Saturday, November 25, 2006

Men's Regency Costume

Let’s be frank a BIG part of why Jane Austen’s heroes and villains are particularly sexy is the clothes they wear. Knee-high boots, long great coats, tall neckties, floppy shirts and tight breeches all make us shudder. Male costume changed dramatically from 1780s to the 1800s – becoming more austere and less colourful. Grooming and unshowy style were all-important. And fortunately we have our costume expert Mrs B to hand to explain why and some illustrations from a 1907 edition of Pride and Prejudice for illustration!

Mrs B says:

In the period 1795 to 1820 the male fashionable look was the perfectly tailored, figure hugging style devised by Beau Brummell and his circle. Brummell took the practical frock coat, waistcoat and breeches worn by the English Peers in their enthusiasm for farming and country pursuits and refined the look.

By the end of the eighteenth century English tailors became the leaders of men’s fashions, because their long experience of the subtleties of cloth had developed their skill and they gave style and elegance to the practical country coats and so made them acceptable for fashionable wear. Beau Brummell, not an innovator but a perfectionist, set the seal on the new fashion by removing the odour of the stables. He had the floppy cravat starched, the muddy boots polished and, above all, he demanded the perfect cut and fit (see Nora Waugh, The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900).

The double-breasted riding coat was turned into an elegant garment by giving it a curved front and tailoring it to fit the body closely.

Breeches were replaced by pantaloons, which were tighter fitting and extended to mid calf or below. These were bias cut to achieve a much closer fit. They were worn with highly polished tall boots. Between 1807-25 trousers, originally worn by working men, appeared as an alternative. They were skin tight to the knees and below the knee they were looser and anchored in place by straps under the instep, a device possibly introduced by Brummell to ensure the trousers’ unwrinkled perfection could be maintained. Breeches, pantaloons and trousers in this period fastened with a side buttoned rectangular panel to produce a flat front to the garment and preserve the closeness of fit.

Thanks Mrs B (see more of her here).

I just love Darcy’s great coat in the BBC series and pantaloons worn with hessian boots could not be sexier, though they need good legs and firm thighs to carry them off!


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