The decade of 1860 to 1870 saw the beginning of the U.S. Civil War and the numerous changes that it brought throughout American society. Men's fashion evolved during this time alongside a country that was changing from a time of war to Reconstruction. Men's fashion of the era lived on past this tumultuous decade to define the image of the well-dressed Victorian man.
Traditional Men’s Clothing
In colder months, the average man in 1860 wore long black coats adorned with a fur collar. Under the coat men wore layers of clothing. Pantaloons of various colors like brown, black, lavender and dark brown were worn over short or long white undergarments.
Stiff white shirts and white vests completed the outfit. Men would also wear a walking dress suit or walking suit, which was a double-breasted coat that had a broad collar. Men were expected to own at least four basic coats: an overcoat, a frock coat, a business coat and a formal dress coat. Coats varied in length, fabric and cost, and the use of these coats varied by the season.
Accessories for Men
Victorian men in the 1860s used accessories to demonstrate fashion and wealth as much as Victorian women. Hats were the most popular and common accessory. A trendy hat would be bell shaped and have a two-inch curved brim. Fashionable hats were made from pricey beaver fur, transformed into a soft felt. Other hats were made of Scotch cloths and ribbed silk. Beaver fur was used to create warm winter overcoats.
Shoes were increasingly chosen over boots for common use. These shoes were tied with laces or buttons and had low heels. Evening shoes called gaiters were made from calfskins. Wealthy and fashionable men would wear maroon or golden brown gloves made from doeskin and would carry handkerchiefs with their monograms. Gold watches costing as much as $100 would be carried on chains attached to vest pockets.
Fashions of Famous Men
Men in the 1860s followed fashion trends as much as women and the famous men of the time represent common clothing styles of the era. Civil War photographer Matthew Brady worked wearing high-waisted trousers that had distinctive vertical stripes in the fabric. He wore a long duster, a predecessor to a pea coat, which protected him from the mud and rain he would encounter out in the field. Secretary of State William Seward carried the accessories of a top hat and walking stick.
The Effect of Technology on Men’s Style
The sewing machine was over a decade old by 1860, and its technology revolutionized men’s clothing choices by allowing them to purchase cheaper goods. Clothing could be purchased in a greater variety and still demonstrate good taste.
The colors in clothing were made from aniline dyes created by coal tar, which produced brighter colors than dyes made from plants. The aniline dyes faded slower than plant dyes and soon brightly colored clothing took off in popularity. Clothing makers also produced traditional black, white and brown clothing, but added variety by weaving in stripes of different colors.