Thursday, March 18, 2010

George Elers: Sharp-dressed man

Thursday, March 18, 2010
Loretta reports:

In his memoirs, George Elers devotes loving attention to his clothes:

 “…among other fashionable parts of my clothing was a pair of leather unmentionables* that I had the greatest difficulty of getting into—a feat I accomplished not without assistance. Our servant, I recollect, fairly lifted me off the ground in the operation. And then the buttoning of them, and, when once buttoned, the difficulty of undoing!
After passing a sleepless night and encasing myself with the utmost difficulty, the chaise arrived at the door. I shall never forget the lashing on of the trunks and the piling up of the bandboxes, hatcases, etc., all belonging to the ladies, to astonish the country folks with the last London fashions ; and my poor, unfortunate little person wedged in between two (to me) large ladies in my tight leathers. Oh the misery I endured in a hot, broiling day in the month of June travelling seventy-two miles !

“I was taught to expect that I should see my name in the Gazette very shortly, when to my great joy one Saturday in the month of March I saw : 'George Elers, gent., to be Ensign without purchase in the 90th Regiment.' I was highly pleased, and read it over and over again—the first time I ever saw my name in print.

“No officer, with the exception of Colonel Aston, had such a kit. I had six regimental jackets, besides dress-coats, great-coat, shirts about twelve dozen, and everything in the same proportion. My lieutenancy was dated April 12, 1796. I waited upon my Colonel, who at that time was living at Nerot's Hotel, King Street, St. James's. I was aware, even in those days, of the effect of first impressions, and took great pains to be dressed well on my first appearance before him. His features and fine figure I knew perfectly by sight. I was dressed in black coat and waistcoat, white worsted pantaloons, and neat Hessian half-boots, with a crape hat-band. I was ushered into his dressing-room, where he was putting the last finish to his toilet. I told him who I was. He shook me by the hand, eyed me most critically from head to foot, said I turned out well, and finished by asking me the name of my tailor. I was ashamed to confess it was an obscure one by the name of Weston, then not known, but afterwards the celebrated artiste for the Prince of Wales.”

*By the mid-1700s, the word "breeches" was starting to be considered impolite in mixed company.  They became "small-clothes," and later (as times grew more prudish still) "unmentionables" and "inexpressibles."

Memoirs of George Elers: Captain in the 12th Regiment of foot (1777-1842) to which are added correspondence and other papers, with genealogy and notes.  Editors Sir George Granville Leveson-Gower, Augustus Debonnaire John Monson Monson (9th baron) PublisherD. Appleton and Co., 1903.  You can dip into this delightful book at Internet Archive or Google Books.

Alas, no portraits of him.  Above left is Ingres' Monsieur Riviere.  Below right is Rowlandson's caricature of a Royal Navy Officer.


Keith said...

I wonder why he considered breeches to be unmentionables?

Vanessa Kelly said...

I hate it when I have trouble getting into my unmentionables!

Thanks for posting the link to his memoirs, Loretta. I've actually been doing some research on career officers in the military, so this was very welcome and useful. Eler's life seemed pretty interesting. I see he was also Maria Edgeworth's cousin. Writing must run in the family!

Anonymous said...

Typo in the first line, you called him John instead of George....

LorettaChase said...

Le Loup, thank you for asking the question. I should have put an asterisk--and now have--to explain the term.__Vanessa, I had come upon excerpts from his memoirs elsewhere, and hunted him down because I liked his voice.__Anonymous, thank you for noticing the typo. The first time around, I had it wrong in the headline as well! The perils of posting at the end of a long day. At least I didn't call him Paul or Ringo...

nightsmusic said...

Hahaha! Paul or Ringo. I can't imagine what he'd have thought to be called Ringo!

So, by the mid 1800's, is it safe to think the word 'breeches' is no longer a word one should see in a historical novel set in that time period? At least not by the heroine?

Lady Burgley said...

What a charmingly self-deprecating account, even if written many years after the fact. I would guess that his new prized "leathers" were cut so tight to account for them stretching out over time, the way leather does? Is M. Riviere in the painting also wearing leather inexpressibles? The light color would have been handsome, though difficult to keep clean. I always think of that with descriptions of "fawn colored breeches."

LorettaChase said...

Lady Burghley, I apologize for being slow to respond. One of the things I loved about George Elers was the self-deprecating tone of his memoirs. The "leathers" were indeed cut very tight. The tailors at Colonial Williamsburg told us that breeches, including the knitted ones, were cut extremely tight--some inches smaller than the actual measurement. I would guess that wearing light-colored breeches indicates that one is a man wealthy enough to have a valet to keep his breeches clean. For a closeup of tight leather breeches, zoom in on the cover for Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Man of Style, by Ian Kelly.

LorettaChase said...

Here's the full portrait

Highland Hussy said...

Hi, new follower, but long-time lurker here, and that is a fantastic portrait of BB. The leather breeches are fantastic!
Do we know why the word breeches became impolite to use?

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