I've written before (here and here) about Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, the fantastic exhibition of men's clothing shown earlier this year at the RISD Museum. The coat, left, is a real rarity: an actual garment made for Beau Brummell.
The most stylish gentleman of Regency England, George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) was a friend of the Prince Regent and perhaps the first true arbiter of men's fashion. He was famously fastidious about tailoring, understated elegance, and personal cleanliness - qualities that had previously been in short supply among late 18th c. Englishmen.
This navy broadcloth greatcoat was made for Brummell by the London tailor John Weston about 1803. Often in debt, Brummell never claimed the finished coat from the tailor, and it languished, unworn and pristine, in the vault of the banker Coutts & Co. for over a hundred years. It truly is a beautiful garment, exquisitely stitched and tailored, and so closely cut that it's easy to see the lean, elegant male figure that Brummell must have possessed.
Seeing the coat also reminded me of a famous Brummell anecdote, relayed by his acquaintance Captain William Jesse in his 1844 biography The Life of George Brummell, esq., commonly called Beau Brummell. If you wish to wallow in more Brummell-isms, this book is now available to read online here.
"On another occasion, the late Duke of Bedford asked [Brummell] for an opinion on his new coat. Brummell examined him from head to foot with as much attention as an adjutant of the Life Guards would the sentries on a drawing-room day. 'Turn round,' said the Beau: His Grace did so, and the examination was continued in front. When it was concluded Brummell stepped forward, and feeling the lapel delicately with his thumb and finger, said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, 'Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?'"
Obviously, the poor duke wasn't wearing a coat like this one....
Above: Greatcoat, made by John Weston, c. 1803. Photo courtesy of Coutts/RISD Museum, Providence, RI.
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.