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Empire/Directoire Review

Empire/Directoire-Men (~1800-1820)

For the remainder of Costume History, men's fashion changes much more slowly than women's clothing. Prior to this period male and female dress were equally grand and equally flamboyant. Beginning with the French Revolution, male attire becomes more and more sedate--devoid of qualities now considered acceptable only in feminine attire (ie. bright and bold colors, lace, embroidery, excess of decoration, etc.). Lavish fabrics lose favor to practical ones. This trend begins in England, where the tailors had been building a strong reputation for generations. Now, London, instead of Paris, becomes the fashion leader for male attire.

None of the components of male fashion changes drastically from the previous century, including silhouette. They still wear a coat, waistcoat, shirt, pants, and cravat just as before. However, it is the way that they are worn that changes.

The biggest changes in men's attire were propelled by George "Beau" Brummel, a close friend of the English Prince Regent. Brummel (at left) was known for his impeccable dress aesthetics including beautifully tailored English coats. His clothing was always immaculate--linen shirt and cravat were precisely pressed and starched. Brummel had the peculiar belief that it was necessary for a gentleman to bathe at least once a day--and often took the opportunity himself to indulge in more than this. Of course, this gave him opportunity to frequently change his "linens" perpetuating his crisp image. Beau Brummel set the fashions at court until he fell out of favor with the prince. He was an icon for the Regency Dandy (a man who was well dressed, circulated in the 'best' of society, who was always ready with a witty comment and whose chief preoccupations was with fashion).


This image is of the Earl of Haddington. Notice, that like many of his contemporaries, he has pretty much copied the attire of Beau Brummel. The following things were common in the male Regency/Directoire wardrobe:

--Tall boots. Fashionable male attire of the early 19th Century evolved from riding attire of the 18th Century. The knee boots favored by Regency men are a direct example of this.

--Waistcoats were commonly cut straight across and were about 2 inches longer than the coat (The Earl's is white).

--Tight fitting fall-front pantaloons.

--Common accessories: watch fob (dangling from his waist near his right elbow here) and gloves (clutched in his left hand). Another common accessory is a cane (not pictured here). It is believed that canes gained favor once the carrying of swords was outlawed sometime during the previous century.

--Top hats (also not pictured here) become the most common headdress, replacing the tricornes of the previous century.


In this painting we are able to observe much of the "crispness" of dress that Beau Brummel popularized. The gentleman's cravat is pristinely white and well pressed. It is wound tightly around his neck from collarbone to chin. We can assume that his shirt is equally pristine.

Instead of a tailcoat, this gentleman is wearing a frock coat (notice the full skirt). Still considered a "casual" coat this would be an appropriate ensemble for morning or sporting dress. In periods to come, this coat will become more accepted for day wear.

The following images are reproductions of period garments. They are for sale at

Shirts were made of cotton or linen and were cut full through the chest. Regency shirts took on a pristine neatness and lost all of the frills of the past. They did not open all the way down to the waist as a modern shirt does, but had a placket center front that ended mid-chest (generally closing with 3-4 buttons). While this shirt has a moderately sized band collar, it was very common for shirts to have tall collar points reaching above the chin. These were called ears. Conservative men folded the ears downward, while the dandy allowed them to point upwards with a cravat wound from collarbone to chin.

The bottoms of shirts were square-cut until the middle of the 19th Century when they become curved like modern shirt tails.

While knee breeches are a thing of the past for the fashionable, they linger a bit among older, conservative gentlemen for formal occasions.

Regency trousers and pantaloons had what was called a fall front instead of the modern fly front. The waist band buttoned behind a rectangular flap (AKA Fall). Trousers are cut fairly narrow through the leg and reach the ankle. Pantaloons are very tight, almost like a second skin. They are often made of knitted material to better hug the leg and had a strap that passed under the arch of the foot to prevent them from riding upward.

Regency men often wore braces (suspenders) with their trousers or pantaloons. Braces buttoned on to the pants and held them in place. When worn with pantaloons, braces and the strap beneath the foot maintained a taut, smooth appearance.

Waistcoats are much like the modern vest in both construction and function.

Since generally only the front of the waistcoat was seen the back was usually constructed of a much less expensive fabric. The waistline could be square cut across the waist or it may be cut into two points like the modern vest. Single and double breasted variations were common. Collars either stood up or turned back into lapels/revers. Shawl collars were especially popular for waistcoats.

Some fashionable men wore more than one waistcoat in layers. Look to the collar edge to see if more than one waistcoat is present, since this is often the only place that it is apparent.

The most common Regency coat was a tail coat. While the front of the coat pictured here comes to the natural waist, it was more common for the the waist of the coat to end a few inches shy of the waist. This allowed the bottom 2" of the edge of the waistcoat to show below the waist. (This model is shown without a waistcoat...this is NOT a common look of the period).


The Regency tail coat was cut without a seam at the waist, which gave a distinctive cut away curve at the hip and generally created a soft wrinkling of the coat below the arm. (This is seen most clearly in the Brummel and Haddington images above). Sleeves are long--ending at or just below the break of the wrist--and sit high on the shoulder. Shoulders are unpadded creating a natural silhouette.
The most common neckwear item was still the cravat. These were long rectangular strips of cloth (60"x10" on average) that were wound around the neck over the tall collar of the shirt. Starched muslin or taffeta were commonly used--Black and White being the most common.
An alternative to a cravat was the stock (shown here at the left). These were stiff neckbands that fastened in the back with buckles and/or ties. They were often worn with shirts that had shorter band collars (as pictured above). They created a cleaner and smoother appearance. A white stock often was worn with a black ribbon called a solitaire (tied over the stock).

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