Abraham Lincoln was very distinctive looking, mostly due to his height and thin frame, but also because of what he wore.
Although Lincoln was not a particularly fashionable man, but like most politicians he knew personal appearance was a great way to make him stand out in a crowd, particularly while campaigning during an election.
As a result, Lincoln chose clothes and accessories with a distinctive silhouette or shape, although the items themselves were often plain and sometimes faded and worn. These fashion items later became Lincoln’s famous trademarks.
What Kind of Suit Did Abraham Lincoln Wear?
Lincoln had a few suits but his most famous suit was the one he was wearing the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.
That suit consisted of a custom-made black double-breasted Brooks Brothers coat made of wool. The coat had a hand-embroided silk lining that featured an eagle carrying a banner that read “One Country, One Destiny” which is a phrase that comes from an 1837 speech given by one of Lincoln’s role models, Senator Daniel Webster.
In addition to the coat, Lincoln also wore a shawl-collared, single-breasted, four-pocket black wool vest and black wool trousers with a waistband, fly front, metal suspender buttons and front pockets with a single button closure.
After Lincoln’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln gave the suit to Lincoln’s favorite doorman, Alphonse Donn. The Donn family kept the coat in the family for over a century and allowed souvenir seekers to cut away swatches of the bloodstained lining. The coat was later donated to Ford’s Theater where it is now on display to the public.
Another suit Lincoln often wore was his “office suit.” The suit consisted of a double-breasted coat made out of black broadcloth, a single-breasted vest and trousers both made from black broadcloth.
One of Lincoln’s office suits was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 1894 and is currently stored in their collection but is not on display.
Lincoln’s suits were not very fashionable, even for the time, and many of his contemporaries criticized his appearance and often described his clothes as “shabby.”
A New York clergymen once described Lincoln as “decidedly shabby in his dress & manner” while Frederick Law Olmstead, a member of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and journalist, noted after meeting Lincoln that he was “dressed in a cheap & nasty French black cloth suit just out of a tight carpet bag.”
Prince Napoleon, cousin of Napoleon III, attended a dinner party at the White House in 1861 and later wrote in his diary that Lincoln was “badly put together, in a black suit” and had the “appearance of a bootmaker.”
What Kind of Hat Did Abraham Lincoln Wear?
Lincoln is famous for wearing a top hat, although historians aren’t sure exactly when or why he began wearing it.
According to an article by Stephen L. Carter in Smithsonian Magazine, in Lincoln’s early political career, he probably chose the hat as a gimmick to make him more memorable and to help him stand out from the crowd.
Lincoln’s top hats varied in style and height. Lincoln wore a shorter silk plush top hat to his inauguration in March of 1860 but shortly after began wearing the tall stovepipe top hat that he is most known for. The stovepipe top hat, which averaged about 7 to 8 inches tall, added dramatically to Lincoln’s towering 6-foot-4 tall frame.
Lincoln also had a silk stovepipe top hat that he wore the night he was assassinated. The hat, which was made by Washington hatmaker named J.Y. Davis, was a size 7-1/8 and was trimmed with two bands, a thin 3/8 inch ribbon with a small metal buckle and a 3 inch grosgrain black mourning band, according to an article by Harry Rubenstein on the Smithsonian Institute’s website:
“The stitching on the second band indicates that it had been added after the hat had been purchased and signaled Lincoln’s ongoing mourning for his son Willie, who died of typhoid fever on February 20, 1862. In a very public way, Lincoln was linking his loss with the losses of so many during the war. We do not know when he purchased the hat, or how often he wore it. We do know that the last time he put it on was to attend the play, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.”
According to Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, Lincoln’s hats weren’t just a fashion statement, they were also practical:
“Hats were important to Lincoln: They protected him against inclement weather, served as storage bins for important papers he stuck inside their lining, and further accentuated his great height advantage over other men.”
What Kind of Tie Did Abraham Lincoln Wear?
Abraham Lincoln wore black bow ties with his collars turned down. Lincoln started wearing bow ties as a congressman and continued to wear them for the rest of his life.
There are a variety of ways to tie a bow tie but Lincoln tied his into a diamond point, as can be seen in the numerous photographs of Lincoln over the years. A diamond point bow tie is when you tie the tie so that the tips are pointed, rather than straight.
Unlike much of Abraham Lincoln’s clothing, diamond point bow ties are actually still in fashion and this style of bow tie was recently worn by Daniel Craig when he played James Bond in the 2012 film, Skyfall.
If you are researching Abraham Lincoln’s clothing for a class project, presentation or Halloween party, check out the following article about Abraham Lincoln costumes.
Huang, Tanya. “Diamonds Are Forever: Make Your Bow Tie Diamond Point.” Knot Theory Fashion House, www.knotheory.com/blogs/bowtie-necktie-style-guide/15326229-diamonds-are-forever-make-your-bow-tie-diamond-point
Rubenstein, Harry R. “A Closer Look at President Lincoln’s Silk Hat.” Smithsonian Institute, 13 April. 2015, americanhistory.si.edu/blog/closer-look-president-lincolns-silk-hat
Winter, Denise. “Dressing Mr. Lincoln.” Denise Winter, 2009, www.denisenadinedesign.com/Lincoln%20Home.htm#
Carter, Stephen L. “Abraham Lincoln’s Top Hat: The Inside Story.” Smithsonian Institute, Nov. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/abraham-lincolns-top-hat-the-inside-story-3764960/
“Abraham Lincoln’s Office Suit.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1359700
“What Lincoln Wore.” Ford’s Theater, www.fords.org/lincolns-assassination/lincolns-clothes/