Frock coat and cravat, 1880s.
The rules dictated that certain styles of clothing were appropriate for different occasions, activities, degrees of formality and times of day. Wealthy men, who could afford to differentiate themselves this way, preserved their social exclusivity by adhering to these rules, which changed over time. Socially ambitious men, unsure of the rules, could refer to the many guides to correct dress that claimed to be authorities on the subject.
One English advice manual warned that if a man “goes to a garden party in a frock-coat and straw hat, he is condemned more universally than if had committed some crime.”
Failure to abide by the rules exposed social interlopers at a glance. The frock coat, for example, once considered appropriate anywhere before six in the evening gradually became formal daytime attire by the 1880s. No fashionable man, however bold, would dare to attend an evening ball in his frock coat, even in fashionable grey.
Even though the frock coat has become much more formal, it was still not suitable for evening wear.
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