Clothes Make the Man

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I-27904.1 M972.81.13 I-42589.1 M973.49.7 M973.49.11.1-3 II-100033 M963.4.1.1-3 M978.32 II-109450
Evening dress suit
George Dean
About 1911, 20th century
Gift of the Estate of A. D. Savage
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Suit (38)
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Keys to History

The long-tailed evening dress suit and the rules that govern its wear have changed little over the past 150 years.

According to an 1880s guide to men's dress, the evening dress suit was: "one of the best investments in a social way that a young man with social aspirations can make. When he wants to go out in the evening, and has on a dress-suit, a nicely fitting shirt, with a white lawn tie and neat shoes he may enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that he is properly dressed for any society in the world."

The supremacy of the evening dress coat was challenged by the introduction of the dinner jacket (also known as the tuxedo or dress sack) in the 1890s. In recent years men have defied the accepted evening dress code, wearing tailcoats or dinner jackets with jeans and running shoes at formal events.

A New York Clubman, Hints about Men's Dress (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1888).

  • What

    This early 20th century evening dress suit is almost indistinguishable from those worn throughout the last third of the 19th century

  • Where

    Full evening dress was considered essential for formal dinners, balls, concerts and receptions.

  • When

    Full evening dress was worn after six.

  • Who

    The evening dress suit was considered an absolute necessity by wealthy or fashionable men in the late 19th century, or by men who aspired to join the higher social stratum.