As Loretta noted yesterday, researching fashionable males from the past is a much greater challenge than finding stylish ladies. There simply isn't the same quantity of fashion plates or magazines devoted to manly style, and while sometimes it feels as if every bride preserved her wedding gown (just see how many are on our Pinterest board), there's virtually nothing surviving from the nuptial wardrobes of all those grooms. But whenever I feel that long-ago men must have had as little interest in dressing themselves as their modern counterparts dragging through the mall, I come across a splendid example of a sharp-dressed man like this, left.
This is twenty-five-year-old John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor and 19th Thane (1753-1821), painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1778. John had recently inherited his grandfather's estates, lands, and mines, which have made him quite a wealthy young gentleman. In the course of his long life, he will become quite an interesting gentleman, too, traveling widely and amassing such a sizable collection of well-chosen classical art that he established his own London museum. He served in Parliament, supported the abolition of the slave trade, improved his lands and mines, married and sired two sons, and gave generously to the poor. Somehow he even had time to serve as the commander of the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry to help defeat Napoleon.
Yet all that is in the future when John posed for this portrait, a young gentleman dressed in the height of fashion. I love the choice of luxurious fabrics for striding across open country (or at least for posing out-of-doors.) Over black silk breeches and white stockings, he's wearing a vermilion coat extravagantly lined in imported Italian fur, with fur cuffs and facings. Best of all is that waistcoat, a super-stylish leopard print to add a touch of exotica to the Pembrokeshire countryside. His hair is dressed in the 18th c. equivalent to the mullet, with neat side curls in front and the back long and blowing freely in the wind. He's standing elegantly with one one leg turned forward so as to best display his well-turned calf - an important attribute for any Georgian male - and yet the way he's pointing towards the distance shows his youthful impatience to be off with his dog on the adventure that will be his life. Stylishly, of course.
Above: John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor and 19th Thane, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778. Collection of The Dowager Countess Cawdor, Cawdor Castle.
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.