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Fashion

Corsets, petticoats, trousers galore! Peel aside the layers that separate us from our Edwardian counterparts.

Dressing a Gentleman on a Budget

by

Prince of Wales, later Edward VII
By sconosciuto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII set the tone in matters of romantic entanglements, entertainment, and sartorial matters. Gentlemen of the upper classes and the aristocracy had not followed one man’s style so slavishly since the days of Beau Brummel, but as the social round expanded beyond the London Season (once again the result of Bertie’s eternal quest for amusement), the late Victorian gentleman required many, many, many more changes of clothing than his Regency counterpart. The rise of the middle classes and the might of the Industrial Revolution created a large market for suits, hats, boots, and other items of clothing, but though a bank clerk, an banker, and a peer marched along in uniformity of dress, the subtle distinctions in cut, cloth, and fit were strictly maintained–which created a problem for the impecunious gentleman desirous of keeping that sartorial distance between himself and those lower on the social scale.

Into the gap stepped an anonymous author know only as “a lounger at the clubs,” whose book The Gentleman’s Art of Dressing with Economy proposed to give tips on dressing to one’s station in spite of a lack of funds (this may also be seen as be a companion to 1874’s How to Dress on £15 a Year as a Lady).

The dilemma laid out by the Lounger was thus:

1. You must pay ready money for your clothes.
2. These must be well cut and well made up.
3. They must be kept in shape.
4. They must be kept in thorough repair.

To dress with economy you must adopt the ready money system. If you run a tailor’s bill the thing cannot be done. Your credit tailor not only sticks it on in price, but is often careless about fit and make-up, especially if you are so deep on his books that he guesses you are not in a position to pay him off and go elsewhere. Again, the haute volée of tailors cares little for your custom unless your yearly account is considerable; and although the most aristocratic snip is not above making you a single coat, the same attention is not bestowed on it as if you gave an extensive order. Even from the work-rooms of Burlington, Albany & Co. I have seen many a solitary coat turned out that would scarcely have passed muster in a ready-made Mosaic clothes-shop.

It by no means follows that you will dress well by merely giving an unlimited order to a first-class tailor. Money alone will not insure this consummation, nor is a gentleman’s turnout necessarily in direct ratio to his outlay. I know men who spend pounds on dress where others spend shillings, without appearing to much greater advantage. You may dress expensively without dressing well, as you may dine expensively and not dine well. To dress well and to dine well, both require taste to an infinite degree, and he who exhibits most judgment in the selection and harmony of his dishes and garments will be the best-dined and best-dressed man.

The question may, perhaps, now be asked by the reader, “If I am not to patronize Messrs. Burlington, Albany & Co., or an artiste of similar calibre, to what tailor shall I go?” Well, it is not my province to recommend any particular tailor or tailors; you pay your money and take your choice; but without mentioning names, there are hundreds of excellent economical tailors in London who turn out clothes equal in style and cut to the above eminent firm at prices from 35 to 40 per cent, lower, so cannot afford to give credit for longer than three months. To this class I should go. They may be found in quiet streets off the most fashionable resorts, and invariably have been cutters or foremen to the dii majores of the sartorial art.

Avoid “stripping pegs,” as the phrase is, or buying ready-made clothes. A skilful attendant at any such depot has a knack of pulling down, smoothing, and humouring whatever garment he may set his great mind on selling you; so that before the cheval glass, you look as if you had been born therein, and you and it both grew on together. Ah, dear delusion! You pay for it, and pass out. After a little wear you find the smooth gracefully-fitting robe becoming restive. It kicks up its heels, and plunges at the collar to displace your hat; it puckers, wrinkles, and makes you its bitter enemy so long as you continue to wear it.

Avoid everything outré in fashion—whether it be in material or in cut. Seek not to copy swells who lead the fashions, and sometimes affect eccentric garments and fancy stuffs — (witness the Noah’s Ark coat, long exploded; and more recently the dress coat of blue cloth and brass buttons). Such vagaries may do for men of means, who can afford to wear their clothes a short time and then discard them; but you stick to a coat cut on unflinching principles, which will not be out of date next month or next year.

Now, if you do not keep a valet (and if you wish to dress with economy, you had better not) you must either be your own valet, or get some one to do the work. No CLOTHES, HOWEVER NEW, WILL LOOK WELL UNLESS KEPT IN SHAPE. For this purpose look out for working tailor, bootmaker, and hatter in your own immediate neighbourhood, close to home, who are not above doing these small jobs and executing trifling orders off the reel. The tailor will rework button-holes, mend linings, finedraw holes made by rent or burn, renew buttons, &c. The bootmaker’s services should be requisitioned whenever there is the slightest wear perceptible at either toes or heels of boots. The hatter is often wanted to smooth the nap when ruffled by storms of rain, adverse winds, and hostile umbrellas. Your linen, too, must be kept duly posted up to the time of day, and if you have not wife or—well, say maiden aunt, or other female friend, addicted to the art for which Penelope was famed, then you must take sweet counsel with your laundress, and bribe her when necessary, to have the edges of your shirt-fronts and wrists machined, which are easily done at a trifling cost. I have often seen men, otherwise well dressed, mar the whole effect by exhibiting frayed cuffs, which simply wanted new running with a hem.

A Comparison of Prices

tailor prices

tailor prices2


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Clothes & The Edwardian Man: Choosing Fabric

by

Caricature of Colonel Sir Henry Edward Colville KCMG CB

Trousers

During the last year men who ride have rather taken to check knickerbreeches. The material may be either what is called a Saxony or a Cheviot. The best colourings are black and white, black and grey, and brown and white.

The smartest of trouserings is a pure cashmere material. It is expensive but wears well, and if properly taken care of keeps its shape when made up until it is worn out. Some of these cashmeres are not unlike Bedford cords in appearance. Another good trousering is a mixture of cashmere and worsted. I don’t profess to know what advantage there may be in the mixture, but it is an excellent cloth for trousers, and rather stouter than the usual cashmere; in fact, ninety-nine men out of a hundred not in the trade couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Another very good trousering is a worsted. It is very like a cashmere, but not quite so fine. It is, however, quite as good for ordinary purposes. These worsteds are made very hard, so they keep their shape when worn, and the elastic weave of the material is a great advantage. Trousers made of this material soon regain their shape when put in the straighteners (see the chapter on Trousers).

Cashmere and worsted suitings similar in make to the cashmere and worsted trouserings, but stouter and with indistinct patterns instead of stripes, are always more or less fashionable. A mixed worsted suiting is also very serviceable, and most beautiful colourings and designs are worked out every year in this cloth. A very good suit to be worn at off-times in town can be made of this material. The plain worsteds are always more or less fashionable, but of late years there has been quite a rage for them, especially the plain grey. They are made up in frock coats, morning coats, or lounge suits. A good worsted will last as long as any material you can wear in town. A fine worsted is usually made up into summer overcoats, the favourite colour being drab or grey. This material looks very well when made into Raglan coats.

Plain serges are always more or less fashionable. Originally they were manufactured from one special very fine wool, but recently wool has gone up to such very high prices that serges are nearly always made of mixtures of different wools.

Caricature of Mr Richard John Lloyd Price Of Rhiwlas.

Tweed

The Donegal tweed does not seem to hold well together, and it is nothing like so good in any respect as the Harris tweed. The Harris tweed is really far and away the best material for a knickerbocker suit that you can possibly have. Most men have a sort of a vague idea that it is made by a man named Harris. This is quite wrong; the tweed is made in the Island of Harris and in parts of Scotland near it. It is woven from the pure wool of the sheep by the crofters; they get the wool and dye it themselves. Of course all their appliances and methods are very primitive, but the material comes out none the worse for that. All the dyes are composed of purely vegetable products, and are therefore perfectly “safe.” The genuine Harris tweed, being made from pure wool, is almost waterproof. If you are wearing a suit and it comes on to rain, you will find when you get home that you can shake nearly all the water off the coat.

I know that Harris tweeds have been objected to because of their patterns and colourings, which are rather loud. Well, what would you have in a suit that is intended for country wear? There is a kind of rough-and-ready look about the patterns which you cannot help liking when you get used to it, and there is this advantage about the Harris tweed—each pattern is distinct from the rest. You never get two patterns exactly alike. Some years ago you could always tell Harris tweed by the peculiar peaty smell attached to it, but within the last few years unscrupulous manufacturers have imitated Harris tweed to such an extent that they have even imitated this peculiar smell. I need scarcely say that the imitations are nothing like so good as the real thing.

Of course you cannot be expected to tell yourself what is Harris tweed and what isn’t. If you want to be absolutely certain of getting a suit length, you might write to Messrs. Paterson and Company, of Ingram Street, Glasgow. There is only one fault—if you can call it a fault—about the Harris tweeds, and that is, that they are apt to stretch out of shape, but this isn’t a serious matter with a knickerbocker suit. I have heard of men ordering Harris tweed trousers. Of course they (the trousers) looked very clumsy, and of course they went baggy at the knees at once. If you want a material that will last you, with fair wear, until you get absolutely tired of it, buy Harris tweed. I knew a man once who had a suit for eleven years, and then didn’t wear it out.

There are two great varieties of other tweeds—the Saxony and the Cheviot. The Saxony, being a finer material, hangs much better than the coarser and looser Cheviot. Saxony is always to be preferred to a Cheviot both for wear and appearance. Somehow or other, the Cheviot, being a coarser-looking material, is generally supposed to wear better than the Saxony, and so it is the most popular of all materials for general knock-about wear. But a Saxony is really the better of the two.

Caricature of Alfred Butt.

Suiting

With regard to materials for black frock and morning coats, I have said already that the newest is a plain worsted, called by some tailors a diagonal cloth. This material soon wears shiny, but it wears “clean,” which is a great advantage. There is a smartness of finish about this cloth which recommends it to most men who like good clothes. The exact opposite to this kind of material is a soft llama woollen material. It is really a mixture of pure vicuna and llama, the pure llama being very expensive. It wears badly, picks up the dirt and dust, and although always more or less liked by men who are not obliged to be economical in the matter of clothes, it cannot be recommended for general wear. Plain vicuna, which is a cloth not quite so “woolly” as llama, has been very popular.

It wears well, does not soon go shiny, and its only disadvantage is that it catches the dust somewhat. In almost all black cloths you have to choose between one that wears shiny and one that picks up the dust. Perhaps the only coating in which these two disadvantages are not very apparent is the “West of England,” but it is not a cheap material. A good useful material is made of a mixture of vicuna and worsted. It is a sort of compromise between the glossy worsted and the dust-gathering plain vicuna. This is a good useful material for general purposes. A grey worsted coating mixed with vicuna is an excellent material for frock coats, morning coats, or lounge suits. It is made in all sorts of colourings and designs; there has been a great run on it for some years, and I have no doubt the run will continue for a good many more years to come. A mixture of serge and vicuna, a hard wearing cloth, will not wear shiny or catch the dust badly. It is used for morning coats and jackets.

One of the best materials for dress clothes is a worsted and vicuna mixture. You can also have a plain worsted and a plain vicuna, but the mixture is best. It wears clean and does not soon get glossy. The black material known as an elastic twill is always more or less in the fashion for dress clothes. What you have to remember when you are buying a dress suit is that the material must be jet black, very fine in texture, and not faced. The old-fashioned broadcloth has quite gone cut of fashion.

~ Clothes & The Man by Edward Spencer