The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes

The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Late Victorian American Cabinet Card dated 1889 to 1890; a handsome, well-dressed young man in his proper suit of clothes.

Late Victorian American Cabinet Card dated 1889 to 1890; a handsome, well-dressed young man in his proper suit of clothes.

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What constituted the Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes?

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This surprising announcement from The Hutchinson Examiner, of Hutchinson, Kansas (August 24, 1876) might raise a question or two. What, precisely, was a “suit of clothes?”

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. "Ordinance No. 104. Be it ordained by the Mayor, and Council of the City of Hutchinson. That on and after the publication of this ordinance. It shall be unlawful for any person to go in bathing or swimming in any waters inside the city limits between sunrise and sunset, except it be in a proper suit of clothes." The Hutchinson Examiner of Hutchinson, Kansas. August 24, 1876.

“Ordinance No. 104. Be it ordained by the Mayor, and Council of the City of Hutchinson. That on and after the publication of this ordinance. It shall be unlawful for any person to go in bathing or swimming in any waters inside the city limits between sunrise and sunset, except it be in a proper suit of clothes.” The Hutchinson Examiner of Hutchinson, Kansas. August 24, 1876.

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Were the good citizens of Hutchinson wrapped around the axle about skinny dipping? Swimming in long underwear? Or the lack of a proper and decent bathing costume?

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. From Fort Scott Daily Monitor of Fort Scott, Kansas on May 13, 1883: Advertisement from N. Greenfield & Co.'s Clothiers, Hatters, and Furnishers. Illustration of clothing "...So, if you wish to get a Suit of CLOTHING!... which will compare favorably with Mercant Tailor Goods for less than half the price you would have to pay for them."

Men’s “Suit of Clothing“, from a Merchant Tailor, advertised in Fort Scott Daily Monitor of Fort Scott, Kansas on May 13, 1883.

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Just as Victorian women wore costumes (and occasionally, dresses), their male counterparts wore a “suit of clothes“. Yes, the term “suit” was used for short.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. "A good home-made, all wool suit can be bought for $10.00 at Woodwards, 46 Calhoun street." Advertised in Fort Wayne Daily Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana on June 23, 1870.

“A good home-made, all wool suit can be bought for $10.00 at Woodwards, 46 Calhoun street.” Advertised in Fort Wayne Daily Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana on June 23, 1870.

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Tailor shops were known by a variety of terms. Clothiers. Merchant Tailors. Men’s Furnishers. Many were called by the name of the business.

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The following clip shows creativity in advertising. John Sinclair & Co. Merchant Tailors, Men’s Furnishers & Shirt Manufacturers in Denver, Colorado, advertised within a Denver cookbook published in 1883.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Merchant Tailors advertise in a Denver cookbook published in 1883.

Merchant Tailors advertise in a Denver cookbook published in 1883.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. From The Great Falls Tribune of Great Falls, Montana on April 27, 1889: "Call and see Harris the Clotheir's $10.00 Outfit! Consisting of Coat, Pants, Vest, hat, Shirt, Shoes, Suspenders and Socks, ALL FOR TEN DOLLARS!"

“Harris the Clothier’s $10.00 Outfit, consisting of Coat, Pants, Vest, Hat, Shirt, Shoes, Suspenders and Socks, all for ten dollars!” This advertisement ran in the Great Falls Tribune of Great Falls, Montana on April 27, 1889.

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To be properly dressed, the majority of men wore a proper suit of clothes. As mentioned in my most recent post, Victorian Collars and Cuffs (for men), to wear the shirt exposed (without vest and coat) was deemed highly inappropriate for gentlemen. This etiquette rule seems to be confined to upper classes and “white collar” professions, and not to most laborers.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Photograph of laborers working without vests or coats. Image coutesy of Pinterest.

Log Chute with Ox Teams. Chutes had to be kept wet in dry weather to prevent fires. Notice the laborers working in shirts without vests or coats. Image: courtesy of Pinterest.

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Men in the nineteenth century developed other clothing as demanded by their labor. For instance, the invention (1871) of durable, much longer-lasting, riveted blue jeans trousers for gold miners by the infamous Levi Strauss.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Levi Strauss& Co. 1880s or 1890s jeans. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

(Quoted directly from the image reference label): “One Hip-Pocket “201” Waist-Overalls Levi Strauss & Co., 1880s or 1890s. “201” used to be an economy version of “501XX.” These pants are a rare example with popular length & waist size. Note the original candle wax dripping from miners!” Image: courtesy of Pinterest.

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Victorian Suits for Men

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Vintage Image: 1890 Men's Fashion Plate.

Men’s Fashion Plate, 1890.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Vintage Image: White Tie Fashion Plate, 1890.

White Tie Fashion Plate, 1890. Image originated with blacktieguide.com

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Unless a manual laborer, men dressed “properly” in a full “set of clothes.”

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Historical photograph taken of delegates at the Wyoming Constitutional Convention, 1889. Note the men dressed in proper suits of clothes (as well as the boys).

Delegates at the Wyoming Constitutional Convention in the autumn of 1889 in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. Context of my new release, Isabella’s Calico Groom, contained within CALICO BALL: Timeless Western Collection.

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Tailors Cleaned Suits

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Image of four tailors advertising their services in the Sterling Standard of Sterling, Illinois on September 22, 1898. Services offered include finely tailored suits of clothing to fit the man for whom they were made, fine repairs, cleaning and pressing of clothing. (Who knew tailors did "cleaning" and pressing?)

Tailors advertise in the Sterling Standard of Sterling, Illinois, September 22, 1898. Services offered include finely tailored suits of clothing to fit the man for whom they were made, fine repairs, cleaning and pressing of clothing. (Who knew tailors did “cleaning” and pressing?)

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Surprising, isn’t it? Tailors not only made repairs to custom-made clothing, but also cleaned and pressed.

Here’s another. Tailoring, Cleaning & Repairing:

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Advertisement for J. D'Bois Tailoring, Cleaning & Repairing. From Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel of Santa Cruz, California. March 20, 1872.

J. D’Bois. Tailoring, Cleaning & Repairing. Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel of Santa Cruz, California. March 20, 1872.

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Men’s Suit of Clothes: On Sale!

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Advertisement, illustrated, showing a man in top hat and cut-away coat. His full suit is advertised for $15 (worth $22.50) during Famous Shoe & Clothing Co.'s March Sacrifice Sale. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

1 of 5. Men’s Suits Styles, “Sacrifice Sale” at Famous Shoe & Clothing Co. with steep discounts. Advertised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. More deep discounts advertised, with an illustration of a man in checkered suit. Part 2 of 5, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

2 of 5. Men’s Suits Styles, “Sacrifice Sale” with steep discounts. Advertised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. More deep discounts advertised, with an illustration of a boy's suit, "$5, worth $7.50. A nobby assortment Boys' All-wool Knee-Pant Suits, in medium weights; will do for spring wear; $3.50, worth $5.50: All-wool Knee-Pant Suits, in dark and fancy plaids, sizes up to 10 years...". Part 3 of 5, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

3 of 5. Men’s Suits Styles, “Sacrifice Sale” with steep discounts. Advertised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Illustration of gentleman in tophat, sack coat, double-breasted suit coat, and walking stick (don't forget the gloves!). Part 4 of 5, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

4 of 5. Men’s Suits Styles, “Sacrifice Sale” with steep discounts. Advertised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. "Famous Shoe & Clothing Co., Broadway and Morgan, Open Saturdays till 10 p.m." Part 5 of 5, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

Men’s Suits Styles, “Sacrifice Sale” with steep discounts. Part 5 of 5. Advertised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St. Louis, Missouri on March 6, 1891.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. "Gabel, the Tailor, 65 W. Second South St., Salt Lake City. Suits to order from $15 to $55. Pants to order from $8.50 to $15. Suits made in 10 hours. Pants made in 5 hours. By First-class Workmen in this City." From The Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory on August 23, 1892.

Gabel the Tailor, Suits made to order in 10 hours. Published in The Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory on August 23, 1892.

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Victorian Laborer’s Clothing

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Not Levi’s riveted “201” Waist-Overalls? Maybe they’re Pepperell Jean Drawers.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Pepperell Jean Drawers advertised at 47 cents by E.B. Spence & Son, Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, August 1, 1886.

Pepperell “Jean Drawers” advertised at 47-cents, alongside gauze undershirts and dress shirts and Balbriggan Half-Hose. Richmond Dispatch newspaper of Richmond, Virginia on August 1, 1886.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Bartholomew & Co. advertise their clothing wares in the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas. May 5, 1880.

Men’s Jeans for sale, along with shirtings, tweeds, and Cottonades. Advertised in the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas on May 5, 1880. Part 1 of 3.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Men's shirts and men's overalls for sale (ready to wear), along with many fabrics and accoutrements for women. Advert from the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas. May 5, 1880.

Men’s shirts and men’s overalls for sale (ready-to-wear), along with many fabrics and accoutrements for women. Advertised in the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas on May 5, 1880. Part 2 of 3.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. Conclusion of Bartholomew & Co's advertisement, "Cheap Cash Store." Advert from the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas. May 5, 1880.

Conclusion of Bartholomew & Co’s advertisement, “Cheap Cash Store.” (Note: “cheap” was a highly positive term in the 19th century, meaning low-cost, affordable, and signifying a good deal. Additionally, ‘cash store’ meant the merchant did not deal with credit and only cash would be accepted, thus keeping the prices down). Advertised in the Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas on May 5, 1880. Part 3 of 3.

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Vests Important to The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. 1 of 4: "Fancy Vests for Fancy Swells, Waistcoats of Dazzling Hues Now Popular with Society Leaders." From The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

“Fancy Vests for Fancy Swells”, Part 1 of 4. The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. 2 of 4, "Fancy Vests for Fancy Sweels." From The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

“Fancy Vests for Fancy Swells”, Part 2 of 4. The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. 3 of 4, "Fancy Vests for Fancy Sweels." From The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

“Fancy Vests for Fancy Swells”, Part 3 of 4. The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. 4 of 4, "Fancy Vests for Fancy Sweels." From The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

“Fancy Vests for Fancy Swells”, Part 4 of 4. The Inter-Ocean of Chicago, Illinois. February 9, 1896.

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The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes evidently was not required to match. Stylish vests (also known as waistcoats) were often colorful.

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Kristin Holt | The Victorian Man's Suit of Clothes. "The red vests in vogue are made of fine cloth in vaarious shades, from scarlet geranium to a rich dahlia tint." The Montgomery Advertiser of Montgomery, Alabama on January 9, 1894.

“Red Vests are in vogue.” The Montgomery Adviser of Montgomery, Alabama on January 9, 1894.

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Related Articles: Nineteenth Century Fashion for Men and Women ~

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Collars and Cuffs (for men)

Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards

Kristin Holt | How Did Victorian Stockings Stay Up?

Kristin Holt | Victorian Ladies Underwear

Kristin Holt | Victorian Ladies Wore Costumes ~ Every Day

Kristin Holt | Ladies Fashions Huge Sleeves of the 1890s

Kristin Holt | Pencil Skirts Victorian Style

Kristin Holt | Lady Victorian's Secret

Kristin Holt | 19th Century Bathing Costumes from Harper's Bazaar

Kristin Holt | Boss of the Plains, by Stetson; The Hat That Settled the West

Kristin Holt | Hat Etiquette of the Victorian Era

Kristin Holt | Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 2

Kristin Holt | Falling Hard for Accurate History in Fiction

Kristin Holt | Victorian Era Men's Hairstyles

Kristin Holt | Styling Ladies' Hair, American 19th Century

Kristin Holt | Victorian Era: the American West

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Updated January 2021
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Holt LC
The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes