I’ll confess. I have one little tiny historically debatable detail in my latest release, Fool for Love. It’s a little something one of my beta-readers and fellow historical romance writers, Angela Quarles, pointed out to me. In the 19th century men’s shirts only buttoned halfway down. Like this:
She’s right. However, at one point I describe my heroine, Amelia, as unbuttoning the hero, Eric’s shirt all the way down. But wait, is that historically accurate? Well, when Angela pointed it out to me I did some research. Sort answer, yes. Barely. As of 1896, when Fool for Love takes place, men’s shirts were being made that buttoned all the way at the front. It was a new style that was gaining in popularity and it looked like this:
Familiar, eh? Obviously this style of shirt took over men’s fashions (by the 1920s, to be exact). As I discovered in my emergency research, this style of shirt was known in its early days as the “coat shirt”. And that, dear friends, opened a can of worms for me.
I have a thing for men’s coats of the 19th century. They’re gorgeous. Delicious! I also discovered in doing research about when clothes went from being hand-produced to facroty-produced that men’s coats were among the very first garments to be manufactured and sold ready-made. Why? Well, they were just so complex and required so much craft. Not anyone could construct a good coat. And so they became the highlight of men’s fashion.
The “greatcoat” is, in my humble opinion, the sexiest garment ever invented. It’s uses are purely practical, of course. It is designed to keep the rain and mud off of a gentleman’s clothes. The design is all-encompassing. The earliest greatcoats come with capes and long bodies that sweep to the floor to keep a gentleman’s inner garments pristine.
But there’s something about a greatcoat that oozes power and prestige. Maybe it’s because they were often part of an officer’s uniform on battlefields. Maybe it’s because they were a luxury item and to see a man wearing one was a symbol of his status. How a man dressed was supremely important in the 19th century. Men were equally, if not more, fashion-conscious as women. What you wore defined who you were. And a greatcoat was there to protect that image. It was the shining armor of the 19th century.
And of course it wasn’t just Regency bucks and English Victorian heroes that wore these delicious garments. The American West, the world of Eric Quinlan and his friends in my Montana Romance series, had its own version of the greatcoat, the duster. Like the garment worn by noble Englishman, the duster was ostensibly utilitarian. It was divided at the back so that a man could sit astride a horse and still protect his clothes. And boy were they drool-worthy!
In fact, even modern greatcoats and dusters automatically increase a man’s sexiness factor by at least 10 times. The concept of a greatcoat has continued through the 20th century and into the 21st (and beyond, thank you Captain Jack Harkness).
It’s a little ironic, isn’t it, that a garment which is meant to be worn over top of so many other layers of clothing makes this woman at least want to peel away the layers to see what waits underneath. But that’s a well-made coat for you. Yum!