This suit with its skilful tailoring is an excellent example of Nineteenth Century menswear. Suits at this time comprising a jacket, trousers and waistcoat often of non-matching colour and fabric as found in this example. The frock coat was the most popular style of coat for day wear for middle class and professional men, its full skirt modestly hiding the crotch and buttocks.
The Nineteenth Century marked a sober turning point in men's fashion as masculinity was redefined for the industrial age. Menswear moved away from the lace frills, floral embroideries and elaborate, decorative styles of the Eighteenth Century suit to one of unadorned neutrality and restraint. At its best, its understated elegance relied on highly skilled tailoring, quality fabrics and painstaking care with laundering and personal grooming. The Victorian man carefully managed his appearance to reflect a dignified, businesslike demeanour.
By the 1840s the dark suit had become the dominant style for the professional man. The line of the fashionable frock coat seen in this example follows the hourglass silhouette of women's dress. The coat has a sloping shoulder line and gathered sleeves as well as a full, bell shaped 'skirt' reaching to the knee. This line was created through the introduction of waist darts, side panels and the underarm seam which allowed for a closer and easier fit.
Tailoring underwent dramatic changes in the Nineteenth Century with the invention of the tape measure and the application of scientific methods of drafting. The smooth line of this suit with its beautifully cut and finished seams and hidden padding is testament to the skills of the tailor and his accomplished use of the fine wool cloth.
The frock coat was introduced in informal social and business activities and stands in stark contrast to women's dress of the time. While this suit denotes the wearer as serious and a man of business, women's dress was largely decorative, elaborate and cumbersome, reflecting the different roles of men and women in this period. Men's fashions were subject to less change than women's, which can clearly be seen in the evolution of the frock coat. The shaping of the coat remained basically the same, with subtle variations, until the early years of the Twentieth Century.
This suit is significant as an example of middle class day wear, given that the bulk of men's clothing in the Museums collection lies in the areas of upper middle class evening and court wear with some examples of working costume.
Rebecca Evans, Assistant Registrar with notes provided by Glynis Jones Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, 2009.
Rothstein, Natalie (ed.), 'Four Hundred Years of Fashion', V&A Publications, London, 1984
Laver, James, 'A Concise History of Fashion', Thames and Hudson, Norwich, 1969.