growth of ready-made apparel.

Perhaps one of the reasons that so few examples of men's clothing from the first two thirds of the nineteenth century have survived is that most of the clothes were reworked more than once. Men's garments in particular were also often worn until no longer repairable. Also, men's clothing was not at the mercy of fashion as was women's. A man's suit was generally worn more frequently than typical for a reception dress or ball gown.

The production of shoes and boots also changed as technology brought mechanization to the manufacturing process. Elastic cloth and improvements in metal hardware manufacture contributed to changes in shoe production. Industrialization also changed how the speed and the quality raw material was processed into cloth and finished goods. Improvements in farming also effected the raw material quality and quantity.

What follows is a summary of Mac's notes and a matrix for basic men's civilian impressions. Keep this guideline in mind as you study photographic images and drawings of the period. I am very grateful for Mac's generosity and willingness to share his knowledge of men's clothing in the nineteenth century.

Notes on Men's Clothing During the 1860s:

UNDERWEAR

Often consisted of shirt and drawers. Wearing of two shirts common as the undershirt keeps the other shirt clean and free from body odor. Made of stout muslin, flannel and flannel and knit fabrics sewn together. Knit types resemble long underwear of today without elastic and with button closures. The US Army did issue knit underwear in the middle of the war (documented only in photographs). Samples of knit undershirts and drawers were found on the steamship Arabia (sunk in 1857). Flannel drawers resemble modern pajama bottoms in shape, but with buttons at the waistband, a tie adjustment in the back and occasionally ties or drawstrings at the bottom of the legs. Three button, Y-front drawers also existed.

SOCKS

Made most commonly of cotton and wool, sometimes silk for formal wear. Often had 1 inch or less of ribbing at the top. Hand and machine knitted. Came in white, black, and many drab colors (often drab, rarely bright). Examples of black socks found on the Arabia. Seamed on the back or side, sometimes with reinforced heel.

SHIRTS

Beginning to utilize full shoulder yoke with minimal tailoring. Most shirts cut full in late 18th or early 19th century style; placket front, drop shoulders, with or without collars (button-on cloth or paper collars available). Dress shirts made from fine linen and, increasingly, from cotton. "Good" shirts often had pleats and even decorative needlework. Ordinary shirts made from heavier cotton, wool, or wool flannel, (not modern muslin) in white, drab solids (wool only), woven plaids, stripes, checks and prints (not modern calico).

TROWSERS

Worn at the natural waist (belly-button height, on a line with the elbows) not on the hips as today. Waist bands fairly narrow (1 to 1 1/2 inches) following the waist shape, rising higher in the back than modern trousers. Eyelets and ties, buckles or straps at the back seam for adjustment. Fly buttons inside plackets. Legs straight, or slightly narrow at the bottom; somewhat baggy from the hips down. Pleated fronts found on some examples. Should fit well enough at the waist to go without suspenders, while baggy in the seat. Creases seen in about ten percent of period images. 1860's length should allow the back of the pant legs to be at the top of the shoe or boot heel with the front creased over the arch of the foot. Lined or unlined. By late war years some civilian pants had stripes running down the outside seam, similar to military trousers for NCO's or officers (a fashion take-off?). Side seam or flap pockets in front. Rear pocket extremely rare.. A watch pocket in the waistband or just below it. (A nice touch in formal wear and some military trousers had them). Materials varied according to the intended use. This applies to coats and jackets as well. Black super-fine wool broadcloth for trousers worn with frock coats, full dress or tail coats. Other materials were light to medium weight wool in plaids, checks and solids of natural colors in various weaves. "Shoddy," reprocessed wool produced during the war, produced mainly in dark colors, sometimes flecked with light colored threads. Natural and light colored cottons and linens in plaids, checks and (natural color) solids used for hot weather clothing. Corduroy used for casual and sporting clothes. Jean or Negro cloth (mixture of coarse cotton or linen warp and wool weft or "fill") a common material for work clothing.

SUSPENDERS (BRACES)

Worn with trousers that are well fitted for show and a necessity for loose fitting ones. A popular type was basically two straps of leather, cloth or knitted material with button holes at one end and either button holes or straps and buckles for adjustment. Leather suspenders, sometimes with designs stitched into them and cloth types with embroidered designs often done in Berlin wool work (a type of needlework popular in the 1860's similar to modern needlepoint). Elastic used occasionally, but only on about the last three inches of the back of the suspenders.

VESTS OR WAISTCOAT

Made from silk and common worsted wool, often matching coats and trousers. Silk worn with almost any better coat. Most vests lined with white polished cotton. Backs from brown, black or white polished cotton. Commonly made in subtle colors and patterns. By the 1860s vests started losing the color and flamboyance of the early part of the century. Most had a shawl collar and lapels and three pockets. Adjusted near the waist in the back with straps and buckle or, less often, a series of eyelets for lacing. Cut straight across on the bottom. Low cut vests worn with evening wear. If the cloth was patterned, it was subtly done, such as white embroidery on a white background. High cut vests worn with everyday attire. Single breasted vests could be worn with either single or double breasted coats, but a double breasted vest could only be worn with a double breasted coat.

NECKWEAR

Cravats and ties not as long or colorful as before the 1860s. They retained a standard width of about 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Narrower tie widths appeared about this time. Wide cravats worn with high collars, narrower ones with turned down collars (more prevalent in the 1860s). The double Windsor knot known today appeared in the 1860's. Ties were tied in every way but the modern bow tie. Pre tied cravats were available, fastening with a tie, buckle, button or spring steel coil. The preferred tie material were luxurious like silk, satin or anything of a silky feel. Colors included black, white, or contrasting or complimentary to the outfit. White ties were worn with white formal evening vests. Black ties, while not worn with white formal vests, were worn with informal white summer vests. Men, like women of the Victorian era, minimized the amount of skin shown and would generally keep their shirt buttoned unless at strenuous labor.

FOOTWEAR

Boots and shoes are the basis upon which all attire is built. The predominant feature of men's footwear was square chisel toes and smallish heels. Most common material for working footwear was waxed calfskin that presented a rough outer surface and a smooth inner. Goat skin, in red or green, was used to trim better boots of waxed calf and kid (a fine, soft, supple leather). Men's shoes were commonly unlined. Rough outer leather was smoothed by waxing and polishing. Most boots had one piece fronts, but the two piece Wellington were still being made. An alternative shoe or boot was the "Spring-sided Congress gaiter", or elastic sided shoe (introduced in the 1840s). Other types of boots existed, but were not exceedingly common such as canvas sporting shoes. The lowly Oxford shoe, pretty much as it is today, appeared in the 1850's. Brogans, with their larger heels, were used by working people and were standard issue in the military. Patent leather available and often used for men's dancing pumps for formal balls. (Available today from Italy). As a fashion fad of the 1860's, low boots were more popular than brogans for civilians. Factory produced shoes came in rights and lefts. Shoes made by hand were often straight or "no-handed". Unless the wearer changed from one foot to the other regularly, they naturally became rights or lefts. Some tradesmen such as millers wore wooden soled shoes similar to brogans. Toes appeared square from above and chisel shaped from the side. Shoes that laced had cloth laces with metal caps and metal eyelets.

JEWELRY

Watches were a popular accessory that gave the appearance of financial well-being. Watch guards or chains were made of gold, gold substitute, silver, nickel silver, polished or cut steel and braided hair. Chains attached to the vest with an "S" hook or 'T' bar. Wide range of types and designs of chain were in production: single, double or triple strands with moveable slides that were decorated in various ways. Sometimes the slides had a ring to attach a fob or for the ever present watch key. (Stem wind watches did not become common until the 1870's). Other jewelry included rings, stickpins, shirt studs and cufflinks or buttons. Sometimes a memorial or photographic brooch or mourning band when appropriate or patriotic ribbon was worn. Flattened gold rings (no studs!) for ears were an ethnic and naval tradition.

COATS

Varied from sack coats to tail, or claw hammer styles. Most common materials: wool of various weights, cotton and linen. Silk coats were known to exist. Superfine wool broadcloth used for finer clothing was produced with a finish that literally glowed (it will shine in nineteenth century photographs). Better wool broadcloth was so finely woven and finished that the edges could be left raw. Best clothing was black. Wool of tweed, check or plaid patterns were used for sack suits, everyday paletots and sports and hunting attire. Linings were made from ordinary cheap cotton, wool plaid, silk and silk silesia. Frock coats generally had one or two breast pockets on the inside, two pockets in the tails and occasionally pockets on the outside. Sack coats mainly had the outside pockets with or without flaps. Full dress or tail coats usually worn only in the evening for formal occasions. Linings and tailored look are defining clues in dating mid-century frock coats. Sleeves were cut quite full, especially in the elbow, and commonly worn much longer than today.

HEAD WEAR

Hats and caps a feature of daily life, offering protection from the elements and occupational hazards, a badge of social distinction and a covering for unwashed hair since frequent hair washing was not the norm. All sorts of hats and caps were popular, including all shapes of wool felt hats, beaver or silk plush hats and several styles of straw hats, watch and mechanic's caps with a flat top and visor of the same fabric, tarred paper, or leather, derby or bowler to a limited extent and stovepipe hats were crowding out top hats in all but formal wear. By 1860 beaver hats were made of a combination of beaver, rabbit and wool fur. Collapsible top hats were not available until the 1870's. Fully constructed hats had a lining and/or a hat band, ribbon on the outside and most often a bound or sewn edge. Many of us are wearing unfinished hats. Proper etiquette of hat wearing and removal was very important.

SWEATERS

Cable or Irish knit, pull-over or buttoned, also includes knit shirts. Worn for warmth rather than as a fashion statement. Photographs of the 1862 Dakota conflict in Minnesota show Native Americans clothed in knit shirts furnished by the US Army.

OUTERWEAR

Overcoats are a necessity in cold or wet weather. Wills and inventories of the time indicate that a good civilian greatcoat of the standard caped style was something of value to be handed down from one generation to the next. Modern overcoats can sometimes be easily modified to look correct for the period, especially Brooks Brothers and Lord and Taylor (both in business before the war). Shawls were universal to all classes and both men and women up to the end of the 1860s. Capes were really just formal shawls for men. Rainwear includes coats of oilcloth and waterproofed wool. For extremely cold weather, Buffalo and other fur coats for those who could afford them.

ACCESSORIES

Gloves and mittens were a necessity and dress gloves were a part of the etiquette of the day. Gloves for occupational use might be leather or wool while fine white kid (goatskin) was used for formal wear (White cotton is used for a substitute today). White gloves of knit cotton were known as "Berlin". No respectable gentleman. went out of doors without a hat and gloves (two pairs often necessary for this, darker for ordinary or sporting use, and white for offering a hand to a lady for the appearance of cleanliness.) Many military and civilian coats have been found with a pair of gloves stuffed into tail pockets. "Yellow" or ecru color gloves were considered quite dashing.
Umbrellas of stout and commodious design were in common use. Generally have straight or bent wooden handles. (Umbrellas were also used by women for rain protection as parasols were for sun protection only.) Walking sticks and canes were either an affectation or a necessity, depending on age, social status or the need for a protective weapon. Canes were generally constructed of hickory or ash (very flexible and resilient woods), or dense, heavy woods such as ebony and lignum vitae. Canes were even made from plant stalks such as sugar cane. Cane heads or pommels could be of silver, gold, antler, horn, bone or ivory. Handkerchiefs were a necessity. They were normally large (18" x18" or so) and generally of cotton. Some bordered, paisley, or multicolored (three or more colors, not bicolor bandannas of today.)

Here is an ambrotype (ruby glass) from my collection showing some young men dressed in typical 1860s clothing:
 


 
 

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Updated 14 April 9 2003