Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
Polonius to Laertes, Act 1, Scene 3, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
The last line above, from Hamlet, is often misquoted as “clothes make the man.” It can also be said that clothes betray a man: within the first few paragraphs of Persuasion, Jane Austen has revealed much about Sir Walter Elliot.
Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion.
Chapter 1, Persuasion, by Jane Austen
A man so accustomed to the observation and worth of appearances would have never been so unseemly nor unfortunate as to fall victim to this week’s word.
A suit of ditto; coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all of one colour.
The Regency era gentleman who dressed in ditto was likely no gentleman at all; those of means, and especially those with valets, wore the height of fashion, and that meant a variety of colors and patterns. So much so that I couldn’t find any contemporaneous examples of men in a suit of ditto, save vicars.
And one entertained bystander of a distressed dandy.
The Encyclopedia of Fashion reveals that by the mid-1800s, the Ditto Suit became the “dominant form of Western men’s dress clothing of the next century.” It was also called the sack suit, and was generally worn on more informal occasions, such as travel or street wear. Perhaps this more staid – and some might say lazy – style of dress was in reaction to and rebellion from the stylish, Brummelesque designs in demand (and all the crack!) earlier in the nineteenth century.
I did manage to find one example of a self-made gentleman dressed all a-ditto, albeit for a movie (although I think his waistcoat is actually a deep green rather than unrelieved black/navy).
And he looks rather charming all dandified, too.
Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.