Saturday, May 19, 2012

England v France?

As an author of novels set mainly in the “long” Regency period I have to confess that the men’s clothes are one of the great attractions for me. Shallow, I know, but just look at this wonderful portrait of Lord Grantham.

Brummell is, of course famous for promoting the Dandy style, based on the everyday costume of the English country gentleman and relying on the famed skills of the London tailors – breeches, tail coat, stock etc, all set off by the fine boots and shoes from bootmakers like Hoby. One of Hoby’s billheads from 1818 is shown below and includes a guide to help you measure for your new boots.

Cut, fit and fine materials were everything and ostentatious display, frills and anything that drew attention to one’s costume was most definitely “out”.
Even someone with a reputation for flamboyance such as the young Disraeli, shown below, kept to the plain style with just a hint of  frill at the cuff.

Soon the English style swept the continent, replacing the sumptuous fabrics, bright colours and ornate touches of the French. Just look at the two French gentlemen below in contrast to Lord Grantham – lurid colours, clashing fabrics and weird leg-wear marks them out.

 I don’t have a date for these two exquisites, although I am assuming the 1790s. The prints are exquisitely detailed and hand coloured but their intent was apparently satirical, judging by the captions to them. Fellow author Joanna Maitland has wrestled with the antique French for me, but even she was baffled by the meaning of the wording below the pretty blond youth - “I'm consoled by the fact that I can hang the collector. Ah! the wonderful droit de seigneur.”  If anyone can explain it, I’d love to hear!
The older man, wearing a hat, is captioned “There are no handsome men in the world except me.”  Obviously neither suffered from an inferiority complex.
Who do you think is the most attractive – Lord Grantham or one of the French pair? Or perhaps you like Disraeli’s take on the English style.

Louise Allen


Marisa Birns said...

Oh, definitely prefer Lord Grantham's style. The clothes on the French gentlemen don't seem to fit their bodies very well and the colors distract from an overall elegant look. Even today, cut, fit, and fine fabric are important considerations for the well-attired person.

Gemma said...

My only guess for the French is that "droit de seigneur" is being used here as merely the power that a lord could wield in general, and that the collector is a bill/debt collector. The lord so regrets his purchase and the humiliation he's experienced wearing it that he consoles himself saying that he can do violence to whoever comes to demand he pays the tailor's bill.

Seeing the original French might help though.

Christina said...

I think Lord Grantham wins hands down! I'd go out with him any day :) As for the Frenchmen ... good Lord, what were they thinking?

Louise Allen said...

Gemma - I think you've hit the nail on the head with the idea that it is debts the collector is after

Jan Jones said...

Yes, I'd imagine that the clothes cost such a lot that the exquisite can't pay. But he is a landowner and JP, so when the bully boys come along to rough him up for payment, he can hang 'em as thieves.

Lesley Cookman said...

I quite fancy the young Disraeli. No contest - English style rules OK.

annie burrows said...

transfixed by the French blond guy's tartan socks!!!!

Diane Gaston said...

I love that print of Lord Grantham. It sets the mark for many a hero's fashion. But I do think Disraeli looks very elegant, as well. I like that hint of lace. It is unexpected.

The Frenchmen do look like comic figures. I would love to see a print showing the French fashions without the satirical bent.

Great images, all of them!!!

Kate said...

Lord Grantham is my personal pick!
I confess to choosing the period I write based on mens' fashion rather than women's - we always manage to look stunning, don't we? I could never make a hero dress like those Frenchmen in your blog. I settled on Westerns in the late 19th century for that very reason. I just love a guy in Levi's and by then Mr. Strauss had come on the scene and greatly influenced the working man's attire.

Susan Bergen said...

Don't male birds always don the most colourful plumage? They did in France it would seem. The British always had more reserve. Although Beau Brummell was between two camps!

Shannon Winslow said...

I'll take Lord Grantham every time. The Frenchmen are too fussy and over the top for my taste - must spend a lot of time at their looking glasses. Yuck!