2 minutes of reflection, 2 minutes of sorrow, 2 minutes of thanks. That is all most give for the ultimate sacrifice of man, woman and child during the Great War. We give up 2 of the 525,949 minutes that make up our year, in my mind this is not nearly enough. If they were brave enough to go up against a machine gun, maybe we should be brave enough to do more to remember those who serve our country, past and present.
Once I attended the funeral of a young man who had died before his 17th birthday in a tragic accident. The funeral had a joyous upbeat air to it, with people forcing themselves to laugh. I remember thinking this was odd until the boy’s father stepped up to say a few words, those words I can still hear ringing in my ears today.
“It is not important how he died, it is not important where he is now, let us not remember our pain and sorrow. For my son would not want you to be sad. Let us remember the boy, the son and the friend. Let us forget the sorrow of death, so we can rejoice in the beauty of his life.” Thus, to honour those who sacrificed themselves for us, I thought why not remember how they lived, why not remember how they were ordinary people like you and I that lived with honour and courage? What did they do for a job? What did they care about? How did they dress?
So, in a small step towards remembering the people, let us think on how they dressed, for the people make the clothes. The fashion in 1914 is characterised by the end of the Edwardian era, of decadent dress, rich colours and exotic materials. Men’s fashion however was relatively unchanged over the period of time. It consisted mainly of coats, waistcoats and trousers, much like today, but with some subtle differences.
The Professional Gentleman
A common attire of local bank managers and professionals was the three piece suit. A shirt was often worn with a dress collar that sported wings. These shirts had taller collars than we are accustomed to today, with collars that reached up to as high as the top of a man’s Adam’s apple. The collar was often stiffened with starch to make it brilliantly white and stiff enough to remain upright. The wingtip collars where adorned with a bow tie, usually black, but some cads wore coloured or patterned bow ties.
Alternatively, some men wore dress shirts with collars that folded down much like today’s, except the collar wings were longer, taller and more rounded. These collars are sometimes referred to as Stuff collared shirts. These shirts where worn with a tie that was usually tied in a ‘four in hand’ knot to make it thin enough to fit in the narrow collars.
A black or dark navy three piece suit was the choice of many men, normally with a slight pinstripe to it, although it was common to see such suits in a variety of fabrics and colours, much like today. These single breasted three piece suits sported a waistcoat with a pocket watch threaded through a button hole as a functional accessory. Waistcoats differed from modern day variants with the fastening lower on the waist coat and collarless designs attributing to the larger number of pockets on waistcoats. This was then combined with a slack coat/lounge suit and smart black shoes/boots. It was common to match the jacket and waist coat design, while pairing them with contrasting trousers. Alternatively it was fashionable to match the jacket and trousers with a contrasting waistcoat.
The lounge suits of the time, had longer tails than our suits today, these tails often reached down to the back of a man’s knee, with a rounded hem line that swept from front to back. The jacket often had a single back split to allow freedom of movement, along with a breast pocket and 2 side pockets that featured flaps.
Hats were common place, a bowler hat being the choice of well-dressed men, whereas the flat cap was the sign of a working man.
The Working Gentleman
The average man couldn’t afford to wear the full regalia of the bank manager, partly due to the expense of buying such garments but also due to the expense of washing and maintaining them. Despite this, all men strived to dress well, there are many photos showing men of all walks of life decked out in a Sunday best of jacket, trousers and shined shoes.
The fitted sleek finished suit of the professionals was not available to the working man, thus he often wore a short jacket made in a thick rugged fabric such as dyed wool, with baggy dark trousers often made from a rough wool fabric. The working man still wore shirts, albeit without collars, the shirt was baggy and was usually accompanied by a neck scarf or fabric fashioned in a cravat style to keep the neck warm and hide the lack of collar.
Working men did not wear bowler hats, they wore a form of beret with a peak or flat cap as it is known. Some working class men wore waist coats, but few could afford such a luxury, so jumpers were often worn instead as they were cheaper to buy.
Gentleman of all social groups sported short hair, which was fashionable at the time. A moustache was also popular, with men of both groups growing facial hair that they maintained with pomade or wax. This is not to say however that men all wore facial hair, it was just as fashionable to have a smooth shaved face.
I hope you have enjoyed this snapshot into 1914 life and dress.