Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Horror of Petticoat Breeches

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Petticoatbreeches1663 Susan reports:
Loretta, you know I like a thrill or two myself –– but I also never tire of the endless back-and-forth swings of fashion. One generation of stylish gentlemen searches for new ways to clothe their nether-parts in the most revealing way possible (ah, what Brummel would have given for an ounce of Lycra!), while another decides the only way to strut their stuff is to hide it all in acres of fabric.

I’m not thinking the voluminous jeans of recent hip-hop style, either. As has often been the case, London gentlemen in the 1660s looked to Paris for fashion guidance as dictated by the French and that master of conspicuous consumption, King Louis XIV (there he is to the left.) Blame Louis, then, for “petticoat breeches”: knee-length garments with loose legs cut as full as a lady’s petticoats, and further trimmed with loops and bows of silk ribbon. (One surviving pair is decorated with over two hundred yards' worth.) Add a short doublet, beribboned periwig, sagging stockings, and floppy, lace-trimmed boots or shoes, and you've got quite A Look.

The legs of petticoat breeches were cut so wide that diarist Samuel Pepys describes how a friend of his “told of his mistake thePetticoatbreecheshabitofaman other day to put both his legs through one of the knees of his breeches, and went so all day.”

There’s much more in Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art & Literature in Stuart England, by my absolute favorite costume historian/writer Aileen Ribeiro. As is always the case, the older generation in the 1660s fussed over the fashions worn by the young folk. The students at Oxford liked to “swash it in apparell”, leaving their elders to lament that it was “a strange effeminate age when men strive to imitate women…viz., long periwigs, patches on their faces, short wide breeches like petticotes, bedecked with ribbons of all colours.” Doesn't this caricature from 1663 say it all?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tight pantaloons

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Loretta reports:
Since I’m only a thrill-seeker, I never thought about saggy breeches. So I turned to Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Man of Style.

Here’s what Kelly says:
“Brummell wore sheer black silk jersey, made up as breeches for Carlton House or the theater, and as pantaloons for the clubs.” Further on we learn, “They were not always stocking woven, however. Brummell and Jonathan Meyer the tailor pioneered an alternative style that attempted to replicate in fabric or leather the three-dimensional form-fitting style of stockings or silk jersey stockinette.” I can only assume that this was a way to reduce the sag factor. Impossible to imagine Brummell wearing saggy anything. He was all about the perfect fit, and the fit was form-fitting and extremely revealing. According to Kelly, “society hostesses were later said to regret the passing of the fashion because ‘one could always tell what a young man was thinking.’”

This is a fine book for Regency era history nerds because it’s loaded with all kinds of fascinating trivia. It was made into a movie, which is delightful if you want to look at period clothes and scenery and James Purefoy (and I am one who does and did). But don’t expect a screenplay bearing much relation to the book--or history, for that matter.
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