I've written two other posts featuring 18th c. men sporting leopard-print clothing (here and here), but when I spotted (*cough*) this pair, I couldn't resist sharing them as well.
In the late 18th c., leopard prints could be printed on velvet, wool, or cotton & linen, or, in those days, even a bit of real leopard skin. It could be a pattern so stylized that it was little more than an irregular dot, or a literal translation worthy of a big cat. Then, as now, animal-inspired prints added a touch of the exotic, hinting that the wearer might be a bit of the animal him (or her)self.
The lady in the 1788 French fashion plate, left, is either the height of Parisian fashion, or the depths of foolishness, depending on your perspective. Not only is she wearing an entire robe a l'Anglaise printed with leopard spots, but she's also sporting a headdress sprouting exotic feathers, no doubt imagining herself a perfect belle sauvage. The hedgehog inspired hair, the giant pouf of ribbons on her headdress, the large cluster of silk flowers pinned to her bodice, and the barrel-sized muff on her arm would also have been considered very stylish.
Although the gentleman, right, dates from 1773, he, too, has also succumbed to the leopard-print trend, wearing an entire suit in the fashionable pattern. Much like the French lady, he is wearing stylishly exaggerated accessories, including a huge black silk bow on the queue of his wig, a fur or feather trimmed cocked hat, and an over-sized spray of flowers on his lapel.
Those flowers have given him his nickname: the title of this print is Lord ___, or the Nosegay Macaroni. For while this looks like another fashion-plate, it's really a satiric print of an actual young Irish gentleman, George Mason-Villiers, 2nd Earl Grandison (1751-1800.) At the time this caricature was drawn, Lord Grandison was only 22 and recently married, and evidently so style-conscious in his dress that he'd been branded a macaroni. In time the earl served respectably in both the British House of Commons and in the Irish House of Lords, eventually being sworn into the Irish Privy Council, so I assume he must have outgrown his taste for splashy nosegays and leopard-spots.
Left: Detail, Fashion plate, Magasin des Modes, Paris, February, 1788. Right: Detail, Lord__, or the Nosegay Macaroni. Plate from The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine, or, Monthly Register of the Fashions and Diversions of the Times. London: John Williams, February, 1773. 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.