Underwear for New York ‘swells’ in the age of Victoria | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2050-070X
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0718



This research was inspired by an article in a menswear trade journal that examined one day in the sartorial life of the fictional Montgomery Montmorency, a ‘howling New York swell by environment and inclination’. At the start of day, his butler chose a suit of medium weight silk underwear in a shade of electric-blue that complemented the slate-blue mixed business suit he would wear to Wall Street. While the article documented nine complete wardrobe changes in one day, many with silk accessories, it was the detail of colour-coordinated electric-blue silk underwear that was most intriguing. Well-dressed men, like Mr Montmorency, were expected to be devoid of ‘peculiarity, pretension, […or] violent colors’ in public, which left the private world of underwear and bed clothing to express any flavour or personality. Under sensible outerwear, ‘swells’ wore carefully selected underwear in soft, sensuous and expensive silks, even following seasonal colour palettes. Using Mr Montmorency as the prototype for an upper-class consumer of fashion, this article will continue to ‘lift the veil’ from the separate spheres ideology in which women consume and men earn. Building on the work of Christopher Breward, Brett Shannon and Shaun Cole, I focused on the urban environment of NYC as a central place where clothing and accoutrements were readily available. Making, marketing, displaying and purchasing the array of silk underwear attainable, revealed men to be consumers with ‘tastes more costly than those of women’. This article will include the styles, manufacturers and retailers of silk underwear worn by New York ‘swells’ in contrast to their woolen and worsted tailored clothing. Trade journals, fashion consumer publications and ephemera from the Bella C. Landauer collection of the New York Historical Society were studied. Textile samples from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, etiquette books and dyers sample books were also examined.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...

  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): Dr Jaeger; fleece; menswear; silk; swells; underwear; Ypsilanti
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a success
Invalid data
An error occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error