When searching for the epitome of the (s)well-dressed Regency gentleman, of course one name comes immediately to mind:
Some might say George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, but I propose, for your consideration, that Mr. Purefoy portraying Brummel is
undoubtedly arguably more swoon-worthy than the Beau himself. Let’s take a moment just to consider the lovely evidence.
Author’s Note: Yes, I know Mr. Purefoy’s shirt should have been pulled overhead rather than being completely open, but I’ll give this anachronism a pass because: James. Purefoy.
Now that we’ve seen a Regency swell dress, I’d like to peel each layer back off, purely for educational purposes. Our gentleman will be sporting Full Dress, as he has been out making calls. At home, he might be in a state of Undress, meaning he removed his jacket and cravat to perhaps relax with a brandy and read a book. When he goes riding, he prefers to be in Half Dress, with casual breeches and simple neckcloth. When he goes out of an evening, he sports Evening Dress, pulling out all the proverbial stops to impress.
And now, to the unveiling.
Fits Like a Glove. And a Hat. And Walking Stick. Plus a Great Coat.
The well-dressed gentleman first sheds his gloves, hat, walking stick, and great coat at the door. He wore gloves of buff or brown in casual settings, and white for more formal occasions. The style of the hat at this time was called a Beaver or Top Hat. Most gentlemen carried a walking stick, or cane, that could be simply a fashionable accessory or a functional necessity. Few outside the military sported swords, but most swells opted to carry swordsticks or cane-swords, with sharp blades cleverly hidden inside the hollow stick. The great coat could be the simple straight style seen at left, or a coat with stacked shoulder capes to give the gentleman a more elaborate appearance.
These Boots Were Made For Walking.
Regency Top Boots
Now, we remove my favorite footwear for Regency gentlemen: the Top Boot. I’m quite partial to this style, also known as the Tall Boot, Riding Boot, Brown Top, or John Bull. They are sturdy, leathery, and all-around masculine. Gentlemen could also wear Hess Boots, (also called Hessians or Hussars, so named for their origin in Hesse, Austria); these boots could be calf- or knee-high, but had a “v” front cut and tassels. Not a fan. Not even going to show a picture.
For formal occasions, gentlemen wore dancing slippers, a slip-on loafer that could be dressed with a jeweled buckle, or even sport a heel (called “pumps”) for those needing a “lift.” While we’re here, we can go ahead and peel off his stockings, too. Our first glimpse of bare skin!
Take Your Frock Coat Off and Stay Awhile.
It’s a shame that more men in this day and age don’t have occasion to wear a cutaway frock coat. With wide lapels and short fronts, the swell could show off his tailored waistcoat underneath. Frock coats could be straight cutaway style at the waist, or have a more gentle curve from the button front to the tails in the rear, but all were fitted like a second skin. They could be casual cotton, or more sumptuous wool and silk. Picture the rich navy silk of Mr. Darcy’s coat at the Netherfield ball, or the gorgeous green wool coat he sported while searching for Elizabeth Bennet in the wilderness at Rosings. The very essence of functional, manly elegance.
Holy Waistcoat, Regency Man!
It’s now time to remove the waistcoat (pronounced “weskit”), the main piece of costume that afforded the Regency swell a canvas to express his sartorial personality. Cravat knots could be dashingly complex and frock coats a garish color, but the only limit on waistcoats seemed to be imagination and purse. They could be single or double-breasted, have high collars or wide lapels, and be made from simple cotton to the finest silk. The material could be patterned in stripes, florals, or jacquard, then embellished with beautiful embroidery. For some swells, the more garish the design, decoration, and color, the better.
Does This Cravat Make Me Look Fat?
Next, let’s unwind our gentleman’s tightly wrapped, exquisitely tied cravat. Over two yards of 9-inch wide crisp white cloth (or sometimes another color) could be fussily knotted or simply wrapped and tied to shield a swell’s neck from exposure. The complexity of the knot was determined by the valet’s talent and the gentleman’s patience to sit and have himself trussed. It is likely the closest thing a gentleman felt to compare to the confining squeeze of ladies stays and corsets. I love to look at the intricacies of the folds in a starched and immaculate cravat, and to picture unwrapping the long length of linen with all the anticipation of a much-desired Christmas gift.
Taking the Shirt Off His Back.
We have to pull our gentleman’s shirt off over his head, since it only opens from neck to mid-chest. It has a few buttons at the throat, or sometimes laces, which are hidden by his cravat. It’s soft, made of the finest white or sometimes cream-colored linen or muslin. It’s also billowy with full cut sleeves and body. The only other buttons are found at the cuffs, which are two to three inches wide.
We have now struck chest.
Nothing Comes Between Me and My Pantaloons.
God bless Regency fashion. Swells left their breeches (pronounced “britches”) in the country and began to wear pantaloons. No more baggy pants; pantaloons were longer, slimmer, and tighter. The waist featured a one button fastening covered by a “fall,” a flap of fabric that pulled up like a bib to fasten at each hip bone. They featured a special interior pocket of extra material to allow for – er – extra storage room for equipment at the juncture of the thighs. Pantaloons drew the eye everywhere, to both flaw and asset. No wonder they were termed “inexpressibles.”
Breeches aren’t forever gone, by the by: they lost their grandfatherly caché when they began to be cut on the bias, debuted in buckskin and leather, and lost their baggy-bottom seat. Morning calls and country living could be pursued in breeches. They were required attire at Almack’s. Gentlemen also began to wear trousers, which were similar to the tight pantaloon but went all the way to the ankle.
Don’t Mention the Unmentionables.
Patterns for drawers from The Workman’s Guide.
This little scrap of cloth prevents our gentleman from being altogether in the altogether, after having removed the rest of his costume. Also called small clothes or drawers, they were cut like breeches of cotton or linen, could be long or short, and tied at the waist by a drawstring. Many gentlemen chose to forgo them, as it ruined the line of those oh-so-tight pantaloons. Shirts of the day were still long enough to allow the tails to be wrapped and tucked as makeshift under clothing, if desired.
Gilding That Lily
Although our gentleman is in fine form au naturel, he wraps himself in his banyan, or dressing gown. After all, it’s his turn to undress his lady wife.
Want to learn more? Just click on a costume item below to read a fabulous and informative post:
Own Your Own Greatcoat!
Dance Slippers and Pumps