Dress of Senators of Old

"United States Senate Chamber."
Thomas Doney, after James Whitehorn

"The United States Senate in Session."
Unknown Artist, after George W. Breck, after photograph by William Kurtz
Harper's Weekly
September 22, 1894


Dress of Senators in Olden Times and the Present

They wore ruffled shirts and ruffled wristbands. Their vests was embroidered, their stockings were of fine silk. Very few of the senators appeared on the floor in any other style of coat than a swallowtail. They wore blue or brown clothes and Senator Webster’s coat was always adorned with brass buttons. Henry Clay always came to the Senate in a black swallowtail coat and his shirt collar was very large. I have heard ladies say to each other, “Why does Mr. Clay wear his collar so high?” In these later days, there are very few senators that come in to the Senate wearing a swallowtail coat.

The favored dress of senators in these days are black broadcloth frock coats and high standing collars. [10A8-10A9]

Editor's Note:

The two images included here capture the difference between the senators Bassett served during the first half of his career and those from the later years. In the 1846 print of the Old Senate Chamber, Senator Clay, with his high collar, is shown standing in the back of the room on the left side.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Swallowtail - A swallowtail coat refers to a man’s full-dress jacket with two long, tapering tails at the back.
  • Daniel Webster (Adams, Anti-Jacksonian, Whig - MA) U.S. senator 1827-1841 and 1845-1850.
  • Henry Clay (Democratic Republican, National Republican, Whig - KY) U.S. senator 1806-1807, 1810-1811, 1831-1842, and 1849-1852.
  • Frock - A frock coat was a man’s coat having knee-length skirts in the front and back, and was worn in the 19th century.