Man's Suit

Chapter 6: Wear and Care


There were underpants, but until about 1800, they seem to not have been very widely used. For hygienic reasons, it does nevertheless make sense to wear them, of course. If you want them to be period, make something like the suit breeches, only without pockets and in white linen. The one compulsory piece of underwear is the shirt that is made long enough protect the family jewels from stratchy breeches, and the breeches from certain fluids (in case no underpants are worn). Remember that the shirt is underwear and not supposed to be visible, with the exception of jabot and sleeve cuffs.

Therefore, a gentleman does not go about in only breeches and shirt. It would mean that he was half naked, just like a lady who doesn't wear at least a jacket over her stays. He even avoids discarding the coat in polite society, especially in the presence of ladies. Even at home, where a gentleman was allowed to shed coat and waistcoat, he at least donned a house robe, the banyan. Anything else would not have been proper. Since we nowaday have different ideas of what's proper, it is just as well that a back-lacing waistcoat looks somewhat dopey, and baggy-arsed breeches, well... Vanity will hopefully prevent most 21st century men from disrobing in public.

For a full suit, you also need overknee stockings. Early in the century and until around 1750, they were often (but by no means always) pulled over the breeches and to just above the knee. Later, they were predominantly worn under the breeches. In case of a replica of a pre-1760 suit, I'd make that dependent on how well the breeches hem is executed: If the breeches are too baggy around the knees or lack knee buckles, stockings worn over them can help to hide the deficiency. Since long stockings worn under the breeches tend to slide down (those worn over appear to have been held up by friction), they have to be held by knee bands. The only sensilbe place for them is the narrowest part of the leg just under the knee and above the calf.

Speaking of the calf: Not only the women cheated. Men did so, too. I'm not just referring to the padding that emulates as muscled chest: Whoever didn't have calves like a football star wore pads that were either laced on under the stockings or made as part of the stockings. Well-shaped calves are one of the main reasons why women like seeing men in 18th century suits. Guys, stop regarding rococo costume as "somewhat gay-looking" and start noticing that it's awfully sexy!

Sorry, I'm digressing. ;)
Put on stockings and shirt, turn shirt collar up, button collar, don stock. Pull on breeches over shirt, button. Close knee buckles. Lace more tightly in back if necessary. Pull on waistcoat, button from breastbone down. Optionally lace more tightly in back, but stop before buttonholes show signs of strain. Pull jabot out of the waistcoat. Put on coat, pull sleeve ruffles out. Put on shoes, tricorn and... done!

But, dear gentlemen, remember: While ladies can carry wine bottles in the large pockets hidden under their hoop skirts whithout anybody noticing, you should travel lightly. Too much weight in the coat and waistcoat pockets ruins the look. If you weigh down your pockets on a regular basis, the fabric will be distorted and look baggy even if the pocket is empty. So deliberate on what is really essential to have with you. A watch in the special pocket in the breeches, a handkerchief, money maybe in a wallet than can also be stuck into the sleeve cuff - and maybe a really small camera in one pocket. Do you really need anything more?

Caring for the suit: If you wear underpants and don't eat messily, it should be enough to air it out on the balcony for a night after each wearing. One or more nights outside should take care of smells and most creases. More persistent creases often vanish in warm and humid air, e.g. if the suit is hung in the bathroom just after showering. Superficial spots, e.g. of mud, are brushed out. If the fabric has been pre-washed, stains can be spot-cleaned with water and soap, and it can be ironed at full heat. The breeches and waistcoat can even be machine-washed, but only if it's really necessary. The coat should never be washed because the interfacing would crumple, and since it's inside, it cannot be smoothed out again. The padding would not survive even the gentlest washing. Anything made of silk should neither be spot-cleaned nor washed if it can be avoided.

Wednesday, 24-Apr-2013 21:57:17 CEST



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