Mid-19th Century Men's Clothing

Compared to the 1840s: Larger-scale bolder shapes, more patterns. (Severa)

The narrow sleeves and trousers of the 1840s continued into the 50s, however by 1854, a wider looser fashion was being introduced leaving the narrower cuts to work clothes and conservative clothes. (Severa)


Ordinary day shirts were usually white, but stripes, checks, small prints and colors were also seen. (Severa) Collars could be separate or attached. They were moderate sized and turned down over the necktie. (Severa)
Dress shirts had pleated starched bib fronts. (Severa)
Shirts are made of cotton or linen. (Zeller)
Wool or cotton knit socks are the most appropriate. (Zeller)
Drawers Drawers are made of 100% cotton for warm weather and flannel for cooler weather. The one-piece “union suit” can also be appropriate. Long drawers protect from the itchy wool trousers. (Zeller) Trousers Early fashion plates show narrower trousers, but soon wide tubular legs were typically seen. They had fly fronts, no creases and were long enough to “break”over the toe. Plaids, checks and lighter colored fabrics were popular with natty dressers by the mid-50s, but black was still predominate. Wool was worn year round, and cotton or linen for summer, and various fabric blends also were used. (Severa) Work pants could be made of heavy cotton twill, duck or denim (but not blue jeans). (Zeller) Braces/suspenders Canvas braces or wide, heavily embroidered ribbon straps with leather tabs are appropriate. (Zeller) Vest Vests tended to be double-breasted, often with notch collars, but shawl collars also seen. They feel well over the trouser waist. (Severa) Dress vests were made of elaborate, patterned silks, sometimes in glowing colors. (Severa) Daytime vests tended to be in dark/black wool to match the coat. (Severa) Summer vests could be white or tan cotton, some single breasted. (Severa) In the late 1850s, checked vests appear. (Severa) Frock Coat Sleeves became broader with a higher armscye. Lapels became much wider with less rise in the collar at the back of the neck than in the 1840s. (Severa) Ties/cravats The typical tie was a rather stiff, horizontal 2-inch wide silk tied, tied as a half-bow with both ends pulled to one side. Many appear black, some checked. The look may have been achieved by folding a silk square diagonally to make a thick scarf. (Severa) Softer silk ties and narrow black ties were also seen. (Severa) After 1857, ties became narrower and more horizontal. (Severa) Hats There was much variety in male headgear in the 1850s. (Severa) A very tall, straight soft cream felt hat was especially popular in the early 50s. (Severa) The “wide awake” – a black hat with broad stiff horizontal brim and tall malleable crown – was extremely popular especially in the West. (Severa) Top hats were required for dress. (Severa) Stiff felt bowlers could be worn by businessmen although top hats were more usual. (Severa) Sea caps were for young men and boys. (Severa) Cloth caps resembling railroad caps were popular for everyday wear. (Severa) Hairstyles In the early 50s, the macassar-oiled high wave was distinctive, but the height subsided after the middle of the decade. The back hair was about collar length. By 1857, side hair was covering the ears. (Severa) Clean shaves were the rule in the early 50s, but by the late 50s, many full beards were appearing. In the mid 50s well-dressed young men favored a fringe around cheeks and jawline, sometimes a little beard under the lower lip. (Severa) Shoes Men wore boots, high-topped shoes, or low shoes like modern dress shoes. (Zeller)
References: Severa, Joan. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. The Kent State University Press. Kent, Ohio. 1995.
Zeller, Karyn. A Reenactor’s Guide to Clothing and Fabrics of the Civil War Era. Revised 1997.