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London's PeopleVictorian Etiquette VI: Dress Male Attire
Posted on Jun 14, 2005 - 07:56 AM by Bill McCann

The London Journal, launched in 1845, was one of the most widely read publications of nineteenth-century Britain. Its weekly appearance ushered in the period when mass-market reading, in a modern sense, was born. Between April 12 and August 30 1845, the Journal carried seventeen articles under the heading "Etiquette for the Millions," written by G.W.M Reynolds. They were clearly aimed at educating the mass readership (mostly the newly emerging middle-classes) in the behaviour expected of them in public. At times trenchant, the views expressed in the articles describe a view of society that is very, very different from that which we experience today. But, perhaps, one that many sections of modern society hanker after. In this lesson we are instructed on the rules which govern male attire. Ostentation is clearly out and sobriety certainly in!



Many people imagine that to be dressed gaudily is to be dressed well. A greater mistake never was committed. Brilliant colours and quantities of jewellery are evidences of the very worst possible taste.

No one should dress in a manner to render himself conspicuous; attire should be good, but "quiet." An affectation of extraordinarily shaped hats, curiously cut trousers, flaming stocks, and gaudy waistcoats, is indicative of vulgarity of taste, and is sure to be associated with vulgarity of manners.

Hose who are characterised by this affectation must possess an uncommon degree of self-conceit; because their only possible reason for bedizening themselves with the hues of the peacock, and hanging themselves in chains of glittering metal, can be to attract attention. For our parts, we cannot understand the pleasure of being so conspicuous that every person turns around to look at you as you pass along the street.

In respect to jewellery, a plain gold ring on the last finger but one or the little finger of either hand, is correct. A gold watch-guard may also be worn; but not festooning over the waistcoat: it should be beneath the waistcoat, and the only part shown should be the links that pass from the button-holes to the waistcoat pocket containing the watch. Great care should be taken in the selection of these articles, as Birmingham can turn out very good imitation jewellery; and, if you do swear a chain and ring, you may as well exhibit those which by their colour, make, and general appearance are too evidently of the real material to be mistaken for the base. It is therefore essential to respectability to avoid flashy jewellery the characteristic of he swell mob's man.

Plain gold studs are not improper; but they should not have chains attached to them. If you wear a neckerchief with large folds over the bosom of the shirt, or a stock with a front, you may wear a plain gold pin. It is however far better to display as little jewellery as possible.

In respect to linen, remember that cleanliness is next to godliness. A clean shirt and a clean pocket-handkerchief are absolutely necessary. The bosom of the shirt should not be worked; and the plaits should be large, plain, and perfectly smooth. High collars are not only unseemly, but also very inconvenient; and as they are apt to lap over, they impart a slovenly air to the general appearance.

Shoes and stockings in the day time are not correct: neat boots are far preferable; and even of an evening, unless at parties of a very formal nature, a well-polished boot is more genteel than a foot encased in a silk stocking and a thin shoe like a dancing master's.

With regard to the other articles of dress, the rules are simple but positive. A frock coat should be worn in the day time, when such a garment suits the figure of the wearer: - and there are few whom it does not suit. Dark colours are preferable. Nothing is more genteel than black, with a low velvet collar. Velvet facings may be worn in winter; but not in summer. The coat should not be too long, nor too tight; and it generally looks better when buttoned. Persons of slight figure should wear single-breasted coats: those of robust figure, double breasted. Black, dark blue, and invisible green, are the most becoming colours.

Dress coats should always be worn at parties, black and dark blue are the most genteel colours. Blue coats with brass buttons are not in good taste.

Morning waistcoats should be adapted to the season. In winter a shawl-pattern, double-breasted, is very becoming: in summer light valentia waistcoats, single-breasted. For evening, a white waistcoat is considered by many persons to be proper; whereas it really is not, for in contrast with the black coat and trousers, it makes the wearer, as Brummel observed, "look like a magpie." A black silk waistcoat is genteel for an evening not satin or velvet.

Trousers should be cut straight down, and never bulge out at the knee, nor spread too far over the boot. Plaits over the hips and front have quite exploded. In winder, dark blue, Oxford mixture, or dark gray are the best morning colours: in summer, light trousers of various descriptions of material may be worn, in preference to white. In the evening, black trousers must be worn, both in summer and winter.

We have before said that flaring neck-handkerchiefs are very incorrect. Gaudy sky-blue satin stocks and all brilliant "ties" should be carefully eschewed. A plain black silk handkerchief or corded silk stock should be worm by those who do not prefer white cravats.

The boots should be well polished, with tolerably high heels (so as to raise the trousers above the mud or dust, and to throw the figure the least thing forward) and pointed toes. Patent leather boots may be worn at evening parties, and even at balls, when the occasions are not so particularly exclusive and ceremonial as to require the use of shoes.

It will be seen from the above suggestions that plainness, simplicity, and neatness are the grand principles to be regarded in respect to dress.

We need scarcely observe that gloves form an essential ingredient of respectable attire: neither should these be laid aside at church or at the theatre. For convenience' sake, however, the glove may be occasionally removed from the right hand and carried in the left.

Attention should be paid to deportment and carriage, which should be easy. Never walk as if you knew that you had new clothes on, and were afraid of injuring them. A coat that is too tight at the waist will render the gait stiff and constrained. Neckerchiefs and collars to high will give an uneasy appearance to the manner in which you carry your head. Tight boots will totally destroy the graceful equilibrium of even the most graceful figure.

Frequent changes in the nature of attire are very incorrect. If you appear to-day in dark colours and to-morrow in light ones, sensible people will immediately suppose that your motive is simply to display the extent and variety of your wardrobe.

A due regard to fashion should be observed, because if you happen to be far behind the march of improvement, you become singular an appearance we have before recommended you to avoid. At the same time we do not for a moment attempt to inculcate the absurd doctrine that you are to watch the monthly and quarterly "returns" of fashions from Paris, or any other authoritative source in this department. Every time you order a new suit of clothes or purchase a new hat, will be time enough to enquire in what respect he fashions have changed since last you equipped yourself.

For boys up to eleven or twelve years of age, cloth caps are far more genteel than hats; and nothing can become lads at that time of life more than a jacket, waistcoat, and trousers of plain, dark blue, without any braiding, binding, edging, or embellishments of that kind.

G.W.M. Reynolds.
The London Journal,
For the week ending May 17, 1845.

TO BE CONTINUED.


 

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