Gold Rush Beaus: Men’s Fashion in the 1850s

Clothing and fashion for men during the Gold Rush

Men were very concerned with fashion and accessories in the 1850s, though perhaps not as much as their womenfolk.  Clothing was a sign of one’s class and status in society; it could tell you about a man’s level of wealth, respectability and their occupation.  But here in Victoria, as the gold rush was causing a shift in wealth and class, the distinction was not always so clear.

well-dressed-gentleman-1850s

Well Dressed Gentlemen in the 1850s

The Well-Dressed Gentleman

A wealthy gentlemen of good standing in society would take great pride in his attire, ensuring he is always correctly dressed and well presented.

In the 1850s there were a number of essential items to be worn at all times, including: waistcoat, frock coat, a silk scarf tied as a cravat or bow, and a top hat (worn whenever out of doors).  Optional items to correctly accessorise the look would include a fob watch (or pocket watch) and a walking stick.

The Digger and the Worker

Photograph-Miners-Ballarat-1879

Ballarat Miners 1879 (Ballarat Historical Society Collection)

The idealised dress of the 1850s gentlemen was a long way from the reality and practicality of the miner or labourer.  A miner wore practical and durable clothes: including a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun off and a neckerchief that served as a sweat-rag.

Most miners were not well-groomed as bathing and washing of clothes was often deemed a rare luxury.

The Man in Uniform

Ballarat-Rifle-Rangers-Uniform

The Ballarat Volunteer Rifle Rangers 1863 (Ballarat Historical Society Collection)

Many men would dress in uniform according to their occupation.  It was not uncommon for men to wear their uniform on formal occasions where they were not working.  Soldiers in particular took great pride in their position and therefore their uniform.

Common uniforms to see around the goldfields include: Redcoat soldiers, other militia groups, Troopers (police) and Firemen.

Changing Roles and Upset Clothes

improvident-diggers-gill

Improvident Diggers by ST Gill 1869 (from the State Library of Victoria)

One of the interesting features of the gold rush was that the typical class-based clothing was changing.  As men of a lower class were finding success in mining or business they were ‘dressing-up’; wearing clothes above their class.   This made some people (normally those of the wealthy upper class) very upset.

The poor men with new money were often easy to spot as they didn’t always dress ‘right’.  They may have bought a new top hat, cravat and fob watch, but continued to wear their old trousers and shirt.  They were often frowned upon for wasting their money when they should be planning for the future.

Here at Sovereign Hill we portray men of all categories: diggers, gentlemen, new money, those in uniform and boys.  We encourage visitors to ask the men in costume about their occupation and wealth – but now you may already know!

Would you like to know more about Gold Rush Fashions? Try our other blogposts on Women’sMen’s and Underwear fashion.

5 responses to “Gold Rush Beaus: Men’s Fashion in the 1850s

  1. The ST Gill picture of the ‘Improvident Diggers’ is one of my favourites because it suggests to me that though they had the money to do so, the diggers didn’t want to outwardly transform themselves into ‘gentlemen’. These two fellows who have spent quite a bit of money on some finery – chains, fobs, waistcoats, etc. – have kept their bushy beards and one is still wearing his woolen overshirt while the other still wears his old hat. It’s like they’re saying, ‘we’ve done well – but we are still just ordinary diggers’
    There’s something of the archetypal anglo-Australian character coming through I think.

  2. Pingback: Gold Rush Babes: Children’s fashion in the 1850s | Sovereign Hill Education

  3. Pingback: Gold Rush Bell(e)s: Women’s Fashion in the 1850s | Sovereign Hill Education

  4. Pingback: Gold Rush Undies: Women’s fashionable underwear in the 1850s | Sovereign Hill Education

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