Victorian London - Clothing - Men's Clothing

Americans, from the great number of newspaper articles that appear daily, imagine that London next to Paris, is a great centre of fashion, and whatever Londoners wear must of necessity be perfect. The reverse however is the case. As far as the men are concerned, they do not in general dress even with neatness. All the colors of the rainbow, and abundance of jewelry, whether gold or good brass is immaterial, are worn by the majority. In this particular, their general tone of matter of fact disappears, although they are not as gay in their attire as some other of the European people. The great number of men in uniform, I met with claimed particular attention. Male servants of the house all wear black pants, a black or white waistcoat, black dress coat, and white cravat. Some of them, especially in aristocratic families powder the hair, or wear grey wigs with long cues. This renders them rather a reverend looking set of men. Before I understood exactly their duties, I thought what patterns of Christianity I was sojourning with, where almost every family kept a chaplain. I came near getting into difficulty several times by mistaking good looking servants for ministers of the gospel, and bad looking ministers of the gospel for servants.
    The coachmen wear knee-breeches, white stockings, blue, green, black, brown and every other color of coat, trimmed off with gilt buttons, gilt lace, cords, tassels, and always powdered wigs, powdered eyebrows, and powdered whiskers, when they can cultivate them, but, which, owing to juvenility, is very often not the case.
    The footman, whose place is always behind the coach, on a seat or standing, there erected for him, is the exact shadow of the coachman belonging to the same equipage. Judges, barristers and others employed in the Courts must wear the universal white wig and black gown. The letter carriers or "postmen," (no one has a private box-all letters are carried out, and the carriers paid by the government,) all have scarlet coats, black pants with red stripe, and are in everything perfectly systematic. The houses of London are supplied with knockers, and very few with bells. The postman comes only with two loud and sharp knocks. The newsman knocks only once, and very loud. Servants knock once and quite low. Visitors three or four times in rapid succession. The police and duns are allowed to knock in any manner at all that will secure admission.
    Each school has its uniform. "The Blue Coat school." This is a very ancient school, and takes its name from the blue, coarse cloth coat or gown which the scholars must all wear. Neither must any one connected with the establishment wear any kind of covering on the head, They also wear knee breeches and yellow stockings. This is considered the best school in Great Britain, and requires the influence of the greatest men in the country, to secure admission. The uniform of the girls' school, is a blue frock, white apron, and white cap. The ragged school, or shoe-black school, for its uniform has red-flannel shirt, and knee breeches of blue. The members of this school are only the shoe-blacks of the city. The regular price for blacking boots is a penny. The boys take a regular stand at certain places in every street, and remain there until relieved by another set. Those relieved, return to school. The amount realized by the boys is divided. The boy keeps one-half of his own earnings, the remainder goes to his credit in the books of the school, and when he arrives at a certain age, he is put to some trade and the money returned to him. 

W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859


Unfortunately I was what was called "improperly dressed." I have not conformed to the rule that in order to have the entrée in the City one must wear a silk hat and a frock coat. I have been disporting myself in a bowler hat and tweeds, while I still further trangress by wearing light flannel shirts instead of white linen. It is something of a fad to be wearing these loose garments, but I am pleasing myself, and not Dame Fashion. I frequently notice that my loose-fronted shirt is the object of comment among people, who think that one is uncivilised unless the manly bosom is adorned with a stiff white shirt. So I presented myself at the Bank and, handing in my card, asked to see the Governor, Mr. Lidderdale. A functionary in a frock coat, who took my card, scrutinised me suspiciously, boggled at my tweed suit and brown shoes and my outrageous shirt, and then turned on his heel to fetch a colleague, also in a frock coat. He, too, looked puzzled, but I insisted, and finally they took in my card.

R.D.Blumenfeld's Diary, November 14, 1890