Men’s Regency Style: Is Beau Brummell to Blame?

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1 – Welcome to #ThreadTalk!

Our topic: the dandy of the Regency Era, Beau Brummell, oft credited with ruining men's fashion.

Yes: he arrives at a cultural moment when "masculine" fashion takes a sharp turn away from color, patterns & frippery.

But let's dig deeper, shall we?👔

2 – The Regency look is now iconic, thanks to Brummell's contemporary Jane Austen.

But at the time, it was quite a shift. The elaborate "Macaroni" style favored wild colors, wigs, & designs, frequently mocked in satirical comics, had been the playground of rich young men.

The Lilly Macaroni, engraving by John Collet 1771. This wigged individual has a very long tail to his wig, as well as an elaborate tassel on his sword, a bright blue trim to his jacket, and typical Revolutionary era style. From the Met.

3 – Although the English were a bit more restrained, Paris knew no limits.

(Keep in mind the dates here. This will be important.)

But soon French fashion fell out of favor w/revolution & wars. Nationalism rose. Imperialist needs grew. And how do we express it best? Clothing.

The Academie de Coiffure, Paris. Wellcome Images - Women being measured for their huge wigs in a caricature from 1788. It reads "FASHIONS IN HAIR, 1788 - THE ACADEMIE DE COIFFURE, PAIRS" The hair, as will be seen from the illustration, was built up on a kind of scaffolding, which was afterwards removed.

4 – Beau Brummell(L) was at the right place at the right time.

Born in London in 1778, he entered the military young & then inherited a third of his father's £65,000 estate, which essentially helped buy him into the Prince of Wales'(R) inner military circle.

Just dandy.

5 – Brummell's regiment, apparently, had more uniforms than others. They could get away with anything. Because, well, the Prince was their buddy. 🍷🍻🥂

But when their regiment was reassigned from London to Manchester, he resigned, because Manchester was quite beneath him.

6 – After, Brummell returned to civilian life & became a tastemaker. Still buds with the Prince Regent, his approach to fashion was patently English, steeped in military symbolism & expensive as hell.

The Prince was into it for good reason. Below, w/Queen Charlotte as a kid.

George (left) with his mother Queen Charlotte and younger brother Frederick. Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1764. Charlotte is wearing a beautiful pink taffeta gown, and George is wearing a typical dress of the era, as is Frederick.

7 – Why would the Prince of Wales want to buy into Brummell's fashion?

Check the caricatures of the day. George is given one hell of a scorching (and rightfully so) for decades. But initially he looks like this.

Red coat. Wig. Gold pantaloons. Constantly ridiculed as weak.

8 – The old look ties him to his father, who's not exactly known for his level head.

Though Brummell's approach may appear staid & sober, it was such a tremendous shift from the current fashion it required an entire wardrobe overhaul.

It was a total power move & very English.

An unfinished portrait of George IV by Thomas Lawrence, showing the typical cravat and tousled hair of the era. He is standing in profile.

9 – Brummell emphasized dark colors, military influences, boots, and of course, the cravats.

It looked windswept and casual, but it was the very opposite. The "dandy" comes from this era, not from the frippery, but exhaustive attention to detail.

Satirists ate it up, of course.

"A Dandy Fainting or -- An Exquisite in Fits" Scene on a Price Box Opera" men in high waisted clothes, unwired and unheated, in caricatured outfits.

10 – Let's not forget the Imperial impact, either. Moving away from silk & to local wool & muslin meant further drying up the already suffering trade routes to India.

It also further defined a masculine ideal away from anything Eastern/colonized.

CW: this is going to get ugly.

Man’s suit, American. 1810-1820. Museum of Fine Art - a classic Regency design. Dark brown jacket, black trousers, high cravat.

11 – I've cropped out some of this because it's even more racist in full, but this later caricature of George IV has him as the "Grand Lama" dressed in orientalized clothing, while his estranged wife is crowned behind him.

It's called "The Kremlin in Common." Just fashion, eh?

The Kremlin in commotion - or - the Grand Lama sick of the horn cholic Abstract: Print shows King George IV fallen to the floor, he clutches his stomach, near him are a "Plan for Divorce," a decanter and cup, cards and dice. In the background sits his estranged wife Caroline about to be crowned by Justice while surrounded by her loyal supporters. Physical description: 1 print : etching, hand-colored ; 25.3 x 39 cm. (sheet) Notes: Forms part of: British Cartoon Prints Collection (Library of Congress).; Portions of the caption text in upper right and left caption balloons has been scraped out and replaced

12 – And, because of course, other ways to emasculate George would be putting him in a dress.

This, mocking the "petticoat government" of Queen Charlotte.

What could be WORSE?

We know this was pre-1820/coronation. I can't help but wonder if the Brummell style was vengeance.

Title: A leap year drawing room, or the pleasures of petticoat government Abstract: Print showing George IV dressed as a woman sitting in a parlor greeting his female guests, one guest kneeling on a cushion and kissing his hand may be Lady Conyngham. Physical description: 1 print : etching, hand-colored ; 27.6 x 39 cm. (sheet) Notes: Cruikshank fecit.; Forms part of: British Cartoon Prints Collection (Library of Congress).; Title from item.Title: A leap year drawing room, or the pleasures of petticoat government Abstract: Print showing George IV dressed as a woman sitting in a parlor greeting his female guests, one guest kneeling on a cushion and kissing his hand may be Lady Conyngham. Physical description: 1 print : etching, hand-colored ; 27.6 x 39 cm. (sheet) Notes: Cruikshank fecit.; Forms part of: British Cartoon Prints Collection (Library of Congress).

13 – Brummell's big mouth got him in trouble. He was ostracized from Court & exiled in

France.

Once asked what it would cost to dress a man properly, he venomously quipped "with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800."

He died in an insane asylum, impoverished.

Beau Brummell giving directions to his tailor, from 1855. He stands before pieces of vest shapes, while the tailor looks on.

14 – Did Brummell single-handedly water down men's fashion?

No. There were a lot of factors at work here. The 19th c waxed and waned in fashion, and we had some bright moments before settling into 3 piece suit boredom.

But his PR? Oh, his brand is GOOD. See this 1917 ad.

Gillette advertisement (1917) - "Brummell was famous for his grooming at a time when good grooming was the exception"

15 – Brummell became shorthand for Western male power. Good grooming, pin perfect tailoring, pristine white cravats, gleaming boots (which he cleaned with champagne?!).

To look working class, but pay an exorbitant $$$$.

Even George IV's coronation portrait has echoes of it…

The official portrait painting of George IV's coronation. He wears a high cravat style ruff and has his tousled brown hair (no wigs!!) in spite of all the miles of collars, furs, and velvet.

16 – Essentially, Brummell invented a new unattainable. Fashion has always been about who can & cannot get the newest & best.

By nationalizing and essentially re-defining the masculine style, rich, Western white men now have a new level of power. And it's never really gone away.

This oil painting by Rolinda Sharples shows a group of ball-goers arriving at the Clifton Assembly Rooms in Bristol. Men and women of all different ages are gossiping, watching one another and preparing to enter the ballroom. In the foreground, a maid helps a woman put on her shoes; just behind them, a young man places a wrap around a young woman's shoulders. As was fashionable for balls at the time, most of the young women wear white while the older women are dressed in darker colours. Some of the men are wearing military costume. The Clifton Assembly Rooms opened in 1811, several years before Sharples painted this work. From the British Library.

17 – Let's look at some extant fashion, shall we? 👓

(And I promise, a little Darcy commentary, too.)

This jacket has the military styling, but still a bit of whimsy with the windowpane pattern. The color is vivid and gorgeous. Dates from 1815, American. via the Met.

This summer double-breasted cutaway tailcoat from about 1815 looks fresh enough for wear today. Its shaping is the counterpart of womenswear of the period with its high waist, breadth at the shoulders, and emphasis on the chest. Faux flap pockets occur at each hip front, the flaps of which are rounded to a point in the center. As many have observed, menswear of this period, just before the Great Male Renunciation when men spurned any of the ostensible signs of fashion, was acutely responsive to womenswear. From the Met.

18 – From the V&A, of course, this coat is from Great Britain and dates from 1815-1820. It's wool, because England (I will get to that topic soon–it's a big one). Brass buttons (like a soldier, mum!).

I like the contrasting creme and white, as well as the lapel shape.

Double-breasted coat of blue wool, cut away in the front. With a fairly deep roll collar, a double row of five brass buttons, and four further brass buttons at the back. The wrists fasten with two cloth-covered buttons. With oblique false pocket flaps, one on each side, with deep pockets below them entered vertically, and another deep pocket inside entered horizontally. Lined with wool. Hand-sewn. © Victoria & Albert Museum

19 – An early 1790 example, wool, from the V&A. Great Britain. Before Beau Brummell had the ear of the king, to prove that fashion isn't a straight line and he gets neither all the blame nor all the credit.

Buttons are covered in silk, though. I love the striped wool.

Man's coat of wool, England, 1790; grey striped wool, cut-away and double-breasted, with silk thread covered buttons. © Victoria and Albert Museum

20 – From Norsk Folkemuseum, a Nordic interpretation. I'm all about these pantaloons. The stripes, too!

The date on the record here says about 1810-1820, and that looks about right to me. The interpretation on the scarf is… interesting.

A deep blue jacket, red and yellow striped vest, quilted creme trousers, and high black boots. A cravat tied in a loop and then a bit of a puff at the top.

21 – Now, what do we think about the Darcy v. Darcy debate?

Let's start with Colin Firth. He's much more traditional. Muted colors, exceptional tailoring, super pristine cravats.

This goes with his slightly stuffier Darcy (no less amazing).

22 – His two most iconic scenes include various states of UN-dress, however. And that contrast is 🔥🔥🔥.

For educational purposes, you can watch the lake scene here. This is instructional for you will also learn how to remove the clothes.

23 – Macfayden's Darcy from 2005's PRIDE & PREJUDICE is a little less fussy, not quite as high-collared, and has a lot more lapel action (looks a bit later to me in style).

The hair is a bit wispier, the brows a bit more emotive.

24 – Where Firth is always falling into water, Macfayden is always walking through rain or myst.

And his "walking-through-the-mist-in-his-banyan" look will forever slay me forever and ever Amen.

25 – So! Sources! Let's get to it for you nerds who like to read more.

Beau Brummell
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beau_Brummell
https://www.regencyhistory.net/2012/11/the-rise-and-fall-of-beau-brummell-1778.html
https://jasna.org/publications-2/persuasions-online/vol36no1/nigro-phillips/
http://www.dandyism.net/the-eccentric-mr-brummell/
https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1810-1819/

26 – Fashion Impact
https://www.cracked.com/blog/the-historical-figure-who-ruined-mens-fashion-forever
https://janeausten.co.uk/blogs/mens-fashion/beau-brummell-and-the-birth-of-regency-fashion
https://www.ranker.com/list/life-of-beau-brummell/rachel-souerbry

On Dandyism
https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Du_Dandysme_et_de_George_Brummell
https://archive.org/details/ofdandyismofgeor00barb/page/n11/mode/2up

Regency Military uniforms:

27 – So, we must bid adieu to George IV, Brummell, and the rest.

Thanks for joining me tonight! Remember: fashion is power, question beauty relentlessly, and always look to the makers.

(I have a tip jar for those who feel so inclined.)

Goodnight from this pack of dandies.

28 – Also, also, also.

Gender presentation has been colonized. I kept thinking about this. The exportation of the reinterpretation of the "new masculine" eroded away so many cultures' expressions.

And it's damned sad. Even if there is a kind of beauty to some of the clothes.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on November 15, 2021.

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