The Victorian Gentleman’s Guide To Dressing For Less

Wow. My blog life has gotten much easier since I began collecting all my historical material on Pinterest. Organization is a good thing in both my real and cyber worlds. Today I’m excerpting from  The Gentleman’s Art of Dressing with Economy, by a Lounger at the Clubs, published in 1876. The images can be found in The Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion from 1870. 


Well, it is not my province to recommend any particular tailor or tailors; you pay your money and take your choice; but without mentioning names, there are hundreds of excellent economical tailors in London who turn out clothes equal in style and cut to the above eminent firm at prices from 35 to 40 per cent, lower, so cannot afford to give credit for longer than three months. To this class I should go. They may be found in quiet streets off the most fashionable resorts, and invariably have been cutters or foremen to the dii majores of the sartorial art. As a rule, they make no show, nor exhibit anything in their windows. A brass plate on door, or blind in front, tells their trade. Inside you find a private work-room, hung with brown paper patterns, and perhaps but little stock of cloth. This is what I like. A tailor of this stamp has always, in addition to his own stock, the latest pattern-book from the leading London wholesale houses, from which you may select; and if you prefer seeing other materials in the piece, as many do, then he will direct you to some of the well-stocked cloth-shops, not a hundred miles from the Albany, where you may wander through groves of newest designs until your fancy “feels the fulness of satiety.” On giving him the number of the piece, he will get it and make it. Thus he can have no object in foisting on you last season’s patterns, nor obsolete cloth he may have in stock. Another great advantage is, a tailor of this class is his own cutter, and will attend to any little peculiarity of cut you may desire. In large establishments the man who takes your measure may not perhaps cut nor see the garment ordered.

Avoid “stripping pegs,” as the phrase is, or buying ready-made clothes. A skilful attendant at any such depot has a knack of pulling down, smoothing, and humouring whatever garment he may set his great mind on selling you; so that before the cheval glass, you look as if you had been born therein, and you and it both grew on together. Ah, dear delusion! You pay for it, and pass out. After a little wear you find the smooth gracefully-fitting robe becoming restive. It kicks up its heels, and plunges at the collar to displace your hat; it puckers, wrinkles, and makes you its bitter enemy so long as you continue to wear it….Go to a skilled tailor; order your clothes; fit them on; and you will thank your stars for taking my advice.

I am not writing exclusively for Londoners; but as every one nowadays comes up to London on the slightest provocation—making it an excuse to have one’s hair cut—and as all wish to appear to best advantage when in town, I advise those who visit modern Babylon to have their clothes made there. I say this by no means to the disparagement of provincial tailors—many of whom buy the best cloth and employ the best workmen that can be got. Nevertheless, I am free to confess and contend, as learned counsel say, that clothes made out of London are redolent of country tailoring, and have not the timbre which belongs to style and fashion. There is aje-ne-sais-quoi about a West-end London cut unmistakeable; and I advise my readers, if they must needs patronize the local rural snip, to employ him on shooting coat, fishing garb, or costume intended for country wear exclusively.


N.B.—If you can afford the time, do not allow your coats to be sent home without calling at your tailor’s for a final try-on.

Now, if you do not keep a valet (and if you wish to dress with economy, you had better not) you must either be your own valet, or get some one to do the work. No CLOTHES, HOWEVER NEW, WILL LOOK WELL UNLESS KEPT IN SHAPE. This is done by folding them carefully up the moment you take them off. Next morning or the day after will not do. The reason is, while the cloth has the warmth of the body in it, it is more plastic and impressionable than when cold. I have seen many persons throw their clothes down in a heap, to put them on next morning all in wrinkles. Of course, if you chuck your things in a stack to stagnate into creases, and put them on “with a pitchfork,” there is no hope of your ever looking well dressed.


I said above, clothes must be folded carefully. There is a right and a wrong way in this as in everything. Each garment must be pulled into shape before folding. The coat-sleeves should be gently but firmly stretched to full length, and then doubled up with the crease at elbows. The skirts are then turned over, and, without disturbing the collar, the whole is doubled down the back, and left at full length when put by in wardrobe.

This mode differs from folding for packing. In this case the collar is turned up, arms doubled, skirts brought up to collar—cloth to cloth; the process then goes on as above. Trousers should be pulled down each seam, and particularly stretched from fork or crutch to boot; then fold them flat, knee to knee—not as tailors do, with crease down the centre; then turn over into three, taking care this crease is below the knee.

To keep trousers in shape, you should occasionally damp them with a sponge well wrung out. When folded, envelop them in brown paper, and put away under a heavy trunk or other weight. How do soldiers, with their limited stock of trousers, manage to turn out so well? Simply by following these directions: they damp their overalls, roll them up, and place them often under their bed or pillow.

In this little book I have not attempted to lay down any fixed rule as to how much yearly one should spend on clothes. So much depends on the wearer, in the first place; secondly, on the stock of things one has in hand to start with; and thirdly, on the judicious selection of new material. I append, however, four tables of prices of clothes, of all descriptions required of tailors under ordinary circumstances; and the reader may elect to make what choice he likes. No. I shows top price charged by West-end tailors to West-end swells on the credit system. No. 2 shows same quality on the ready money system, or, much the same thing, three months’ credit. No. 3 gives second quality, and second-rate work, for cash; and No. 4 is slop-shop price, ready made and ticketed in window.

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