Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beau Brummell's Greatcoat, c. 1803

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Susan reporting,

I've written before (here and here) about Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, the fantastic exhibition of men's clothing shown earlier this year at the RISD Museum. The coat, left, is a real rarity: an actual garment made for Beau Brummell.

The most stylish gentleman of Regency England, George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) was a friend of the Prince Regent and perhaps the first true arbiter of men's fashion. He was famously fastidious about tailoring, understated elegance, and personal cleanliness - qualities that had previously been in short supply among late 18th c. Englishmen.

This navy broadcloth greatcoat was made for Brummell by the London tailor John Weston about 1803. Often in debt, Brummell never claimed the finished coat from the tailor, and it languished, unworn and pristine, in the vault of the banker Coutts & Co. for over a hundred years. It truly is a beautiful garment, exquisitely stitched and tailored, and so closely cut that it's easy to see the lean, elegant male figure that Brummell must have possessed.

Seeing the coat also reminded me of a famous Brummell anecdote, relayed by his acquaintance Captain William Jesse in his 1844 biography The Life of George Brummell, esq., commonly called Beau Brummell. If you wish to wallow in more Brummell-isms, this book is now available to read online here.

"On another occasion, the late Duke of Bedford asked [Brummell] for an opinion on his new coat. Brummell examined him from head to foot with as much attention as an adjutant of the Life Guards would the sentries on a drawing-room day. 'Turn round,' said the Beau: His Grace did so, and the examination was continued in front. When it was concluded Brummell stepped forward, and feeling the lapel delicately with his thumb and finger, said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, 'Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?'"

Obviously, the poor duke wasn't wearing a coat like this one....

Above: Greatcoat, made by John Weston, c. 1803. Photo courtesy of Coutts/RISD Museum, Providence, RI.


artisoo said...

impressive men fashion!! but for tall guy

QNPoohBear said...

It was amazing to see the coat in real life. I geeked out when I saw that coat. I stared at it for a long while and then tried to explain to my dad who Beau Brummell was, who Weston was and the significance of the coat. It's exquisitely tailored and must have looked quite splendid on the Beau.

Helena said...

I'd love to know the Beau's measurements, derived from the coat.

I'd always assumed that the story you quote was about the type of coat which we might now call a jacket i.e. an indoor coat, rather than a greatcoat like the one featured here.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

QNPoohBear, Yes, I had exactly the same history-nerd overload when I saw this coat, as well as the Prince Regent's banyan and Fred Astaire's evening clothes. But it was this coat that sent me into a paroxysm of text-messages to Loretta, telling her she HAD to see this exhibition. I guess the Beau still has that power two centuries later! :)

Helena, I wish they had the measurements, too. To me it looked very narrow, particularly in the chest and shoulders. As for the coat in the quote -it's hard to tell exactly what kind of coat the hapless duke was wearing. No context as to whether it's indoors or outdoors, day or evening. Too bad - I'd love to know exactly what was so dreadful about it!

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