Between a Gentleman and His Tailor
Casual country dress became the choice of the younger generation after the American Revolutionary War. Young men began to wear their riding clothes in London's drawing rooms, scandalizing the older generation. It was Beau Brummell who helped to popularize a more conservative color palette for men's clothing and more comfortable and practical clothing. With the help of some of the finest tailors in London, he took the practical riding costume from country squire dowdy to a costume known for its excellent fit, comfort, quality materials and workmanship, and freshly washed crispness. A smart sort of riding costume became the standard for men's wear from 1797 to 1810.
The best known tailors of the day were Schweitzer and Davidson of Cork street, Weston of 34 Old Bond street, Meyer of Conduit street, and Guthrie. All clothing at this period was handmade because the first practical, functioning sewing machine would not be created until 1830 and would not be mass produced until the 1850s. There was a hierarchy in the tailors trade with cutters able to layout and cut cloth to make close fitting clothes at the top followed by finishers who could do detail work such as buttonholes. Last was the lowly "table monkeys" who did the actual stitching of garments.
Brummell worked with the top tailors of the day to achieve a look compounded of high quality materials and a finely crafted fit. Brummell was said to be so fastidious about the cut of his clothes that he had one glover make the fingers of his gloves and another do the thumbs.
The Prince of Wales was very fashion conscious. He is calculated to have spent 100,000 pounds on his wardrobe. However, even with all the expenditure the Prince's taste still was not considered quite as fine as Brummell's. A baronet, who went to Schweitzer's to get himself equipped in the first style, asked him what cloth he recommended. "Why sir," was the answer, "the Prince wears superfine, and Mr. Brummell the Bath coating. Suppose sir, we say Bath coating; I think Mr. Brummell has a trifle the preference."
Wigs were only worn by older more conservative men after 1790. In Winston Graham's book Ross Poldark, the titular hero does not wear powder or a wig after his return from fighting in the American Revolutionary War. The English government put a tax of one guinea per year on hair powder in 1795. This caused both the already expensive wigs and powder to go out of style by 1800.
Hairstyles after the mid-1780s dispensed with the pig tail and used the man's own hair carefully cut short and styled. The wind-blown look was the most difficult to achieve. Byron slept on curlers to achieve his famous hairstyle. The Classically influenced Titus was cropped short everywhere but at the front with curls combed forward onto the forehead to resemble the Roman Emperor Titus. A hairstyle known as the Brutus was even a bit more clipped than a Titus.
A cravat was the forerunner of the modern necktie. It consisted of a strip of immaculately white starched linen about 12" by 60" that was wound around the throat several times and tied. To achieve the "studied carelessness" of the creases in his cravat, Brummell reclined in his chair as if he were being shaved and wound a cravat around his neck. Then lowered his chin, ever so slowly, until the starched linen wrinkled to perfection. If one wrinkle was too deep or too shallow, the cloth was thrown aside. Once, when a visitor saw Brummell's valet carrying an armload of lengths of tumbled white clothes as he descended from his master's dressing room, he asked what the man was taking away and was informed, "These are our failures, sir." Cravat knots could be simple and casual like the Mailcoach or complicated. Brummell was famous for his cravat worn in a waterfall.
Shirts were of fine linen and not made by tailors, but by seamstresses. Readymade shirts began to be sold as early as the 1750s.
Waistcoats, which had formerly had sleeves, became sleeveless after 1740. The jacket worn by a jockey originated from these sleeved waistcoats. They were usually square-cut and protruded slightly below the coat. Waistcoats and breeches were generally lighter in color than the coat under the influence of Neoclassical style, which sought to give the man's body the look of a marble statue. The style ideal of the beautiful male body made the satire of the Gillray print of the obese Prince of Wales wearing the tight formfitting clothes of the period as A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion particularly biting and pathetic.
The double breasted tailcoat was based on a riding coat so it was short in front and divided in the rear to accommodate sitting a horse. It was made of a woolen broadcloth with a high warp and weft of fine threads or superfine. Bath coating was a thick double raised, heavy woolen cloth with a long nap. Coats were generally dark blue, brown, or dark green. Collars began to move higher from 1790.
Watch fobs might be merely decorative pieces suspended on a ribbon or they might be functional seals and a winding key for a man's pocket watch that was treated decoratively.
The broad brimmed round riding hat gradually grew in height as the width of the brim shrunk until it reached a height of 12 inches by 1805 and had evolved into the tall narrow brimmed top hat. The hat was often called a "beaver" because it was constructed from a high quality felt made with beaver fur. A gentleman of means was distinguished by his hat; if made entirely of beaver, the hat continued to hold its shape in the rain while lower quality hats that mixed wool or rabbit fur with beaver began to sag after a wetting and had to be taken to the hatters to be ironed back into shape. A fine beaver hat cost from one Guinea up to 40 shillings (as the animal became more scarce), in a time when a skilled laborer like a journeyman tailor earned 2 shillings and 2 pence per day, making this item an extravagance out of the reach of all but the wealthy. The popularity of this type of hat made John Jacob Aster, the head of the largest American fur trading company, a rich man and nearly made the beaver extinct.
The walking stick became fashionable when carrying a sword in London's streets was outlawed. The introduction of sticks from the East such as those of malacca made cane synonymous with walking stick.
Pantaloons replaced breeches for day wear. They reached below the knee to the tops of the riding boots, so they were no longer knee-breeches. The pantaloons closed around the calf with buttons to give a tighter fit. They might be buckskin or white, tan, or yellowish cloth . Nankeen a heavy, denim-like yellowish cotton fabric, originally imported from Nanking, China, might replace buckskin in summer. Trousers first began to be worn around 1800, but were not allowed at Almack's. The Duke of Wellington himself was once turned away from the doors because he was guilty of arriving 7 minutes after 11:00, at which time the doors were locked, supper was served, and there was no further admittance, and wearing trousers rather than knee-breeches.
Fashionable footwear consisted of riding boots for the day. They might be Hessians or top boots, which had a top flap that could be folded up to protect the knees while riding and down for walking. Hobby on St. James's street was the best know bootmaker of the day, counting George III, The Prince of Wales, Wellington, Byron, and many other notable men among his clients. Dancing shoes with buckles were still worn with silk knee breeches and hose for formal occasions.
For outerwear, the great coat of the 1790s copied the coachman's many caped coat. Writing in 1797, Austen described her hero in Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney saying, "the innumerable capes of his great coat looked becomingly important." Brummell did not approve of the distortion of the classical silhouette so the fashion was short lived. Simpler boxcoats and the Petersham soon became fashionable.
Beau Brummell also popularized wearing clean clothing and bathing. He cleaned his teeth, shaved, and scrubbed in a bath daily. Many people in Regency times seldom bathed. Charles James Fox and the Duke of Norfolk [Charles Howard (1746-1815), the 11th Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey] were notoriously filthy. When the Duke was complaining one day to a gentleman that he had tried everything possible to cure his rheumatism the gentleman replied " Pray, my Lord, did you ever try a clean shirt ? "
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