Clothes Make the Man

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M972.81.13 I-42589.1 M973.49.7 M973.49.11.1-3 II-100033 M963.4.1.1-3 M978.32 II-109450 M987.48.1
Edward Maxwell, architect, Montreal, QC, 1893
Wm. Notman & Son
1893, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
17 x 12 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

The sack coat, the forerunner of the modern suit jacket, was introduced in the 1860s. Originally a loose, knee-length coat meant for casual wear, the sack become close-fitting and hip-length by the 1880's. Unlike the frock or morning coat, the sack was commonly worn with matching trousers and waistcoat. The sack suit, or lounge suit, was often made in coarser wool fabrics and novelty weaves, or in linen for summer.

At the end of the 19th century, the sack was still considered a casual style appropriate only for leisure activities like golf, bicycling or lawn tennis. However, the sack soon supplanted the morning coat and frock coat. Young men, who had the audacity to challenge the dominance of the morning and frock coats, began to favour the sack for everyday business wear. In the 1890s, the sack coat, once the most casual of styles, was adopted for evening wear. Known as the dinner jacket or tuxedo, it was worn for informal, but elegant evening dinner parties.

  • What

    There were stylish variations on the basic sack suit, as worn in this late 19th-century photo, including the pleated and pocketed Norfolk jacket worn for bicycling and the striped blazer for tennis.

  • Where

    Though the sack was still casual in 1893, Edward Maxwell, then an aspiring young Montreal architect, found the suit stylish enough to be worn for a formal portrait taken in Montreal's fashionable Notman studio.

  • When

    This photo, taken in 1893, shows the sack suit worn in the casual manner popular at the time.

  • Who

    Young men who were introduced to the comfortable sack style as boys in the 1860s became its greatest proponents in the 1880s.