The Evolution of Men’s Fashion in the 18th Century

When I was writing An Uncommon Duke, I had fun playing with a character quirk of my hero, Gabriel Pearce the Duke of Winterbourne. Gabriel heads up an undercover group of operatives that protect King George and the Prince Regent. His work is dangerous and much of what occurs protecting the crown is out of his control. One of the things he can control is his wardrobe and because of that, Gabriel is a bit obsessed with his clothes. Someone referred to him as the Regency version of a sharp dressed man. Researching men’s fashion in the Regency era was fun and I spent many hours on Pinterest and museum sites looking for inspiration for Gabriel’s wardrobe.

Recently I had the opportunity to see the fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled Masterwork: Unpacking Fashion. I knew I’d enjoy taking a look back at 300 years of fashion history and I’d learn some new things. I was disappointed to find it did not include men’s fashion from the Regency era, however it did include 18th century men’s fashion and some of those styles did carry over into the Regency era. The collection highlighted garments from France and Great Britian reflecting the roles these nations played as centers of textile production and as styles leaders in Europe and America. Fashions from the 18th century are from an era shaped by political and industrial revolutions as well as expanding global trade. The examples given in this exhibition reflected that.

So sit back and enjoy this peek at what fashionable men wore in the 18th century.

Banyan

Beginning in the 18th century, British gentlemen wore loose, informal gowns in the privacy of their homes as a comfortable alternative to the stiff and physically restrictive suits they wore in public. These gowns were made of imported materials from the European East India companies and went by various names such nightgowns, morning gowns, India gowns, and banyans. This banyan is made of Chinese silk that was quilted for warmth and has a fitted cut which became popular in the mid-18th century. The fitted banyan combined Persian, Turkish, and Indian influences but followed the silhouette of contemporary European coats, making them well suited to wear informally when receiving guests at home. The banyan was an essential garment for fashionable men and suggested sophisticated, worldly masculinity. This banyan was made in England in 1760-1770, and is made of blue diamond-quilted silk satin.

A Gentleman’s Suit

The suit above was made of red wool-silk poplin in England between 1770 and 1780. It is an example of the relative simplicity in appearance of 18th century English menswear, which influenced fashionable men’s style throughout Europe in the latter half of the century. The plain style was an alternative to the elaborately embroidered and ornately patterned men’s wear in France. This reserved style of dress became linked with broader political values and greater personal liberty that French philosophers, such as Voltaire, associated with England. Just like the banyan above, this garment has a slim silhouette which was fashionable in the 1770s. English tailors were expert in making these tailcoats appear simple, while actually doing an excellent job emphasizing a man’s physique. The fine details of this coat include a gracefully curved front, narrow sleeves, and side seams that arch toward the center of the back, creating the impression of a tapered waistline. While the suit appears simple, the color shows a lingering taste for bold color.

The tailcoat above is French and was made in the 1790s from dark brown, gray, and blue warp-printed plain weave silk with green ombré silk satin stripes. With its high turned down collar, narrow back and wide lapels, it’s typical of the exaggerated silhouette that was fashionable in post-revolutionary France. The museum curators placed it alongside the redingote (the dress) to show the harmony between men’s and women’s fashions during this period that extended to fabric as well as cut. For men, stripes were a decorative substitute for the ornate embroidery of earlier suits. It was interesting to find out that in centuries previous to the 18th, stripes had been associated with the clothing of socially marginalized groups. I think it’s worth noting that even though embroidered suits went out of fashion, embroidery on waistcoats was still popular.

 

The exhibition also included a suit of a French Incroyable (Incredible) that made me smile. The Incroyables were rakish men who lived in France following the French Revolution. They stood out among fashionable men of the time due to their tightly fitted clothing which took on extreme proportions. This coat was made in France of red wool broadcloth between 1787 and 1792, and predates the most exaggerated styles embraced by the Incryoyables in the late 1790s. As the decade progressed, the cut of their clothing became even tighter than this. The high, turned-down collar, narrow sleeves, and sharply curved coat front of this coat still manages to create the impression of an elongated figure. I think the high cut of the top of the waistcoat also helps.

The banyan featured in this exhibition is close to the one I put Gabriel in in An Uncommon Duke. It seems to be the perfect thing for a sharp dressed man to wear while lounging in the doorway of his wife’s bedchamber.

 

Where Did the Fashionable Regency Gentlemen Shop?

Since I’ve been known to be a bit fond of shopping, researching where the fashionable gentlemen in my books might go to outfit themselves kept me occupied longer than it probably should have. I’ve gathered together all my notes and decided to share the highlights with you here.

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower by Thomas Lawrence, c1804-1809 (Yale Center for British Art)

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower by Thomas Lawrence, c1804-1809
(Yale Center for British Art)

During the Regency era, London tailors were considered the best in Europe. Any man who was interested in presenting himself as an arbiter of taste, let alone one of the Dandy set, knew he needed to shop in London. Two of the best-known tailors of the day were Schweitzer and Davidson of 12 Cork Street and John Weston, located at 34 Old Bond Street. Weston was known to be the most expensive tailor in London and a favorite of Beau Brummell and the Prince Regent.

Wool Broadcloth Greatcoat with Silk Velvet Trim by John Weston, 1803-1810

Wool Broadcloth Greatcoat with Silk Velvet Trim by John Weston, 1803-1810

Boots were what the fashionable man wore during the day. Hoby, on the corner of Piccadilly and St. James’s Street next to the Old Guards Club, was known as the finest boot maker in London. Their clients included George III, the Prince Regent, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, members of the ton, and many officers in the army and navy. The Duke of Wellington thought so much of George Hoby that he worked with the boot maker to modify a Hessian boot to his specifications. In 1817, the Duke instructed Mr Hoby to cut his boots shorter and make them tighter. He wanted the trimming removed and the “V” shape straightened out. This new style of boot became the iconic Wellington boot.

Wellington boots made by Hoby between 1817 and 1852.

Wellington boots made by Hoby between 1817 and 1852.

For his beaver hat, a man of fashion could go to Lock & Co Hatters (1676-present) located at 6 St. James’s Street. Lock made hats for Lord Nelson, as well as the plumed hat the Duke of Wellington wore to Waterloo. They also made military helmets for officers in the Hussars and Royal Dragoon Guards, and the folding chapeau-bras gentlemen wore to Court or to Almack’s. Lock & Co. is still in existence and continues to make hats of the finest quality.

Lock & Co.

Across St. James’s Street, a gentleman could venture into Harris’s Apothecary, which was originally located at Number 11. Harris’s opened in 1790 and established a reputation selling Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. They also were known for shaving supplies, soaps, and creams. The company is still in operation, and today you can find them down the street at Number 29 under the name D.R. Harris & Company.

D.R. Harris & Company, London

D.R. Harris & Company, London

After a day in the shops, a gentleman might continue on to Number 3 St. James’s Street, where he could stop in Berry’s for a bottle of his favorite port. Berry’s was established in 1698 as a grocer. In 1810 the owners began to focus more on wine. Beginning in the late 18th century, it became fashionable to be weighed by the shop’s weighing scales. Such notable names in Berry’s weighing books include royal princes, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell and William Pitt the Younger. In the 1940’s the name changed to Berry Bros. & Rudd and that name is still used by the shop today.

 

Berry Brothers and Rudd

If a gentleman wanted to have his hair cut by someone other than his valet, he could go to Flex Rowland, who was located at the Thatched House Tavern on Haymarket. It is said that Rowland invented macassar oil, which men used in their hair, and specialized in military style haircuts. I found this description in “Round About Piccadilly and Pall Mall or, A Ramble from Haymarket to Hyde Park” by Henry Benjamin Wheatley, published in 1870:

Beneath the tavern front was a range of low-built shops, including that of Flex Rowland, the fashionable hair-dresser, who made a fortune by the sale of his macassar oil.

If a gentleman had a penchant for watch fobs, rings, and snuff boxes, he would certainly know about Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell Jewelers, located at 32 Ludgate Hill (est. 1788). They were the principle jeweler and goldsmith of the Prince Regent. Other prominent jewelers of the day included Phillip’s on Bond Street, Gray’s on Sackville Street, and Jeffrey’s. The Prince Regent was so fond of Jeffrey’s that at one point he owed the jeweler £89,00 in unpaid bills.

Gold-mounted tortoiseshell snuff boxes, supplied by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, were a favorite royal gift. The richness of their decoration varied according to the status of the recipient. Rundell’s accounts include a number of boxes of the type shown below. A similar tortoiseshell box was sold by Rundell to George IV in 1821 for £81 18s.

Snuff Box made by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell

To fill up his snuff box, the fashionable gentleman would visit Fribourg & Treyer in Haymarket (1790-1981), known throughout London as the purveryor of the finest snuff in Town.

Fribourg & Treyer

One of the best parts about researching these places was seeing how many of them are still in operation. I had visited a few of them the last time I was in London, and now I have one more to see the next time I’m in Town. It’s wonderful to be able to enter a store and know that you can still shop like a Regency gentleman.

If you know of other London shops from the Georgian era that are still in existence that might have appealed to a fashionable gentleman, please post a comment and let me know. I’d love to add them to my list.

Sources used:

 

How a Fashionable Lady Showed Her Status in Society

If you walk through any major city across the world, you’ll most likely see women dressed in the latest fashions with the most expensive accessories. The well-trained eye can spot them a half a block away, carrying that rare designer handbag that costs as much as a car or sauntering along wearing a pair of red-lacquered sole shoes. Wearing fashionable accessories like these carries a certain cachet and silently informs the world that you’re financially successful.

While this sounds like a twenty first century concept, in reality, it isn’t. Women throughout history have been using fashion and beauty accessories to announce their status in society. Only back then, many of these items would have been kept at home, displayed on or near a dressing table where visiting guests would see them. I recently attended the “Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and thought you might be interested in seeing some of the lovely accessories they had on display.

British Toilet Service 1683-84

During the Renaissance, containers in various sizes and shapes were used store an array of beauty items. These containers were either laid out on a table that was designed solely for the toilette or one that was multifunctional. This is how the cosmetic box slowly gave way to the dressing table. The British toilet service pictured above is ca.1683  and is made of gilt silver and glass. The various items are decorated with chinoiserie scenes, which were popular at the time. This set would have been displayed in an aristocratic lady’s bedroom or in a smaller connecting room.

Wig Cabinet

I thought this item was fun. It’s a wig cabinet, ca. 1685. After Louis XIII began to wear a wig in 1624, elaborate cabinets were made to store and protect these hairpieces. This cabinet is embellished with marquetry of pewter and mother-of-pearl on horn over paint, simulating tortoiseshell. It contains drawers for combs, brushes, perfumed powder, powder bag, and pins.

By the early eighteenth century, the European elite sought out luxury goods that would proclaim their social status. One such item, intended more for display than any utilitarian purpose, was the nécessaire. It is a small box made of precious materials, designed to hold miniature implements and personal grooming tools. Based on paintings of the period, it most likely was displayed on a dressing table along with other precious objects. Here are three that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had one display:

German Necessaire ca. 1700-1725

German Necessaire ca. 1700-1725

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This German nécessaire dates from 1700-1725 and is made of wood, tortoiseshell, gold, glass, and ivory.

British necessaire by John, Barbot ca. 1760.

This nécessaire is one of a pair made by the British craftsman John Barbot around1760. It is made of gold, agate, diamonds, rubies, wood with gold piqué ornaments; and gilt-brass mounts.

French necessaire 1775-1800

And finally, this French nécessaire dates from 1775-1800 and is made of shagreen on wood; gold, porcelain, glass, and steel fittings. This portable nécessaire holds numerous personal grooming items, from tweezers and an ear spoon to scent bottles.

Sources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table Exhibition (2013-2014)

Adlin, Jane, Vanities Art of the Dressing Table (2013)