17th Century Men's Costumes

By Rochelle Leggett ; Updated September 15, 2017
A waistcoat and breeches are essential to a properly dressed 17th century man.

The 17th century was a time of changes of all kinds in Europe and America, and fashion was no exception. While fashion changed significantly during the seventeenth century, there are several articles of clothing that are very typical of the 17th century and will give a man's costume the proper feel for the time period.

Shirts and Doublets

Shirts of the 17th century greatly resembled what is referred to as a peasant shirt today. The shirt was long and loose, with full sleeves that gathered at the cuff. Shirts were typically made of linen. A fine shirt would be white and have ruffs at the cuff, while the shirt of a lower-class man would be less fine and might have a plain striped or checked pattern. Over a shirt, a man would wear a waistcoat. Waistcoats resembled vests and buttoned down the front, and had a v-shaped opening at the throat and bottom. Waistcoats were often embroidered or embellished. While a coat was the usual outermost article of clothing, a waistcoat with sleeves, called a jacket, was appropriate for the lower class. Neckwear, similar to a cravat, was common for the upper-class.

Trousers

Breeches were the typical leg-covering of 17th century clothing for men. Breeches varied in length, but were loose and often reached slightly below the knee and buttoned at the bottom cuff. All classes of society wore them in many types of materials. However, upper class men would have had finer cloth, like silk, while middle and lower classes would have had breeches made from linen or wool.

Hat and Leggings

Wide-brimmed felt hats were common in the 17th century. Sailors, laborers, and slaves also often wore a cap called a Monmouth cap, which is a very simple knit wool cap. Both men and women wore hose or stockings. Stockings were typically knit. The finest quality stockings were white and made of silk or cotton. Lower class and everyday stockings were linen or wool and came in many colors, though grey and blue were very common.

Coat and Shoes

Early 17th century coats were often pleated to add fullness to the bottom, but coats later in the century were typically long and straight. Cloaks were also appropriate attire, but the coat is a part of a full 17th century-style suit. Shoes were typically black and had round toes and low heels. Shoes in the early 17th century closed with a tied string or ribbon; shoes later in the century closed with large buckles.

Putting Together a Costume

This is the period that lead to the design of the modern three-piece suit. A man of any class needed to have a shirt, waistcoat, breeches, leg coverings such as hose and shoes. A coat was optional and more necessary for a member of the upper class. The waistcoat, breeches and outer coat were ideally made from the same fabric; more fashionable men sometimes chose pieces that matched but were not made from the same fabric or pattern. Upper-class clothing was very well-made from fine fabrics and had very pure, saturated colors and very bright whites. Rougher fabric made up lower class costume, and, while it may have been colorful, it had duller tones.