It's no secret that I have a weakness for caricatures that poke fun at fashion – and 18th c. fashion was the perfect target for the wickedly on-the-mark Georgian artists.
The long coats worn by gentlemen in the 1770s depended on fancy buttons for maximum sartorial impact. These buttons ran the decorative gamut. They could be covered with fabric and embroidered, elaborately wrapped with metallic thread, carved from horn, ivory, or mother-of-pearl, studded with cut stones, or fashioned from polished and engraved metal like pewter, brass, silver, and steel.
What these buttons didn't necessarily do was fasten the coat. The coat was often left open to display the waistcoat beneath, or closed with hidden hooks that fastened only the fronts of the coat edge to edge across the upper chest, leaving the buttons and their embroidered buttonholes with nothing more to do than look gorgeous. Stylish buttons became increasingly large, with some as big as two inches in diameter. With as many as a dozen of these buttons running down the front of a coat, the effect must have been impressive indeed.
Or, as this print shows, brilliantly blinding. (Click on the image to enlarge it to see the details.) Greeting a lady while walking in the park, this dandified gentleman has made the mistake of standing in the sunlight, making his polished steel buttons catch the sun and reflect back into the poor lady's face. They almost look like a comic book superhero's special laser-weapons. As the caption notes in elegant French, he's delivering the ultimate Coup de Bouton.
The lady recoils, and can only attempt to defend herself with flailing hands and fan. Not that the lady herself is innocent of Crimes of Fashion, however, not with her enormous wig and nodding plumes, gathered skirts over hoops, and a sizable nosegay of flowers tucked between her breasts. Perhaps they do deserve one another after all....
Above: Steel buttons: Coup de Bouton, etching by William Humphrey, c. 1777. 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.