By the 1870s, fashions for Victorian men were transitioning toward styles familiar to us today. The ubiquitous, long and skirted black frock coat, and the morning coat (cut away to feature tails only), while still very much de rigueur for business, gradually were being supplanted by trendy styles. The sack coat (a loosely-cut, thigh-length coat with no waist seam) and the lounge suit (in which the sack coat and trousers were cut from the same fabric), would become the men’s business suit of our modern age. Ankle boots and laced shoes had been replacing full boots since 1850. And in this decade, the straw boater hat was adopted by rowing enthusiasts for summer – as depicted by Impressionist painters in France.
The elegant gentlemen of the 1870s incorporated the latest styles in dressing for leisure time, and Tissot captured these trends in his paintings.
In Autumn on the Thames, Nuneham Courtney (c. 1871-72), the gentleman’s suit coat is deep blue, and we can see from his cuffs that he wears a crisp white shirt under it, accented with a black tie. His straw boater seems slightly crumpled, but his ginger whiskers are so immaculately groomed as to be impervious to the strong breeze.
The dapper gentleman in The Return from the Boating Trip (1873), with his notable ginger whiskers and walrus mustache, is prepared for varying weather. He wears a short, loosely fitted, double-breasted charcoal grey coat – really, a sailor’s pea coat – and carries a black overcoat on his arm. Under the pea coat, the hem of a blue sack coat is apparent. The man’s bright white trousers have a generous, loosely turned-up cuff, and they show off his summery laced-up spectator shoes of white and tan leather. The white scarf neatly folded at his neck echoes his trousers, and under the scarf, his blue- and white-striped Breton shirt is visible. His ivory-colored straw boater has a bright blue and red ribbon band. He, like his companion, is dressed to perfection for this outing.
The unapologetic young man in Quarreling (c. 1874-75) wears a loosely-cut beige lounge suit that nicely sets off his flamboyant tan and white leather spectator shoes. His white shirt collar is quite high, drawing the eye to his straw boater with its black band. It was in the 1870s that it became acceptable to wear the lounge suit outside one’s domestic environment.
The young man in A Passing Storm (c. 1876), also shown after a quarrel with a woman, seems troubled, with his straw boater pushed back off his forehead. He looks elegant in his black lounge suit, under which he wears a white shirt with a stand-up collar paired with a dark brown tie, and a low cut, ivory-colored waistcoat with a shawl collar.
And, finally, in By the Thames at Richmond (c. 1878), a fashion “Don’t”: hunched over in his misshapen brown hat, wrinkled brown suit, and over-sized white spats covering his dusty black leather shoes, this man hardly cuts a striking figure.
However, the smart gentleman reader will note that the woman he is with gazes at him in adoration nonetheless – as he writes “I love you” with his walking stick in the ground at her feet.
Clothes are not always the measure of a man!
© 2016 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.
Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color
Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
(295 pages; ISBN (ePub): 978-0-615-68267-9). See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.