One of the benefits of gathering images for Pinterest is that one’s awareness of the minute differences in fashions from year to year improves. Daily exposure to thousands of fashion images from the Georgian era have taught me to notice the nuances of style and line. These images are one-sided, since very few articles of clothing from the lower classes survive. With rare exceptions, most museum quality fashions were made for the wealthy, and one must keep in mind when studying these images that fashions for the upper classes were vastly different from those of the working poor or laboring classes. Men’s trousers are a perfect example of class distinction.
In this caricature, you can see a contemporary rendering of short, loose trousers; formal breeches; and a form-fitting pantaloon.
By the turn of the 19th century, breeches, pantaloons and trousers worn by all men were sewn with a flap in front called a fall front. This flap was universally held in place by two or three buttons at the top. No belts were worn. Instead, breeches, pantaloons and trousers were held up by tight-fitting waists, which were adjusted by gusset ties in back of the waist. Seats were baggy to allow a man to rise comfortably from a sitting position. As waists rose to the belly button after 1810, suspenders were used to hold the garment up.
Trousers with top flap open
Breeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum
Breeches silk – 18th century – part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust. Note that the front flap has only two buttons.
Breeches, or short pants worn just below the knee, were popular during the 18th century. During the Regency era, they were worn largely as evening wear or at court, a practice that was to continue until the mid-century.
Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum
By the 1820s, breeches had fallen out of favor for day wear and were considered either too old-fashioned or effeminate a garment. As the 19th century progressed only liveried male servants, most specifically footmen, continued to wear breeches.
Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810. @Costume Institute of Fashion Plates, Met Museum
In their heyday, breeches were made from a variety of materials. For the upper classes, buckskin breeches were considered to be proper casual attire for mornings or life in the country. Silk breeches were reserved for the evening and more formal occasions. White stockings were worn with white breeches, and black or white stockings with black breeches. Tradesmen and hunters wore breeches made of leather or coarse cloth.
Country or morning attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and riding boots.
Around the 1790s, the tail coat changed and breeches began to be lengthened below the knees to accommodate the longer tails, gradually giving way to slimmer fitting, longer pants, or pantaloons, that ended at the ankle. Pantaloons were close-fitting and sometimes buttoned all the way down the leg. Fabrics were knitted or, like kerseymere and nankin, cut on the bias, so that the garment would hug the leg.
1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley
These slim pants were often worn with Hessian boots. To help maintain a smooth look, some pantaloons had a fabric loop that went under the foot, as in the image below. Gusset ties are evident in this image.
Pantaloons were recommended for men whose legs were both slim and muscular. The idea was to show off a good leg. If men possessed deficiencies in musculature, a slight degree of stuffing was recommended, although padding, it was assumed, would be used with the greatest care and circumspection. Interestingly, stockings worn under pantaloons were kept in place by the tightness of the design and fabric.
Some dandies added padding to attain the ideal 1819 male figure.
Caricaturists had a field day with men whose physiques looked outlandish in pantaloons.
French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.
This detail of a public domain image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a Regency dandy who cuts a fine figure in his pantaloons. No stuffing or corsets needed here.
A fine figure of a man
Overalls were a form of extended breeches used largely by military men, but first worn by men in the American frontier. They covered the leg, stockings, and buttoned over shoes, much like spats. They were a practically garment for traveling and walking over rugged terrain, and were quickly adopted by the British army.
Overall, 1793. Image @Met Museum
Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796
Trousers were first worn by sailors and working men before 1800, and were adopted by the fashionable set around 1810.
Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers and pantaloon worn by the soldier.
Originally known as “slops”, trousers were loose-fitting and ended at the ankle. As trousers were adopted, long stockings with decorative clocks were replaced by half-hose, all but destroying the stocking industry, which had thrived since breeches had become fashionable.
A sailor’s slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rowlandson’s “Wapping”, ca. 1807
Caricatures had a field day showing dandy’s in short wide-legged trousers, as in the image below.
An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers with a high waist that came up to the navel.
Closer fitting trousers were slit up the seam for a few inches above the ankle. This allowed the foot to get through the pant leg. (Breeches and pantaloons were buttoned on the side.) Early in the 19th century, they were appropriate only for day wear.
cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.
Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief. Notice the very high waist.
Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions
Trousers were made of wool, linen or cotton. They could also be strapped.
The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum
By the 1840s, they had replaced pantaloons. The waist is high in the above trousers, which were probably kept up with suspenders.
The well trousered gentleman, ca. 1830s-40s.
Knee pants with black silk stockings were an essential evening accessory until 1850s when long trousers finally took over. Up until the 1850s, the tie could be black or white, but by the ’60s, white or off-white was the most common choice.
1850′s ballroom scene.
In the 1850s long trousers finally replaced breeches for appropriate evening attire.