Life And Style: Hints On Matters Of Victorian Dress (Gentlemen’s Edition)

As we have already considered this matter for ladies, it seems only fair that we now turn our attention to the gentlemen. After all, dress is not a primarily female concern and it would be silly to pretend that no man has ever been perturbed by the sense that he has not quite ‘got it right’ on one occasion or another. So, in order to set any gentlemen readers on the path to a future both sensible and stylish, Behind The Past has sought guidance from our dear American friends, as to what they ought (and ought not) to be wearing.

However, the fundamental point to be stressed here, as it was previously stressed for ladies, is that the true mark of a gentleman in his good conduct. Circumstances, whatever they may be, may cause him to dress poorly. However, he will never behave poorly.

Moreover, the clothes he is wearing must never seem important to him.[1] Dress may make a gentleman look or feel better – and that is not necessarily a bad thing – but if he begins to think that he offers more to those around him by being well-dressed, than he does by his good conduct, then the gentleman in question is gravely mistaken.[2] The true measure of a man is never found in the fit of his suit, or the price of his pocket-watch. Any person, who places their judgement on such trivial things, may one day find that they are sorely disappointed when they do, eventually, confront the real substance of another’s character.

Nevertheless, a gentleman will always try to dress to fit the occasion, out of respect and courtesy for others. He will consider if he is in town or the country, if the gathering is a small affair or a grand one, if the occasion is happy or sad. And he will choose his attire accordingly.

Yet regardless of the above, a gentleman will never seek to draw attention to himself through his clothing. While light colours in the street might be permissible in the summer, he will generally restrict himself to a dark palette.[3] By extension, he will refrain from an excessive amount of ornamentation. A gentleman will limit himself to having on his person, at the absolute most, a snuff box, watch, studs, sleeve-buttons, watch chain and one ring.[4]

Additionally, a gentleman will also pay attention to the fit of his clothing.[5] There are few things more embarrassing, at least on the topic of dress, than arriving at a ball to realise that your suit is the most ill-fitted. People will notice. So, if something it torn, have it mended. If something stops fitting, have it adjusted. If necessary, replace the offending item. If you intend to prevail upon the kindness of a female friend or relation, do try to ask them in good time, and not the evening before you need to use the item again.

Yet it is this last point that will bring us to our conclusion. It is in his behaviour that our gentleman is known. It may be embarrassing to turn up to a ball, and know that there is a mark on your jacket. It may be especially embarrassing, if you realise that people have noticed. But there are a few things which are more embarrassing. Surely it would be more embarrassing if your attire was perfect, but it was found out that you had only told your wife or sister mere hours beforehand of a fault, and loomed over them demanding speed and haste as they repaired it for you…?

Behind The Past trusts that any gentleman readers are more than capable of coming to the appropriate answer.

 

Footnotes

[1] Wells, Samuel R, How To Behave: A Pocket Manual of Republican Etiquette and Guide To Correct Personal Habits, (New York: Fowler & Wells Co., 1887), [Electronic Edition].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hartley, Cecil B, The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, (London: Hesperus Press, 2014), [First published 1860], p.74.

[4] Ibid., p. 79.

[5] Ibid., p. 77.

 

Bibliography

Hartley, Cecil B, The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, (London: Hesperus Press, 2014), [First published 1860].

Wells, Samuel R, How To Behave: A Pocket Manual of Republican Etiquette and Guide To Correct Personal Habits, (New York: Fowler & Wells Co., 1887) [Electronic Edition] .

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