Loretta's post yesterday about poufy pants set me to thinking of other masculine fashion foolishness. Modern men are often let off the hook regarding fashions, as if they're somehow above that particular frivolity - or, others would argue, far beneath it. But in the past men had no qualms about playing the peacock and following fashion, even to its most extreme.
This print, left, is one of my favorites. (Click on the image to enlarge.) A century separates these two stylish English gentleman, a hundred years of evolving styles. Yet unlike most caricatures of male fashion (like our old friends Son Tom and the Young Macaroni), the attire of these two gentlemen isn't really exaggerated for their times. Judging by portraits of their respective contemporaries, both of these men could have walked down a London street without anyone turning to gawk – except perhaps at their handsomeness.
In addition to their clothes, I also like the men's different affectations. The difference between clothes and fashion often lies in the accessories, and what the wearer chooses to reveal of himself along with his taste. The earlier gentleman displays his studied nonchalance by tucking one hand in his open waistcoat and the other in his pocket. His wig is a virile mane, his stockings are purposefully slouchy, and he wears his sword – always ready to defend his honor – hung impractically low (reminding me of how low certain rock stars will likewise sling their guitars.)
The later gentleman has traded a sword for a romantically rustic walking stick. Instead of the earlier nonchalance, this fellow is scrupulously tailored, his stockings and breeches snug-fitting and his neck cloth tied just so. At his waist are dangling seals with antique cameos, demonstrating his (possible) knowledge of antiquity. He wears his own hair instead of a wig, though the over sized cocked hat cancels that out. With his quizzing glass at the ready, he's prepared to examine the world instead of challenging it with a sword.
One more thing to note: in light of last week's post about wearing the proper socks, both gentlemen are wearing stockings with clocks – the decorative designs running vertically over their ankles.
Left: A man of fashion in 1700: A fashionable man in 1800, drawn, etched & published by Dighton, Charg. Cross, London, 1800. Copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
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.