Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Cutting Edge: 18th c. Leopard-Patterned Fashion

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Isabella reporting,

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.


Sarah said...

Fascinating! I didn't know it went back so far!

Regencyresearcher said...

I rather like animal prints myself. I can see myself dressed like te lady, though I doubt my hair was ever that cooperative no matter which life.

The Greenockian said...

Hope he didn't have hayfever with that bouquet on his lapel!

Unknown said...

Is she holding a gun?

Isobel Carr said...

LOVE IT! I've always been fascinated by the blue leopard-spot coat in the V&A collection so it's great to see more examples.

Vienna La Rouge said...

I think she is holding a closed fan. But I see the resemblance to a gun barrel...although guns looked nothing like that until the mid 1800s ;-)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Love the idea that she would have tucked a gun into her muff! But alas, I have to agree with Vienna: it is a fan, and yes, pistols of the late 18th c. were much more blunt and stubby.

And yes, since I, too, have a serious weakness for faux leopard, I would definitely have been the belle sauvage wearing this gown. :)

Isobel Carr said...

Really tempted to make that for Costume College next year (and maybe to strut about it while at Colonial Williamsburg!).

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

When are you going to CW, Isobel? For the millinery conference in February? Wondering if we'll be there at the same time! :)

Anna said...

Oh dear...that's a lot of spots. I would have loved to see that gown in person! The lady wearing it would probably have been pleased to know that centuries later, it's still showing up in fashion plates in a slightly different iteration, haha:

Isobel Carr said...

I really want to make the millinery conference (Janea was telling me about it at CoCo), but I'm not sure I'll be able to pull it off. So many commitments next year. If I manage to swing it, I'll let you know before hand!

Solveig said...

Fascinating. I would have loved to see that dress in person, to get a better look at the details.

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