Getty Images
Getty Images

How to Look Like a Victorian Gentleman in 11 Easy Steps

Getty Images
Getty Images

Trying to add a bit of class to your 21st-century fashion sense? Here are some dandy pointers from Britain’s Victorian period (1837-1901).

1. Vests (AKA: “Waistcoats”) Are A Must

Victorian gentlemen had a “vested” interest in these garments. Why? Unless he was an athlete, engaged in rigorous labor, or heading off to bed, a man wasn’t considered fully dressed without one … even in his own home.

2. Learn How To Tie An Ascot

Back then, these elegant ties were a common sight, so this is one skill you’ll definitely want to brush up on.

3. Start Cultivating Your Facial Hair

“Why Shave?” begged the title of a popular pro-beard manifesto written in 1853. Face fuzz—long denounced as “unseemly”—fell into the British mainstream in the mid 1800s. It was a rediscovered symbol of unbridled masculinity, and, thus, men began gleefully growing extravagant moustaches, beards, and side-burns. So which style’s right for you? Here’s a nifty run-down well worth looking over.

4. Going Around Hatless Is A Big No-No

“A well-brushed hat, and glossy boots must always be worn in the street,” states the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette (1860). Being seen outdoors or in a public building without some form of headgear remained frowned-upon until well into the 1900s. But wait! What if you’re plagued with obnoxious hat hair? If that’s the case, you can always fight it the old-fashioned way: by applying a generous helping of Macassar oil to help keep that mop in shape.

5. Pinstripes Are Your Friend

Pinstripe trousers might not have been universally-used, but they were a distinctive staple throughout much of the Victorian period.

6. Understand The Four Basic Coats

According to Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette (1866), “There are four basic coats which [a gentleman] must have: a business coat, a frock-coat, a dress-coat, and an over-coat. A well-dressed man may do well with four of the first, and one of each of the others per minimum. An economical man can get along with less.”

7. Ditch the Belt

Larry King would’ve fit right in during the Victorian era. Thanks to the relatively high waistlines of contemporary trousers, suspenders were vastly more popular than belts.

8. Get A Pocket Watch: They’re Timelessly Charming

A few hollowed-out models even contained built-in cameras. Don’t believe it? Check this out.

9. No Glove, No Love

Be advised, prospective neo-Victorian: If you’re planning on waltzing anytime soon, you’d better invest in some decent gloves first. Protocol dictated that, while dancing, the bare skin of young ladies and gentlemen couldn’t come into contact, so a layer of protection was necessary.

10. When it Comes to Footwear, Stay Conservative

Shoes and boots were generally either black or brown before the 1890s, when white alternatives were introduced to complement summer outfits.

11. Above All Else, Avoid Eccentricity!

“The dress of a gentleman should be such as not to excite any special observation, unless it be for neatness and propriety,” implores Arthur Martine’s aforementioned book of etiquette. “The utmost care should be exercised to avoid even the appearance of desiring to attract attention by the peculiar formation of any article of attire … a positive evidence of vulgarity.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Who Started Casual Fridays?
iStock
iStock

For employees at the mercy of an office thermostat, Casual Fridays provide some much-needed relief during frigid winters and the scorching months of summer. Though many offices are beginning to loosen their dress codes permanently, plenty of employees still cling to this one day a week when wearing shorts won't raise any eyebrows and that T-shirt won't result in an email from HR. But Casual Friday didn't begin just as a cure for discomfort in the workplace; there was also money to be made. 

In the 1960s, Bill Foster, president of The Hawaiian Fashion Guild, plotted to find a way to sell more of the colorfully designed Aloha shirts to their residents with the launch of "Operation Liberation," which gave two shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. The purpose of this campaign was to persuade the politicians to allow government workers to wear the lightweight shirts not only to beat the heat in the summer months, but also to support the state’s garment industry. The custom took off in 1966 and was given a familiar name, "Aloha Friday."

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard claims to have sparked the spread of casual wear in the workplace around the same time in the San Francisco Bay area. Called "Blue Sky Days," this Friday custom wasn't just limited to clothing: HP's founders—Bill Hewlett and David Packard—wanted people to take these days to think of more creative ideas and initiatives outside of their normal routine. This idea soon caught on throughout Silicon Valley and, eventually, into other industries.

However, the spread of this casual trend on the mainland resulted in haphazard, sometimes sloppy attire in the workplace. To help clarify the issue, and to promote his own brand, Rick Miller of Dockers stepped in with an ingenious marketing plan. In 1992, he sent an eight-page “Guide To Casual Business Wear” to approximately 25,000 human resource managers to distribute to their employees. This kickstarted the Dockers brand by popularizing the khaki pant and redefining what is acceptable attire in the workplace.

Now, many nations adopt a Casual Friday approach for similar reasons. In 2005, Japan implemented a Cool Biz policy that granted a summer dress code during hot weather months, in exchange for a more moderate temperature in office buildings. This meant offices were saving energy by keeping their temperature at no less than 82.4°F, but workers could breathe a bit easier in business casual tops and sneakers.

Blame the fashion industry, the unbearable heat, or simply an evolving cultural attitude. The likes of Bill Foster’s Aloha Friday and Rick Miller’s “Guide To Casual Business Wear” gave employees permission to dress for comfort on the job—for at least one coveted day of the week.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Why Do Wimbledon Players Wear All White?
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

by James Hunt

Wimbledon's dress code is one of the most famous in sports. The rules, which specify that players must dress "almost entirely in white," are so strict that the referee can force players to change under threat of disqualification. In the past, many of the sport's top players have found themselves on the wrong end of this rule—but where did it come from?

It's believed that the rule stems from the 1800s, when tennis was a genteel sport played primarily at social gatherings, particularly by women. The sight of sweaty patches on colored clothing was considered to be inappropriate, so the practice of wearing predominantly white clothing—a.k.a. tennis whites—was adopted to avoid embarrassment. The All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon, was founded in 1868 (initially as the All England Croquet Club) and introduced Lawn Tennis in 1875.

Quite simply, the club is just a stickler for tradition. Recently issued guidelines for clothing include statements such as "White does not include off-white or cream," that colored trim can be "no wider than one centimeter," and that "undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration)" are not allowed. That's right: even players' underwear has to be white.

The rules have rubbed many famous tennis players the wrong way. In 2013, former Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was told not to wear his orange-soled trainers after they were judged to have broken The All England Club's dress code. In 2002, Anna Kournikova was forced to replace her black shorts with a pair of white ones borrowed from her coach. And Andre Agassi refused to play at Wimbledon in the earlier years of his career because his signature denim shorts and garish tops were banned.

The all-white clothing rule isn't the only piece of baggage that accompanies Wimbledon's long history. It's the only Grand Slam tournament that's still played on a grass court, and the only one that schedules a day off on the middle Sunday of the tournament.

However, the club is not immune to change. In 2003 a long-standing tradition of requiring players to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box on the Centre Court was discontinued by the Duke of Kent (who also happens to be The All England Club's president) who deemed it anachronistic—though the requirement does stand if the Queen or Prince of Wales is in attendance—and in 2007 the prizes for the men's and women's tournaments were made equal. The all-white clothing rule may be annoying for players, but at least the club has shown it can change with the times in the areas where it really matters.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios