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Court Dress For Men

By nature inoffensive, friendly and obliging, his presentation at St James’s had made him courteous.
Pride and Prejudice

As it had been for women, a strict standard governed what could be worn at Court when attending an audience with the King. This standard was often unaffected by prevailing fashion and changed little over the course of a monarch’s lifetime. The following suit, from the collection held at the Victoria & Albert represents the what was no doubt very much like the suit worn by Sir William Lucas upon his fateful introduction at St. James’s Court.

Full dress suits of this type (which is probably French, 1790s) were worn for ceremonial occasions. The silk embroidery on the suit, mainly in satin stitch, is considered to be among the finest in the collection, and its design probably dates from the 1780s.

Unfortunately, this scan does not show off the glorious floral embroidery on this dress suit. Even the buttons have flowers embroidered on them! Many representations of these formal dress suits are held by museums. The Victoria and Albert Museum owned twenty-four of them from 1770-1800 in 1984! Most formal suits like this are in dark colors, either solids or subtly patterned as seen in this suit.


By 1807, the waist of court dresses for women had moved up to the height common for dresses, but, since hoops were still required, it was much less attractive. Here a lace-trimmed overskirt covers a dress with bands of flowered garland and a deep lace trim around the bottom of the skirt. The male figure shows the typical formal court dress that varied little from the 1780s. The formal suits included matching coat and breeches in the same fabric, usually a dark color and sometimes patterned. Always these court suits would be heavily embroidered. This suit is embroidered on collar, cuffs and along the front opening. The sword would be worn for such a formal event as the Birth Day, the traditional closing ending event of the London season. The waistcoat here is lighter than the suit, but we are unable to see if it is embroidered or not. The hat is a style particularly easy to carry under the arm. Compare this to the formal suit of the 1790s owned by the Victoria and Albert museum. The words beneath the print read “Court Dresses for His Majesty’s Birth Day. Printed for J. B. Bell & Co.”

The description for this image, originally published in Le Beau Monde, or Literary and Fashionable Magazine, January, 1807, is as follows:


Court Dresses for Her Majesty’s Birthday

The return of the rigid season brings with it once more, to every loyal bosom, the happy occasion of doing honour to the birth-day of our gracious and amiable Queen. Fancy and taste have been long busy in making preparations, and the condescension of a noble lady has enabled us to anticipate some of the characteristics that are likely to distinguish the habiliments of the day. The design which she has done us the honour to communicate, brings the whole into a central point of consideration, and we have therefore only to describe it.

Fig. No. 1. FOR LADIES.–The hair dressed in natural curls round the face, with a coronet, bandeau, or other ornament in gold–feathers of every kind. The body, sleeves, and petticoat, of rich, full coloured satin or velvet: the draperies of gauze or tiffany spotted with gold embroidery; the trimmings and false sleeves of the same, edged with rich lace, and the cords and tassels that festoon the draperies, of gold. The bracelets round the sleeves, the zone and the binding of the petticoat to be of plate gold, we suppose in commemoration of the lately achieved conquest of South America. The petticoat is decorated with artificial wreaths of the white thorn made in relief.

Fig. No. 2. FOR GENTLEMEN.–Dark-green, or other dark colour, coat and small- cloaths of silk, velvet, or fine cloth, covered with a small spot somewhat lighter of the same kind of colour, edged with silver lace, and embroidered with any kind of wild flower of acknowledged British growth: waistcoat of white satin, embroidered in a very light pattern of gold thread. Silk stockings perfectly white.

Why not browse our costume section at our online giftshop for costume, patterns and accessories?

This text, along with the images, has been borrowed from Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page. The text from the 1790 suit is from Natalie Rothstein’s Four Hundred Years of Fashion London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1984.

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