Men's fashions meet the 1893 depression
Although men’s clothing styles in 1893 were becoming less formal, a gentleman in 1893 Kansas City had many decisions to make about what to wear. A “fashion dress chart” published in 1902 lists ten components of dress, including collar, cravat, gloves, and jewelry, that the fashionable man should take into account in dressing for different activities of his day from “business and morning wear” and “cycling and golf” to “at home dinner.”
Wearing a hat or cap was de rigueur in all seasons. For the worst of winter, cloth caps were acceptable, but for gentlemen, “stiff hats” – bowlers, derbies and silk or “top” hats with rigid crowns – were preferred.
Stiff hats required care; hat polishers were sold to keep silk hats looking shiny. “Soft hats” like the homberg, with a single dent running down the center of the crown, were becoming fashionable for year-round wear, requring only a brush to maintain. With a pinch at the crown, the homberg could be converted into the more up to date, slightly rakish fedora.
By 1900, when this picture of John S. Clark’s “Clark the Hatter” shop window was taken – in 1893 the shop was at 714 Main in 1893, but it moved southward with the city center -- most of the hats in the window display are fedora style.
M.K. Weil advertised over a hundred new styles of men’s hats for spring, including the Carlsbad and felt “Crushers."
Spring and summer suits began to be advertised in March. In the absence of synthetics, wash-and-wear, and permanent press fabrics, men had to choose between different kinds and brands of cotton and woolen cloth according to the season: kersey, clay worsted, cheviot, beaver (a heavy cloth of felted wool), venetian cloth (a lightweight twill weave), among many others.
M.K. Weil at 927-9 Main Street advertised ready-made overcoats in “fine silk mixed Worsteds, Clay Worsted, Carrs Meltons, Imported Covert Cloth, Vicunas, Fancy Tweeds, etc.” in “Plain lined, full Silk lined to edge, or Silk lined without facing” for prices ranging from $10 to $18. . It also advertised spring suits in the new “sack” style, touting “Thousands of exclusive patterns in the height of fashion to select from.”
The Model, at 500-506 Main, displayed a fashionable swell in silk hat and striped cutaway coat with matching vest, check pants, high collar and bow tie, glancing at every man’s essential accessory, his pocket watch. The pocket watch, attached to a drooping chain from vest pocket to trouser belt, was a favored target of pickpockets; one company advertised a “Non-pull-out” ring designed to foil thieves.
W.W. Morgan and Company also made an appeal to “dressy fellows” in its ad for the ready-to-wear “New Regent Cutaway and Piccadilly Prince Albert in real clay worsteds,” assuring customers that its suits were “equal in fit and workmanship to the very best you can get of the high priced tailors. We are in doubt as to whether you can get one of these new shaped Coats made here. We think not, they have but recently appeared, even in New York.”
The cutaway morning coat was still worn for formal occasions and even in business offices, often with a flower in its buttonhole. The Star reprinted a comment from the Chicago Herald that “Men are getting more effeminate than they used to be in many ways.” In the past a man who wore a flower in the buttonhole of his coat was regarded as “either a dude or a botanist,” but in 1893 boutonnieres had become common.
The sack suit, though still worn with vest and high collar and buttoned high on the chest, was more comfortable than cutaways and was replacing them even for formal wear. W.W. Morgan advertised sack suits on special for $15, claiming that its suits were the same as those its competitors “who belong to the trust, or have a string tied to ‘em, have to sell for $18 to $25,” eastern trusts of all kinds – railway, cordage, and whiskey among others – being the bête noire as the economic depression of 1893 set in.
The model advertised its suits at $9.90 in July, in the aftermath of bank runs and failures across the country: “A hard times hit!” it called its sale. The Model headlined its July ad “A Panic Averted,” and promised “a tidal wave of bargains” in the face of “Grim disaster’s crushing hand.”
The Times ran an optimistic feature, “What the men will wear” on winter fashions, ignoring the financial crisis and predicting that styles will be “quieter in cut and material than ever before.” The new fashionable color would be gray, rather than the blue of the previous winter. The “Chesterfield or fly front oversack goes on forever,” with the only difference that this winter’s Chesterfield will be “a trifle larger than the old.”
The Chesterfield, with short lapels and a collar typically of black or brown velvet, was usually single-breasted, but not cut in at the waist like the frock coat. Ulsters were predicted to be next in fashion to the Chesterfield, made of “Venetians, covert coatings, and light-colored, smooth-faced fabrics,” averaging fifty inches in length. For evening wear, the Inverness Cape with Prussian collar was the fashion
Ed Hart, the “popular tailor” at the corner of Seventh and Main, in his ad for “Correct styles for men” depicted a man with top hat and cane, in “Cutaway frock and sack, being worn longer than last season,” and trousers “with crease front and back, medium width. Cheviots, Vicunas, Diagonals and Mixed Worsteds are the popular materials.”
Competing with cheaper readymades, Hart’s business claimed that the “dullness of trade” occasioned by the depression had “placed at our disposal the services of the best workman.” He offered tailor made suits and overcoats – “Meltons, Kerseys, Covert Coatings all other materials” – for $17.
1893 was a difficult year for hatters and men’s clothiers alike as economic conditions worsened. The bank panic in mid-year and a steady increase in unemployment meant that retailers were “not overwhelmed with orders,” as the always optimistic American Hatter put it in 1894.
In men’s fashions, trade in men’s fashions had become “survival of the strongest.”
Feb 9, 2013