A Brief View Of Men’s Clothing – The Morning Coat

During the 1880s and on into the the early 20th Century, the morning coat increasingly supplanted the frock coat as the standard for men’s formal daywear. The morning coat (or cutaway) evolved out of the earlier dress coat (aka tail coat) and frock coat styles and was a single-breasted coat characterized by having a cutaway front with the front edges of the coat sloping away towards the rear:

Morning Suit_1

Morning coats got their name from being worn in “the morning” (which in reality could extend into the early afternoon) for men conducting business and making formal calls- this was considered the proper dress for presenting oneself to the world (although as previously noted in a previous post, the sack suit could also fulfill this function). Also, according to some sources, the morning suit was envisioned as being a proper outfit for a gentleman taking their morning horseback ride but we somewhat question the assertion- I leave that up to you to decide. 🙂

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Morning Suit, c. 1900

As with frock coats, morning coats came in a variety of materials and weights either as separates or as part of a three-piece suit with matching trousers and waistcoat (aka vest) and below are a few examples:

Morning Suit

Morning Coat Ensemble, British, c. 1890 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.423a, b)

Morning Suit2

Rear View

Morning Suit3

The matching vest.

Morning Suit 1

Morning Suit, British, c. 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.548a–c)

Morning Suit 2

Rear View

As seen in the two above examples, the morning coat/suit did not just come in dark, somber grays and blacks but could also be found in various lighter colored plaids. Morning suits also came in darker colors, principally black and various shades of gray:

Morning Suit

Morning Suit, 1885; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1933-13-1a–c)

Morning Suit

Morning Suit, c. 1880s; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2010.33.15a-b)

Morning Suit3

Morning Suit, c. 1875; The FIne Arts Museums of San Francisco (1985.40.34a-d)

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Morning Suit, c. 1880s

As can readily be seen from the above, black was a popular color and often various details such as taped edges, cuff details, and contrasting fabrics (principally black silk on the lapels) were used to add some variety to what would otherwise be a monotonous expanse of black. Finally, note that the coat front could have a variable amount of buttons, usually ranging from two to five, and the coat could be worn buttons or unbuttoned. Interestingly enough, morning coats made today typically have less buttons and are meant to be worn up.  Often times, the morning was worn buttoned only at the top, a popular convention for wearing coats during the late 19th Century:

Morning Suit_1880s_1

Morning Suit, c. 1880s; Los Encinos State Park

Here are a few more pictures of morning coats/suits being worn:



The above is just a sampling of what was out there but we do believe that it gives a pretty good idea of how they were worn. Although they were typically worn with top hats, that was not always the case and sometimes one can see derby or homburg hats being worn. In contrast to the earlier frock coat style of the 1840s – 1860s, the morning coat tended to have a more narrow, fitted silhouette and was not meant to be worn loose- this is especially evident when one examines the shoulder and back seams on extant garments.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the morning suit- for the most part, it lives on today as ill-fitting garments usually worn at weddings (and perhaps at a few speciality formal occasions). As with fashion in general, men’s fashion has become dominated by more informal styles of dress and the morning suit has become a casualty. However, from a recreationist perspective, it is very much alive and a well-tailored morning coat is a truly treat to behold. 🙂

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse at what is often an overlooked staple of 19th and 20th Century men’s wear and stay tuned for more in the near future.

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