The Regency period saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishment from serious men’s clothing — it would not reappear except as an affectation of Aesthetic dress in the 1880s and its successor, the Young Edwardian look of the 1960s. Instead, cut and tailoring became much more important as an indicator of quality.
The roots of gentlemen’s fashions of the Regency era of circa 1795-1825 traced back primarily to two sources. One was the equestrian clothing of English “country gentlemen” of the late 18th century and the other was the radical new designs which came out of the French Revolution. Though most clothing of the era appears to be quite formal and conservative to us (and in fact one could argue that modern men’s formal and business attire trace their roots to this era), in actuality there were some very abrupt departures from what had developed over the past century and a half during the Baroque and Georgian periods. Breeches (which had been standard men’s attire in one form or another for at least two centuries) were slowly abandoned in favor of pantaloons and trousers. Bright colors and gaudy accoutrements gave way to the new idea (propagated by persons such as fashion icon Beau Brummel) that a gentleman of taste ought to be subtle and subdued, leaving brilliancy in color and accessories for the most part to the ladies. With a few subcultural exceptions this philosophy has pretty much carried forward even to the present day.
The tailcoat was the de rigueur article of clothing for any man of at least middle class standards. It was high in the back of the neck, fitted in the back, chest and abdomen, had long tails and the wide “M notch” lapels so distinctive of the period. It could be either single or double breasted and could be worn open or closed. It was cut high in front so that even when closed a strip of the waistcoat could be seen beneath. This cut was in the form of an arch earlier in the period and was more horizontal later. The tailcoat was usually made of wool though sometimes of linen for warm climates and seasons. There were many color options for daywear but for evenings conservative darker ones such as black and navy were most fashionable, a trend which has continued to this day. Buttons could be self-fabric covered or of brass or pewter.
The waistcoat was made from wool, linen or silk and could be a solid but was often a brocade, stripe or pattern. It had a high, stand-up collar and sometimes wide turn-back lapels, especially earlier in the period. The waistcoat extended below the front of the tailcoat and covered the top of the trousers or breeches. It was most often single breasted but could be double breasted as well.
The shirt was usually of linen or cotton. It was long and loose fitting with off the shoulder sleeves and a high standing collar that extended up sometimes even above the jaw line. The shirt had a slit in the front and pulled on over the head. It was mid-thigh to knee length and was quite often the only undergarment. Ruffles at the sleeves were unpopular during this period (viewed as old-fashioned and undemocratic) but ruffles at the chest were still an option.
Breeches, Pantaloons and Trousers:
Breeches were gradually fading out during this period. For a time they remained the proper item for evening wear then were relegated to only very formal occasions and then survived only as “court” apparel for certain royal occasions. Breeches could be made of wool, cotton, linen or silk with the latter best for the most formal events. They tended to have a higher waist in front and a little less baggy seat than the late 18th century version. However, they still had a drop front, were fitted in the thighs and buckled or buttoned just below the knees.
Pantaloons were popularized early in the 1790s by French revolutionaries. They had a drop front, were anywhere from mid-calf to ankle length and were worn exceedingly snug.
Trousers became commonplace during the Regency era and we still wear their descendants today. The trousers had a high waist that came up at least to the navel. They were drop front and were held up by means of braces (suspenders). They were worn much looser than pantaloons though they were often fitted down at the ankles, sometimes using gussets so that they could come down quite low onto the shoes. Trousers could be of wool, linen or cotton. Though initially only appropriate for daywear they eventually gained acceptance for evening attire as well.
The neckcloth or cravate was a necessary accessory. Typical of this era was a long, narrow strip of linen or silk which wrapped several times around the neck and was then tied in front. Many forms of tying were popular, some considered more formal and others most suitable for casual wear.
A very tall, straight top hat with a narrow curled up brim was the height of fashion during much of this period. The bicorn was high, wide and of shallow depth. It was popularized as a military fashion and was worn by Napoleon, though some civilians wore it too. Many specialized types of headwear were in use as well such as the flat, round hats of sailors, the shakos of soldiers or the coonskin caps of American frontiersmen.
Perhaps the most well known men’s hairstyle of the Regency era was short to medium at the sides and back but longer on top where the hair was often brushed upwards for height. Sometimes the hair was cut short all the way around and combed forward on the sides. Short curly bangs and curls at the sides of the face above the ears were also fashionable. Some men did wear their hair long, particularly on the European Continent. Sideburns became increasingly common. Otherwise, virtually all men were clean shaven. Moustaches were worn by a few (mostly German) military officers. Beards or goatees would not be worn by anyone for several more decades. Wigs were still common in the early part of the era but their use had all but disappeared by the end.
Shoes, Boots and Stockings:
Buckled shoes gradually went out and lace up shoes came in. Light slip on shoes sans the buckle were popular as well. Most shoes would be black and of leather. Both low cut shoes and ankle high bootees were worn. Boots were high and of black or brown leather. “Bluchers,” “Wellingtons” and an ubiquitous style very like modern English riding boots were all used. Stockings were long and of wool, cotton or silk.
Gloves, canes, pocket watches, watch fobs and wallets of leather or fabric all enjoyed wide usage. Swords were not normally carried by civilian men. Long overcoats with collar and lapels styled similarly to the tailcoat came into fashion as “undress” for cold or inclement weather.
This era which saw the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812 was arguably the most brilliant and colorful in the history of martial attire what with bright hues, high standing collars, tall shakos and glittering braid and trim. If desirous of a military portrayal of this period one will need to research as per specific person, regiment or branch of service of interest.