The 1900s was the beginning decade of the 20th century. It was also classified as the “Machine Age”, for during this time period, an amazing amount of inventions were created, that would set the tone for future generations. It was in the 1900s, that Marie Curie discovered radioactivity and Plank disclosed the Quantum Hypothesis. The gift of flight was explored by the Wright brothers and Gustave Whitehead. On the war front, Japan rose to new heights of power, and the 2nd Boer War ended. The advancement in technology led to mass production of clothes, instead of exclusive tailoring. Still the rigid clothing rules of the 1890’s prevailed, preserving the somber, yet elegant look for both men and women. 1900s clothing styles were varied for women and men, but the trends and styles established during this period, formed the basis for formal men’s wear worn today. Take an in-depth look at 1900s fashion trends for men, with a detailed description on common masculine clothing items from that era.
Men’s Fashion in the 1900s
The basic 1900s fashion for men styles and clothing items, based on body area:
Male fashion trends in the 1900s, maintained a distinctive formal presence, even at the most casual of occasions. Among coats, the popular choices were frock, tailcoat and lounge or sack coat. The tailcoat, named for its pronged tail-like back, reaching up to or below the knees, soon faded into weddings and other such occasional wear. The frock coat was a popular choice for office and work wear, in dark and somber colors. The lounge coat was actually a full suit, made up of collared shirt and tie, waistcoat and trousers.
Waistcoats were single-breasted. Coats and waistcoats would match in color, with contrasting trousers, or matching coats and trousers, with contrasting waistcoats. Such an arrangement gave a neat and composed look. For the dandies, brightly colored waistcoats were the norm, to jazz up the ensemble. Collars were detachable and worn around the shirt’s neck. Shirts were stiff and were buttoned up in the back. Either block colors or stripes were used as design patterns.
Another fashion factor, was the time of the day. In the morning, office wear was frock coats or suits, afternoon and early evening wear was lounge suits and evening clothes were based on the occasion or location. Time based clothing was a seemingly mandatory rule. It was considered a serious faux pas to wear lounge coats in the morning. Playing cricket or other sports, and sailing were examples of casual events, where the traditional coat could be replaced by a blazer. This was a more relaxed version of the sack coat, with small differences, like patch pockets and brass buttons. A navy blue coat with brass buttons was considered the most handsome blazer, other choices were striped or brightly colored.
For hunting, riding and outdoor pursuits, the Norfolk jacket was the optimum choice, a single-breasted jacket, ideal for shooting, due to its loose fit. It had a belt or half-belt, made from tweed. For evening wear, the predominant “uniform” was dark tail coat and trousers, with a matching waistcoat. To complement, crisp white dress shirts, with a winged collar, and white bow tie. Tuxedo’s or dinner jackets were also allowed, with a long dark tie and white shirt. For the opera, club or ball, these were the quintessential gentleman’s attire choices.
Legs and Feet
Trousers were shorter in length, they would end at the top of the shoe, but the socks should never be visible. They were narrower and tighter in fit, with cuffs and perhaps a stripe down a side. They had creases, in the back or the front, and had no belt loops. In the morning, men wore light trousers, and for evening wear, dark trousers were a must. For the Norfolk coat, matching breeches made it a suit, for the outdoors-man. Shoes were ankle-high boots, laced up, in somber colors (black, brown or gray). Two toned or dark shoes with white uppers and side buttons, were reserved for evening dress, to match the dark coat and trousers combination.
The extra items, that make up a gentleman’s appearance are just as important. Accouterments were a major part of 1900 male fashion and some of the most essential ones are:
Hats: A hat was an essential part of a man’s wardrobe, an upper class man had more hats than shoes. For casual and sporting occasions, flat straw boaters were worn. Top hats were for formal events, evening wear and the race course. The everyday hat, to work and back, was the bowler, or derby hat. The homburg was a variant on the bowler, with a dent along the crown’s center and the brim fixed, in an upwards curl.
Ties: Lack of a neck tie was regarded as offensively casual and ill-dressed. White bow ties for evening and formal wear, or a long black tie with a dinner jacket. Black string ties, Windsor and wide cravats and the four-in-hand ties were for everyday and office wear. The tie should be in a firm knot, fixed centrally and properly. Tie studs or pins were also used, but this was more of an American trend.
“The dress of a gentleman should be such as not to excite any special observation, unless it be for neatness and propriety. The utmost care should be exercised to avoid even the appearance of desiring to attract attention by the peculiar formation of any article of attire, or by the display of an immoderate quantity of jewelry, both being a positive evidence of vulgarity. His dress should be studiously neat, leaving no other impression than that of a well dressed gentleman.” – Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette, 1866
Men’s fashion in the 1900s can be easily summed up, by the above quote. Though slightly dull and somber, the 1900s fashion lasted well into the early 1920s, and some of its famous trends, like the blazer and the homburg, remain as formal essentials to the present day. For an idea about what the clothing scene looked in that day and age, watch the Royal Ascot’s in June, as the dress code there is reminiscent of the clothing in the 1900s.