When we first see Harold Putterham in Steam Geared, he is walking down a cobblestoned street in a respectable commercial district. The story is set in the year of 1888, give or take. He might look something like this fellow:
Note how he is clothed in male sartorial splendor from head to heels in the fashion of 1888! His jacket is a cutaway coat, also called a morning coat, so named for the way it is “cut away,” starting in the area of the ribs and sloping down to the trousers’ side seams near the thigh. In 1888, the notched collar of the coat was particularly narrow. Beneath the coat is a square-bottomed waistcoat, also known as a vest, with its four or five buttons all buttoned up, so that very little of the “bib” of his shirt shows.
Close-fitting shirts with long tails were considered underwear in Victorian times and only glimpses were visible in 1888. As stated in The Delineator’s “Styles for Gentlemen” section in January 1888: “a too open front renders the wearer conspicuous, and this is always to be carefully avoided.” Shirts extended down to the nether parts, and many men found this covering negated the need to wear undergarments beneath their trousers. For the finishing touch on shirts, detachable cuffs and collars were fastened with small buttons or studs. Around the collar, several forms of neckwear were available, including band bows, flat scarves, puff scarves, knot scarves, four-in-hands, Ascots, Windors, and the list goes on. Also, a gentleman must own a plentiful supply of linen handkerchieves to adorn his breast coat pocket.
Moving on, Harold’s trousers are made of a jaunty striped material, high-waisted, and held up with suspenders, which are unseen beneath his vest. Suspenders, like neckwear, socks, and handkerchieves, might be done up in bright shades and patterns. There were even “polka-spots of several dimensions, varying from the size of a pea to a shilling.” (The Delineator, 1888). These tiny touches of color contrasted pleasingly with the generally dark or drab colors of the suit itself.
For footwear, boots were more commonly worn than shoes by men of the time period, and half-boots were typically worn under trousers.
Socks beneath these half-boots would not be seen publicly and therefore could be brightly colored and whimsically patterned. Their tops were knitted in ribbing, to prevent them from slipping down. Sock suspenders were also available.
The final touches on this fellow’s sartorial splendor include his pocket square and a boutonniere. We can tell he is dressed for indoors, for he lacks a hat and gloves.
Another fashionable option for a gentleman of 1888 was the sack coat. The style had been introduced as sporting wear in the 1840s, but more and more became acceptable for all but the most formal of occasions. An example is seen here:
This gentleman is attired for out-of-doors, with his Bowler hat, gloves, and a walking cane. Note how his sack coat is open to display his substantial watch chain, and his waistcoat and trousers are of a subtle check pattern, while his sack coat is a plain weave.
Much like the morning coat, this sack coat also has a narrow, deeply-notched collar. The top button is closed to hide most of the shirt underneath, but the rest are opened to show off his spiffy watch chain.
Both gentlemen pictured are not wearing any jewelry, but the proper Victorian male would be permitted to wear a single ring, preferably a signet with the man’s initials or coat of arms, a watch chain, shirt studs, and sleeve buttons.
Thus, we have a good picture of Harold as he sets out on his outing in the story, Second Chances.
Acknowledgments: Thanks are due to the V & A Museum for the image of the half-boot and Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa, 1995, for the first carte de visit image. All other images are public domain from The Delineator, Peterson’s Magazine, and Godey’s Lady’s Book.