Clothes and the Hour

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Here’s a fun little piece of Brooks Brothers history: a small pamphlet on how to dress for certain times of the day, titled Clothes and the Hour. My source at Brooks Brothers tells me they published this in 1912, but a quick Google Books search will pull up various advertisements for the pamphlet dating back as early as 1906. So who knows.

Anyway, apparently at that time, Brooks Brothers recommended that men wear bedroom slippers and dressing gowns at 8am in town (with dressing gowns costing up to $1,400(!) in today’s dollars). They also recommended negligee shirts in the morning made from lightweight silks, linens, cottons, or wools. A negligee was one of the four types of shirts men used to wear in this period - the others being the dress shirt, the work shirt, and the outing shirt. Dress shirts had bosoms, which could be plain, plaited, or tucked. As you’ll see in the “afternoon section” of this pamphlet, Brooks recommended dress shirts made entirely of white linen or ones that just had linen bosoms. These were typically starched in the laundry so that they’d set well. The other three types - the negligee, the outing, and the work shirt - were usually made without bosoms, and differed by what kind of materials were used. Either way, all shirts were made with a front-plait closing (what we might think of as “popovers” today), or a coat front (the style most of us wear, with the front of the shirt cut fully open so we can slip it on like a coat). 

For afternoon wear in the city, men were recommended something still very familiar to us: a sack suit, dress shirt, gloves, cravat, and some kind of coat. Recommended coats included Chesterfields, Mackintoshes, Ulsters, and even vicunas. What would a vicuna coat cost in the early 20th century? $950 to $1,050 in today’s dollars for ready-to-wear, or $1,300 to $1,500 for made-to-measure. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that a custom vicuna coat today would run you anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000 (a price so shocking that someone recently published a book about it, which A Suitable Wardrobe recently reviewed).

So if you were ever hoping for a vicuna coat, you might have missed your chance by a hundred years.


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