How to Dress, for Men

A great French writer has said, with as much grace as philosophy, that the artist and man of letters needs only a black coat and the absence of all pretension to place him on the level of the best society.  It must be observed, however, that this remark applies only to the intellectual workers, who, if they do occasionally commit a minor solecism in dress or manners, are forgiven on account of their fame and talents. Other individuals are compelled to study what we have elsewhere called the “by-laws of society;” and it would be well if artists and men of letters would more frequently do the same. It is not enough that a man should be clever, or well educated, or well born; to take his place in society he must be acquainted with all that this little book proposes to teach. He must, above all else, know how to enter the room, how to bow, and how to dress. Of these three indispensable qualifications, the most important, because the most observed, is the latter.

A gentleman should always be so well dressed that his dress shall never be observed at all. Does this sound like an enigma? It is not meant for one. It only implies that perfect simplicity is perfect elegance, and that the true test of taste in the toilette of a gentleman is its entire harmony, unobtrusiveness and becomingness. If any friend should say to you, “What a handsome waistcoat you have on!” you may depend that a less handsome waistcoat would be in better taste. If you hear it said that Mr. So-and-So wears superb jewelry, you may conclude beforehand that he wears too much. Display, in short, is ever to be avoided, especially in matters of dress. The toilette is the domain of the fair sex. Let a wise man leave its graces and luxuries to his wife, daughters or sisters, and seek to be himself appreciated for something of higher worth than the embroidery upon his shirt front, or the trinkets on his chain.

To be too much in the fashion is as vulgar as to be too far behind it. No really well-bred man follows every new cut that he sees in his tailor’s fashion-book. Only very young men, and those not of the most aristocratic circles, are guilty of this folly.

The author of “Pelham” has aptly said that a gentleman’s coat should not fit too well. There is great truth and subtlety in this observation. To be fitted too well is to look like a tailor’s assistant. This is the great fault which we have to find in the style of even the best bred Frenchmen. They look as if they had just stepped out of a fashion-book, and lack the careless ease which makes an English gentleman look as if his clothes belonged to him, and not he to his clothes.

In the morning wear frock coats, double-breasted waistcoats, and trousers of light or dark colors, according to the season.

In the evening, though only in the bosom of your own family, wear only black, and be as scrupulous to put on a dress coat as if you expected visitors. If you have sons, bring them up to do the same. It is the observance of these minor trifles in domestic etiquette which marks the true gentleman.

For evening parties, dinner parties, and balls, wear a black dress coat, black trousers, black silk or cloth waistcoat, white cravat, white or grey kid gloves, and thin patent leather boots. A black cravat may be worn in full dress, but is not so elegant as a white one. A black velvet waistcoat should only be worn at a dinner party.

Let your jewelry be of the best, but the least gaudy description, and wear it very sparingly. A set of good studs, a gold watch and guard, and one handsome ring, are as many ornaments as a gentleman can wear with propriety. In the morning let your ring be a seal ring, with your crest or arms engraved upon it. In the evening it may be a diamond. Your studs, however valuable, should be small.

It is well to remember in the choice of jewelry that mere costliness is not always the test of value; and that an exquisite work of art, such as a fine cameo, or a natural rarity, such as a black pearl, is a more distingue possession than a large brilliant which any rich and tasteless vulgarian can buy as easily as yourself. For a ring, the gentleman of fine taste would prefer a precious antique intaglio to the handsomest diamond or ruby that could be bought at a jewelry store. The most elegant gentleman with whom the author was ever acquainted—a man familiar with all the Courts of Europe—never wore any other shirt-studs in full dress than three valuable black pearls, each about the size of a pea, and by no means beautiful to look at.

Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and the least common-place. No vulgar man purchases an opal. He invariably prefers the more showy diamond, ruby, sapphire, or emerald.

Unless you are a snuff-taker, never carry any but a white pocket-handkerchief.

If in the morning you wear a long cravat fastened by a pin, be careful to avoid what may be called alliteration of color. We have seen a turquoise pin worn in a violet-colored cravat, and the effect was frightful. Choose, if possible, complementary colors, and their secondaries. For instance, if the stone in your pin be a turquoise, wear it with brown, or crimson mixed with black, or black and orange.  If a ruby, contrast it with shades of green. The same rule holds good with regard to the mixture and contrast of colors in your waistcoat or cravat. Thus, a buff waistcoat and a blue tie, or brown and blue, or brown and green, or brown and magenta, green and magenta, green and mauve, are all good arrangements of color.

Very light colored cloths for morning wear are to be avoided, even in the height of summer; and fancy cloths of strange patterns and mixtures are exceedingly objectionable.

Colored shirts may be worn in the morning; but they should be small in pattern, and quiet in color.

With a colored shirt, always wear a white collar.

Never wear a cap, unless in the fields or garden; and let your hat be always black.

If your sight compels you to wear spectacles, let them be of the best and lightest make, and mounted in gold or blue steel.

If you suffer from weak sight, and are obliged to wear colored glasses, let them be of blue or smoke color. Green are detestable.

Never be seen in the street without gloves; and never let your gloves be of any material that is not kid or calf. Worsted or cotton gloves are unutterably vulgar. Your gloves should fit to the last degree of perfection.

In these days of public baths and universal progress, we trust that it is unnecessary to do more than hint at the necessity of the most fastidious personal cleanliness. The hair, the teeth, the nails, should be faultlessly kept; and a soiled shirt, a dingy pocket-handkerchief, or a light waistcoat that has been worn once too often, are things to be scrupulously avoided by any man who is ambitious of preserving the exterior of a gentleman.


This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.


See also:Are Polo Shirts Appropriate for Office Casual?





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