A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 7, Umbrellas And Trousers

After the Napoleonic wars, between the years 1815-30, English prestige was at its zenith.1 British ships and British money put the British Isles at the center of the western world. What Paris had been, the center of fashion, London was to become. The romantics such as Shelly and Byron had an impact on just about all aspects of the arts, and extended out from such that changes were felt by most everyone.

A set of manners during this age was everything, for it was known that the "best men were always the best behaved. ... Even a highwayman, in the way of trade, may blow out your brains, but if he uses foul language at the same time, I should say he was no gentleman."2 Women took snuff, at least the upper class women did, poorer women smoked pipes. However, snuff taking, a habit of earlier years, was fast disappearing, uncommon by 1810; by 1830, almost entirely passé.

"But by the 1820s pipe smoking among women was confined to the elderly. Girls saw it as a "dirty" male activity. Cigarettes, in their turn, would attract women back to smoking, but in the early 19th century cigarette smoking was almost entirely confined to Spanish-speaking countries, though it was creeping into French habits. The Anglo-Saxon world did not begin to adopt the cigarette until the 1850's. In the meantime, smoking had been virtually banned from middle and upper-class houses, unless they were large enough to have an isolated room for the purpose. The new rail companies reinforced the prohibition when, right from the start, they refused to allow smoking in first-class carriages because it upset the ladies. By the late 1820s, smoking in England was rapidly becoming an all-male, largely outdoor activity, and in New England, at least, the Americans were following suit. One of the criticisms of Dr. Parr was that he 'smoked in the vestry.'"3
Red hair was looked on as a bad sign in 19th Century. As for beards:
"In the United States, where beards were to become all the rage in the 1860's, a man who grew one in the 1820's courted ostracism or violence. When Joseph Palmer of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, entered church wearing a beard in 1830 he was not only denied communion but later assaulted by a group of parishioners who tried to shave him forcibly."4
Portrait of Byron

Reference has already been made to the impact that the romantic movement, as was inspired by Shelly and Byron, had on society. Byron had to be the man that appeared in the erotic dreams of the high glass lady of the age; not that you could get her to ever admit to ever having such dreams. Byron perfected the open-necked, disheveled, windswept look -- wild and melancholy.

Paul Johnson, in his marvelous book, points out how in the early 19th century gentlemen ceased to wear swords and took to carrying umbrellas instead.

"For men, modernity came with the adoption of trousers, perhaps the greatest of all watersheds in the history of men's fashion. Indeed, it might be said that of all the enduring achievements of the French Revolution, the most important was the replacement of culottes, or breeches, by the baggy trousers worn by peasants and working men, the sans-culottes. The adoption by the new French ruling class, in the 1790's, of trousers as a sign of solidarity with the masses was greeted with horror elsewhere. Several countries tried to ban them. But the term trousers that was generally adopted was, significantly, English, dating back to the late sixteenth century, and once the Seville Row tailors began to produce the garment, they quickly took it up-market, making it tight fitting and attractive to wear. Once of the key innovations of George 'Beau' Brummel (1778-1840) was to introduce a strap at the bottom of each leg, which went under the shoe or boot and stretched the trousers still tighter. These fashionable versions were made of light-coloured nankeen, a close-woven cotton, or of fine doeskin leather for riding. The result was that they showed off the male leg to even greater advantage than breeches and satin stockings, which did justice only to the calf. Older men in authority, whose spindle shanks did not benefit from advertisement, denounced then as obscene and Pope Pius VII condemned then outright in a bitter rearguard action which lasted until his death in 1823. ...
By the mid-1820s, tight trousers of the Brummel type were out and have remained out, so male calves gradually lost their appeal. This was part of a wider change in which, for the first time, men handed over to women the leading role in sartorial display. ...
Beau Brummel was the key figure, not merely civilizing trousers, but inventing the black-and-white clad male. He taught that the aim should be simplicity and clothes which followed the natural lines of the body, though he was not averse to a little discreet padding or even a corset, which he called a 'belt.' Above all, a man should avoid 'a mountebank appearance' by eschewing flashy colours and fabrics. Brummel favored clack or dark grey outer garments, elegance flowing from the cut and the fit, with spotlessly white linen below. This, he invested the concept of the evening dress as we know it. ...
Brummel had sanctioned a little light makeup for men - pale brown 'and a tough of rouge.' His successor as arbiter of London male fashion, Count d'Orsay, did not. By 1830 makeup had been virtually abandoned. By this date, indeed, the modern sartorial chasm between the sexes, with the men moving toward monochrome sobriety and uniformity, was beginning to open, at any rate in English society. In appearance, at least, men were becoming more obviously masculine; the line that marked them off from women was being more firmly drawn than ever before."5
As for women:
"What women would not do, for a long time, was wear drawers or knickers, which the new style really demanded, partly because, until now, drawers were worn only by men, prostitutes and high-kicking opera dancers, especially in Paris (hence Wellington's anecdote about Bonaparte's return from Moscow). In stead, women wore 'invisible petticoats', like strait waistcoats but drawn down over the legs, forcing the wearer to take short steps. But gradually, as the 1820's progressed, the disadvantages of ladies not wearing drawers became apparent - Thomas Rowlandson specialized in depicting one of them - and by 1830 the basic components of modern women's underclothes were in place. Equally if not more important for most women was the growing cheapness of easily washable cottons. The reformer Francis Place (by trade a tailor), in his manuscript notes on 'Manners and Morals,' now in the British Museum, welcomed the dramatic improvement in the appearance of working-class women in 1820's, made possible by 'cleanly cotton gowns made pretty high round the neck.'"6

NEXT: [Chapter 8, Games]


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Peter Landry