France and England were enemies on the battlefield for large parts of the 18th and early 19th centuries, but even when they weren’t firing bullets at each other there wasn’t a great deal of love lost between the two nations.
According to the stereotypes on both sides the Rosbifs were unsophisticated and uncultured shopkeepers, the Frogs were flaky, unreliable and effete.
I was amused to discover this mutual distrust and dislike showing up even in the field of couture. The French considered themselves the arbiters of fashion in dress as in so much else, and even throughout the Napoleonic wars the English accepted this and kept on copying French fashion plates without apparently considering this in any way unpatriotic.
English fashion magazines such as La Belle Assemblée lifted plates from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes quite shamelessly and without acknowledgment beyond labelling them “Paris dress” or “French fashion”.
The print of the three people at a table was printed in La Belle Assemblée in 1807 captioned “Fashionable party at the Frescati in Paris” and is a straight lift from a French print.
On the other hand the French copied the style of the English dandies, adopting the restrained look promoted by Brummell and his followers and le reddingcote became highly popular.
It is interesting to look at French and English plates of the same years of the early 1820s when waistlines returned to their natural position after years when they were set much higher. Sometimes you can even find both on the same plate and see that the French were months ahead in adopting the new line with the English following. The print from Le Bon Genre shows French ladies with their new-style gowns on the right and the English, lagging behind, on the left.
Yet at the same time as French fashions were coveted and copied, English caricaturists illustrated the French and their clothing in ways that made them look exaggerated, extreme and ridiculous in contrast to the elegant refinement of the English. The French meanwhile had no compunction about showing the English as provincial, awkward and dowdy.
Sometimes there is a twist to these caricatures. I recently bought a pair which showed English tourists in Paris. They are captioned in French and appear to be French, which was confusing because there is no doubt whose side the artist is on! When I got them out of the frames and used a magnifying glass I found they had an English publisher.
The illustration on the right reads “Voila les Anglais!” and depicts a pair of English tourists dressed with neatness and elegance walking, with perfect deportment, amongst a group of gawping French onlookers who are all ugly, stooping and either hostile or sneering. The print is dated March 1817 – we had been at peace for almost two years, but without, it seems, much love lost!
Finally, I can't resist adding a picture of the lovely Bettty Neels rosebowl and the sparkly star for the Romantic Novelists' Association Pure Passion Awards Love Story of the Year 2011 won by my novel The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst. RNA events are always wonderful parties and this one, for me, was the best ever!