Earlier this week, I wrote here about 18th c. men's linen shirts. But while a good shirt was the mainstay of a man's wardrobe, few men would wear it without an accessory or two to show his own personal style. Much like a modern man choosing his necktie, his 18th c. counterpart took care choosing what went around his neck.
If he were a laborer, working tradesman, sailor, or a sporting gentleman, he'd fold a neckhandkerchiefin half and loosely tie it under his collar, knotted in front. The neck handkerchief was a square cloth of cotton, linen, or silk, depending on the wearer's means, and it could be brightly colored, woven with checks, or printed with a political cartoon.
If he had more gentlemanly inclinations, a man wore a neck cloth or cravat, a length of (usually) white linen that wrapped around the throat and tied loosely in front. A neck cloth could be worn under or over the shirt collar and band, and trimmings of lace or fringe could make it more distinctive. In most portraits, there's a certain ease to 18th c. neck cloths, a kind of gallant nonchalance in how the ends fall; the perfectly pressed and tied cravats of Beau Brummel are a 19th c. fashion.
The most formal neckwear of all was the stock. This was a band of white linen of an even finer quality than the shirt's, carefully pleated horizontally and stitched to fit closely over a shirt's collar and tightly around the neck. (Military officers wore black stocks, like the one on General Cornwallis, above left.) The stock had tabs in the back that buckled together with a pronged metal buckled through worked eyelets. Although it sat on the back of a gentleman's neck, the stock buckle could be an important piece of male jewelry. Stock buckles were often made of cut steel, silver, or even gold, and embellished with gemstones or paste jewels, imitation diamonds that glittered in the candlelight, above right.
Another kind of buckle also appeared on the front of the shirt. While some men covered the opening in the front of their shirts with the ends of their neck cloths or pinned the sides together with a straight pin, others chose to make more of a statement with a shirt buckle, or brooch, such as the one worn by Judge Devotion, left. These were often luckenbooth brooches, originally lovers' tokens from Edinburg, Scotland, with heart motifs forming the frame of the buckle, right. Shirt buckles could be simple, flat designs, or elaborately styled from silver or gold and embellished with paste or gemstones.
Of course, no matter the time or place or wearer, every fashion has the potential to become extreme - such as the stunningly tall stock worn by George IV, left.
Top left: Lord Cornwallis, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783 Above left: Judge Ebeneezer Devotion by Winthrop Chandler, detail, 1772 Top right: Stock buckle, silver, c. 1750-75, collection of Neal Hurst Lower right: Shirt buckle, silver, c. 1650-1750 Bottom left: George IV of the United Kingdom, by Sir Thomas Laurence, detail, 1816
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.