Menswear in the Victorian era

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The period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901 saw massive changes in British society – not least in men’s wear.

In the Victorian era frock coats became quite popular, followed towards the end of Victoria’s reign by the development of the morning coat. The frock coat was the staple garment to be worn for business meetings or formal occasions. The tailcoat was generally an evening wear.

Very soon, the morning coat became the standard template for men’s dress – stylish yet relatively less formal, and often with the front part cut away so that it was more convenient for riding a horse.

The frock coat and morning dress were not suits since they were worn with trousers that did not match in terms of fabric and color – and if the trousers matched the waistcoat, the result was considered as notably informal. Such matching clothing was, at that time, called “ditto suits”.

By the end of the 19th century, however, menswear we would regard as essentially identical to the modern lounge suit started to appear as informal wear, meant exclusively for sports activities.

This was also the time when the dinner jacket was invented, for informal events like a family dinner party. It eliminated the “white tie” which was associated with the evening tailcoat dress. Very soon, it evolved into a new outfit and created an all-new dress code. It became a full garment known as the “dress lounge” which was later called the “black tie”. (When imported to the United States, the ensemble was rechristened as the “tuxedo”.) The dress lounge was initially meant for private gatherings, the outfit with white tie with tails was for more formal parties and social gatherings. Gradually, the dress lounge became popular and an alternative to the complete evening dress in the white tie.