By the later nineteenth century, men wore black or very dark suits to symbolize respectability, seriousness and, in effect, a form of masculinity. The dark formal matching 3-piece suit, worn with a top hat as shown here, was adopted across society, dominating the urban commercial scene. This lack of colour in men's clothing had developed gradually from the 1840s, contrasting with the previous extravagant use of colour and pattern by dandies and beaux in the early nineteenth century. Increasingly, any form of exaggerated decoration was viewed as flippant and suitable only for changing female fashions; men needed to be seen to be above such absurd fuss and show.
This suit was made to measure by a Cambridge tailor, James Neal and Sons, and was worn by Dr C Willett Cunnington, the costume historian whose collection of clothing started the museum here in 1947. The suit is as plain and undecorated as costume can be.
Full item descriptions: