Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Question of Georgian Taste: "What, Is This My Son Tom?" c 1774

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Susan reporting:

Last week we looked at several satirical 18th c prints (here, here, and here) featuring Ann, the country girl transformed by London fashion into a creature her mother scarcely recognized.

But Ann was not alone in her transformation. Her brother Tom made the same trip to London, and he, too, has changed mightily. He's a true gentleman of fashion now, a fop, a macaroni, and the title of the print, left - What is this my Son Tom - says it all. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The most prominent feature of his stylish self is his exaggerated wig that dwarfs his cocked hat. His wig is powdered white, his cheeks are rouged, and there's a huge bouquet of flowers pinned to his coat. He's covered with bows, embroidery, lace, and tassels, and his pale blue waistcoat and breeches are of a costly dotted fabric that may be an 18th c interpretation of an exotic leopard print. His phallic, low-slung sword is matched by a tasseled walking stick under his arm. He has a gold watch dangling at his waist and his shoes fasten with flower-shaped buckles glittering with paste (faux) stones.

By comparison, his incredulous father is the picture of a hale country fellow. His clothes are sturdy and unfashionably practical (his greatcoat looks very much like this one) and he wears his own straggly hair. He's even standing unfashionably, with his feet in boots and spurs wide-spread and a hand resting on his belly. Unable to believe what's become of his son, he prods at the towering wig with his whip.

True, this is another satire of fashionable Georgian dress, much like the Anne prints. But these, too, would have carried a secondary message that 18th c viewers would have understood. Tom's fashions would have been seen as French (Britain's near-constant enemy), and worse, effeminate. The older generation, represented by Tom's father, was convinced that modern young men were all soft and unmanly, a sure sign that the future of England was in terrible danger. Of course England didn't wither away because young men in the 1770s wore outlandish wigs and ruffles, any more than the country went to the dogs a generation later because Beau Brummel insisted on tall neck cloths and close-fitting trousers.

But Tom's father doesn't know that, and from the caption, he is WORRIED:

   Our wise Forefathers would express
   Ev'n Sensibility in Dress;
   The modern Race delight to Shew
   What Folly in Excess can do:
   The honest Farmer, come to Town,
   Can scarce believe his Son his own
   If thus the Taste continues Here,
   What will it be another Year?

Above: What is this my son Tom by S.H. Grimm, 1774, published by Robert Sayer & John Bennett, London. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.


Hels said...

I love this cartoon and always show the students how the Grand Tourists' parents must have felt, once the boys returned home.

Tom's father was indeed convinced that modern young men were all soft and unmanly, but more than that. Here was a jumped-up fashion plate who had bludged off his father for 2 or 3 years, earned nothing himself, bought ship loads of furniture and art for his own future home, and then told his own father how to behave well!!!! The students and I are always on the father's side :)

Chris Woodyard said...

This reminds me of a later (1833) book of fatherly advice to daughters which advises: "Do not marry a fop". Words we all can live by....

Paula Guernsey said...

Does anyone know why the father has garters on top of his breeches?

Isobel Carr said...

I’m sure you’ve seen the amazing blue velvet leopard coat in “Fashion In Detail: From the 17th and 18th Centuries”. It’s so outlandish. I’d never have believed such a thing could exist if I hadn’t seen it (and a reader wrote to complain about the modern detail with I wrote it into a book, LOL!).

Murr Brewster said...

I've really enjoyed these prints. But maybe you shouldn't be hard on Dad (and Mom). I think maybe they were right.

Emile de Bruijn said...

Great cartoon. But what I find fascinating is that dandyism in Beau Brummell's era was an ultra-masculine syle, with understated colours and men trying to look like Greek statues. This is really well described in Ian Kelly's recent biography 'Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style'.

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