Gentlemen’s Morning Attire
It is hard to imagine, what, for example, Mr. Darcy would have worn to breakfast or what Mr. Bennet would have thrown on when awakened by the express rider with the news of Lydia’s elopement.
Early nightshirts, like the shift or chemise worn by women, would have been the shirt that had been worn all day long, tucked into pants or breeches.
This long shirt also filled the role of underwear for men, as drawers and the advent ofmodern day skivvies were still decades away from popular acceptance.
When dashing off ot breakfast, or lounging in the morning, however, one would not simply lie about in just a nightshirt. Nightgowns, a far cry from what we think of now, were worn like bathrobes are now, over the undergarments, providing a measure of modesty. These gowns could be heavy or lightweight depending on how warm they were meant to be. The Victorians used dressing gowns in a similar way. Surprisingly, many familiar Victorian characters, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Sherlock Holmes, come to mind dressed simply in nightclothes and a “nightgown” or dressing gown.
The following ensembles, part of the collection held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, give an idea of what Mr. Darcy’s nightgown would have looked like. The captions are taken from Four Hundred Years of Fashion, courtesy of Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page.
“Double-Breasted Nightgown, quilted blue satin, English, late 18th early 19th century The matching waistcoat fronts are stitched to the inside of the gown. Pocket holes are let into the side seams at hip level. There is a pleat at the centre of the back.
Nightgowns of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were acknowledged items of informal dress worn over the shirt and breeches or trousers for comfort and warmth. Made in a variety of styles and often of exotic textiles, their cut and style was influenced by clothes and textiles brought back to Europe by traders of the English, French and Dutch East India Companies in the 17th and 18th centuries”
This lovely quilted robe would be the perfect thing to dress a regency romance hero in for an informal breakfast. The hero could button in the waistcoat and add breaches if going outside the bedroom to eat. The versatility of the nightgown to serve as what we might call “lounge wear” today is not something men still have–in fact, men today would never have a “nightgown,” only a nightshirt! The female equivalent would be morning dress.
“Nightgown, cream flannel with black wool tufts imitating ermine … [English] There are two pocket holes let into the side seams set close to the centre back pleat. The buttons are covered in linen. The edges trimmed with cream silk twill … [This nightgown was originally owned by] Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), founder of Coutts Bank …. `Cossack’ Trousers, unbleached linen [English] … The trousers are cut full, tapered to the ankles, and kept taut by buttoned straps under the instep. They are attached to a deep waistband and evenly gathered at the front. `Cossack’ trousers were introduced after 1814 when the Czar came to London for the peace celebrations and brought Cossack soldiers with his entourage” (149-50).
The nightgown is a type of dress men no longer have, sort of a combination of lounge wear, pajamas, and bathrobe. The fact that the nightgown is imitation ermine is interesting since men rarely wear fur today. While her husband wore such an outfit as this, a lady would probably wear morning dress.
Cathy Decker has created the Regency Fashion Page which catalogs fashion plates from 1790-1820. These plates include full color photographs of the original plates as well as descriptive notes. Her page has been recommended by the History Channel.
Four Hundred Years of Fashion
by Madeleine Ginsburg (Author), Avril Hart (Author), Valerie Mendes (Author), Natalie Rothstein (Editor)
List Price: £19.99
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