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.