WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rum Topping

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rum Topping

I had two slang terms to choose from for this week’s topic, and I chose the nicer one, If I do so say myself. Or at least the one you can use and not have to explain again that the word “does not mean what you think it means.”

Rum Topping

A rich commode, or woman’s head-dress.

That’s right. The other terms is commode, also meaning a woman’s head-dress. I can’t wait to see an author use commode with the correct context in a Regency romance!

Whether a lady purchased her hat ready-made from a milliner or bought a simple poke bonnet and trimmed it herself, every lady wore something on her head. So yes, no lady would be caught without her commode. Styles changed from year to year, but the frugal lady could simply change out her ribbons and other embellishments to refurbish last season’s chapeaux.

I’m not saying I wish bonnets were still mandatory head wear, but I am saying if I could somehow carry of wearing them, I would seriously own some bonnets. And be a great proficient at trimming them.

This is a busy writing/editing week for me, so I’m going to go short on written details but heavy on the visual aids. I also have terrific sites that did a much better job of explaining Regency headgear than I could hope to do. Those sites follow the eye candy.

Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers’, but I have never seen any of them in hats… Elizabeth has given me a hat, and it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty style of hat too. It is something like Eliza’s, only, instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon. I flatter myself, however, that you can understand very little of it from this description. Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to explanations as to give a clear one on any occasion myself! But I must write no more of this…
Letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra
Queen’s Square, Bath
June 2, 1799

From Costumes Parisien, 1810:

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1037.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1044.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1049.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1056.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1058.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1064.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1084.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1098.

From Costumes Parisien, 1810, Plate No. 1107,

For hats from the 1812 Costume Parisien (they dropped the final ‘s’ on Costume that year), follow this Pinterest link:

 

 

PS: The Heir and Dear Husband were on an adventure with a group of other teens and parents this week, and some of their explorations took them to Kentucky. This past Saturday they were in the Louisville area, and the girls in their expedition stumbled upon The 10th Annual Jane Austen Festival (featuring Persuasion: 200 years of piercing souls!), proudly hosted by the Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Louisville Region Chapter. They had no appointment to visit as it was just a spur-of-the-moment decision, but they were cordially welcomed and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. And I was as happy for them as I was green with envy.

To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.   ~ Jane Austen

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WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rigging

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rigging

Regency era ladies must have sighed with relief when fashions evolved from the large skirts, thick panniers, and elaborate wigs of the late 18th century to the simpler, empire-waisted, silhouette dresses of the 19th century. Dressing would be so much simpler.

Or would it?

Let’s make a stop in a Regency lady’s dressing room.

Rigging

Clothing. Rum Rigging:  fine clothes.

Underthings

The Shift ~ Also known as a chemise, this thin, white linen or cotton precursor to the modern-day slip was worn right next to the skin, as it was much easier to clean than the next article of clothing, the stays (it was also kinder and more comfortable to the skin). It had a square neckline and could be short-sleeved or sleeveless. The shift was also long, falling to just above the knee or even the ankle.

Chemise/Shift, linen, 1810s. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Stays ~ Also known as a corset (though not the larger, full torso-covering and whalebone-laden corsets of the Victorian era), stays were worn as a support for the bust and to aid proper posture. They looked much more like a modern brassiere or bustier than the fuller-length Georgian or Victorian corsets. Stays were made of a medium weight, tightly-woven linen or cotton and, depending on the bust size of the lady, might have cording to provide extra support. There were three types of stays: short (covering just the bust), transitional (covering the bust with a bit of material underneath for added support), and full with a busk (the precursor to the full, Victorian corset). Stays were worn over the shift/chemise.

Transitional stays, circa 1800, Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Petticoat ~ This garment was worn just underneath the gown, over the stays and shift. A petticoat could be functional, providing an extra layer of warmth or modesty, or merely decorative. The ornamental petticoats were embellished with lace or embroidery, and were meant to be seen when worn under sheer (even dampened) or robe-style gowns, or peeking under the hems of shorter overdresses. Petticoats could be made of muslin, flannel, silk, or cotton, and only one was worn at a time (unlike the layers of the Georgians or coming Victorians).

Decorative petticoat with shoulder straps, reproduction, Oregon Regency Society.

The Stockings ~ Stockings were made of silk, cotton, or flannel, in descending order of desirability of material. They came in a variety of colors, but during the Regency most were white, ivory, or pale pink. Garters were worn above the knee and held in place by ribbons or garters. Lace and embroidery could be added for extra decoration.

 

Pair of knitted silk stockings, 1800-1829, England, Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Chemisette ~ This was an optional piece that was caught in between underthings and things to be seen. It was a thin half-shirt, similar to the modern-day shrug, for lack of a better descriptor. It covered the neck, decollétage, and shoulders. As Kristen Koster put it, “basically a white lawn dickey with a high collar.”

Chemisette, circa 1840s , British, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Drawers ~ Did they or didn’t they? Princess Charlotte wore an ankle-length pair in 1811, allowing them to peek from under her dress, causing Lady de Clifford to complain and the public in general to think her fast. The consensus seems to fall that drawers were around, but ladies of good breeding did not wear them.

Daywear

The Morning Dress ~ Also known as the Domestic Dress, this informal gown could be worn anytime during the day while at home doing domestic tasks, such as addressing correspondence or visiting the nursery. They were generally high-necked and long-sleeved, and made from sprigged or plain muslin, cotton, or wool. The style was often a “round gown,” meaning the bodice and skirt were made from one piece of material.

Morning or Domestic Dresses from Mirror of the Graces, 1813.

The Walking Dress ~ When a lady left her home during the day, she went about in a Walking Dress. Depending on the season, sleeves could be long or short, but the bodice was generally higher than those worn in the evening. The hem was often higher to aid in cleanliness while out on the streets and pathways. These dresses were often paired with coordinating outerwear (such as spencers or pelisses below).

Walking Dress, Costume Parisien, 1814, Plate no. 149.

The Promenade Dress ~ Not your average Walking Dress, but one meant to be seen in gadding about the Park. The difference between this and a Walking Dress was the richness of the fabric, and the hemlines were lower.

Promenade Dresses from Mirror of the Graces, 1811.

The Riding Habit ~ Meant for riding (go figure!), these garments were constructed of a sturdy fabric like wool, that could take the punishment of mounting, riding, and dismounting horses. They were cut to resemble an overcoat, sometimes with a military flair, with embellishments kept to a minimum. Skirts were long and full, and cut longer on one side to accommodate side saddle riding.

Riding Habit, Lady’s Magazine, June 1817.

The Evening Gown ~ Now we’re getting into the fancy, possibly low-cut, and definitely substantially trimmed dress for activities after dark. Fabrics of choice were muslin, silk, gauze, and crepe…but pretty much anything went for these garments. Sleeves could be long or short, and a few featured merely wide straps that sat on the curve of the shoulder. The feature that I adore – the short train – began to lose its popularity after 1812.

Evening Gown, May 1809, Ackermann’s Repository.

The Ball Gown ~ Exquisitely trimmed frocks with rich fabric and elaborate construction were the quintessential hallmarks of the Ball Gown. These dresses usually consisted of one under layer (of satin, crepe, velvet, or the like) topped by an over-dress (of gauze, sarsnet, or gossamer muslin). Every hem and fastening was decorated with all manner of lace, artificial flowers, feathers, beads, jewels, flounces, scallops, embroidery, and other fine adornments. Many believe unmarried ladies were restricted to white and pastel colors, although no historical proof has surfaced to corroborate this. Popular colors of the time were indeed pastels (rose, lavender, ivory, and primrose yellow), as well as scarlet, slate, apple-hued Pomona green, bright canary yellow, and puce.

Regency Era Ball Gowns from author Sharon Lathan’s image gallery for her novel, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy.

Outerwear

The Pelisse ~ This overcoat was fitted but not tight, and was worn over a lady’s dress. It could be full- or knee-length, with fastenings from neck to ankle in the front. Pelisses were made from heavier fabrics such as wool, velvet, brocade, or kerseymere. They were also ornately trimmed with fur, swansdown, cordings, or other decoration. Similar to a pelisse is the Redingote, an English corruption of the French “riding coat.” These garments were long, fitted coats that belted at the waist but fell open down the legs to reveal the gown underneath.

Pelisse coats, circa 1812, Ackermann’s Repository.

Redingote de Levantine, Costume Parisien, 1811.

The Spencer ~ This garment was similar to a jacket but only covered the bodice and sleeves, accentuating the era’s empire waist gowns. Spencers were made from wool, silk, or satin, and were often quilted. Similar to the pelisse, they were heavily decorated, usually with embroidery, ornate stitching, or cording, and often cut to resemble a gentleman’s riding coat, without the tails.

Pink wool spencer, Costume Parisiene, Plate no. 125, 29 May 1799, Google Arts and Culture.

The Mantle ~ These garments could also be called cloaks or mantlets. They were worn in the evening for formal events, with the attached hood worn over the head or laying about the shoulders. Their length ranged from a cape that fell to the waist, to a billowing, full-length cloak.

Jubilee Cloak, 1809, La Belle Assemblée, Museum of London.

The Shawl ~ This must-have accessory could be made of muslin, gauze, or silk for warmer months, or wool, velvet, or cashmere for cooler times. They ranged in style from plain, solid colors to vibrant, intricate patterns.

Shawls from Costume Parisien, Plate no. 23, 1810.

 

Next week ~ head coverings!

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Bedizened

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Bedizened

The men have had their turn to preen; this month it’s ladies fashions in the world of slang. Might as well start at the passionately overdone top.

Bedizened

Dressed out, over-dressed, or awkwardly ornamented.

Closeup of the exuberant finery of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

When I think of over-dressed ladies, I picture the Bingley sisters from Pride and Prejudice. After all, their first mention reveals:

His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion.

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst inspecting the crowd at the Netherfield Ball, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

This is like saying someone has a nice personality when you ask how they look.

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst at the Netherfield Ball, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

So here we learn they had money and, likely because of their antecedents in trade, were inclined to spend that money in pursuit of rank and position. They would have known the Shakespeare quote, “the apparel oft proclaims the man,” and knew that by keeping up with current fashion, they were proclaiming their wealth and place in society. I’m inclined to think this is why they are dressed so ostentatiously in certain adaptations of the book.

But that’s none of our business. Tea time for Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Because the 1940 version utilized costumes from the antebellum south, and the 2005 version inexplicably omitted one-half of the persnickety sister-duo (yet included the pig and his nethers waltzing through the Bennet house…but I digress), I’ve chosen to illustrate bedizened ladies with the Bingley sister costumes from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I found an article in The Sydney Morning Herald from March 1996 that included an interview with this version’s costume designer, Dinah Collin. She stated to demonstrate the difference in wealth between the Bingley and Bennet sisters, she chose to dress the former in brightly colored silks with plenty of embellishment.

The extent of their adornment needed therefore to be greater. I did this with bright yellow and cerise pink silks, feathers and brooches.

Costume Designer Dinah Collin’s sketch for one of Caroline Bingley’s costumes, complete with notes and finished product, courtesy Frock Flicks.

Boy, did she ever! They were bedizened within an inch of their lives to help illustrate the difference in their monetary stations. I think it worked.

 

  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • See the full article, Sense and Sensuality, in the 6 March 1996 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald (I’ve included the link but you’ll need a subscription to see it, unfortunately).
  • You can also read interesting excerpts and see more costuming ideas and inspiration from the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation at FrockFlicks.
  • And yes, because this word was about going overboard, it took all I had in me not to use the word Austen-tacious instead of ostentatious. You’re welcome.
WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Belcher

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Belcher

This week’s word brought to you by the “no, it doesn’t mean that” police.

Belcher

A red silk handkerchief, intermixed with yellow and a little black. “The kiddey flashes his belcher:” the young fellow wears a silk handkerchief round his neck.

Whither my Love! ..Ah.. Whither are thou gone by Isaac Cruikshank after G.M. Woodward, 1798, public domain.

The kerchief’s namesake, James Belcher, was born in Bristol on 15 April 1781. He was the son of a butcher and raised to be such, but a talent for pugilism was in his blood: his mother was the daughter of Jack Slack, a famous fighter known as the “Norfolk Butcher.” James was much more successful than his grandfather, earning his own nickname, the “Napoleon of the Ring.” He was a natural fighter, with a form described as elegant; he himself was known to be “good-humoured, finely proportioned, and well-looking.” Pierce Egan, journalist, sportswriter, and general popular culture “man in the know,” wrote in 1812 in Boxiana, “Belcher’s style was original.…His antagonists were terrified by his gaiety and decision…and fightingmen in general were confounded with his sangfroid and intrepidity.”

Can you imagine Sports Illustrated writing of a boxer’s “sangfroid and intrepidity” in 2018, and anyone knowing what was meant? Sigh.

The New Coinage -or- John Bulls Visit to Mat of the Mint by James Gillray, published February 1817, public domain.

Belcher had a relatively short career because he had such a short life, dying at age 30 in 1811. He lost an eye by accident in 1803, and his fighting prowess began to decline as a result of the diminished vision and loss of depth perception. His last fight took place on 1 February 1809, and it was a punishing loss after thirty-one rounds. This battle robbed him of his former good humor, and he slipped into a foul disposition and depression.  He remains known as “one of the gamest fighters ever seen in the prize-ring,” and his name was as well known as Prime Minister Pitt and the Duke of Wellington.

The Sailor and the Quack Doctor by Isaac Cruikshank after G.M. Woodward, 1807, public domain.

And like Wellington and his boots, Belcher was also remembered by an article of namesake clothing: the belcher is a handkerchief that first began as blue and white spotted but now loosely applies to any variegated kerchief tied around the neck.

James Belcher, Bare-Knuckle Champion of England, by Benjamin Marshal (1768-1835), Tate Museum.

 

  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • Wikisource has a nice-sized biography of James Belcher, which includes accounts of his more notable fights.
  • Learn the fascinating story of Norfolk Butcher, Jack Slack, at All Things Georgian.
  • If you want to know Boxing back in the day, you must work your way through Boxiana by Pierce Egan. Or just follow him on Twitter.
  • Tom Dick & Harry gives a brief history of the English Bandanna and its founding father, James Belcher.
WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Colquarron

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Colquarron

It seemed a travesty to do a hit-and-run on Regency era cravats last week, so this week I wanted to look at them more in depth. To do that, I needed a somewhat relevant slang term. The one I chose is about as old and obscure a Cant term that can be found.

Colquarron

A man’s neck. CANT.

So, let’s get our supplies. According to MY Mr. Knightley, there are two ways to make a Regency cravat:

  1. Cut a long strip of cotton or linen material about 4 to 8 inches wide and at least 60 to 80 inches long, depending on the types of ties you will make. If you want your cravat to go twice around the neck then 80 inches is best.
  2. Cut a triangular piece of material, with the base of the triangle 60 to 80 inches long and against the selvedge. The height or point of the triangle should be centred in the middle and measure 10 inches high.

Next, there’s a handy pamphlet entitled Neckclothitania or, Tietania : an essay on starchers and collars / by One of the cloth, published in 1820 and illustrated by George Cruikshank, that details the popular styles of men’s neck attire of the era. After reading the complicated and constricting instructions for each design, it’s no wonder we authors have heroines’ hearts flutter at the sight of a bared skin, and take delight in unwrapping inch after delicious inch of linen from our heroes’ confined necks.

Let’s explore.

Reproduction of Neckclothania’s illustration of Cravats of 1820, from Jennifer Forest, Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft Projects and Stores from Jane Austen’s World, Murdoch Press, 2009.

The Oriental

“…is made with a very stiff and rigid cloth… Care should be taken, that not a single indenture or crease should be visible in this tie; it must present a round, smooth, and even surface…”. The cloth is laid without crease on the front of the neck and wrapped around so the ends come to the front again for tying in a knot.

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Tamworth Boroug.h Council

The Mathematical

“is far less severe than The Oriental – there are three creases in it.” Whereas the Oriental is smooth on the neck, the Mathematical is deliberately creased along the neck. It doesn’t look terribly less stiff to me, however.

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles by George Francis Joseph, 1817, National Portrait Gallery.

The Osbaldeston

“This neck-cloth is first laid on the back of the neck, the ends brought forward, and tied in a large knot, the breadth of which must be at least four inches, and two inches deep. This tie is very well adapted for summer; because instead of going round the neck twice, it confines itself to once.”

I could not find any contemporaneous examples that I was sure of being an Osbaldeston. So I present this anonymous gentleman whose presence in a picture puts him in the Victorian era, but who is wearing an Osbaldeston cravat.

The Napoleon

“It is first laid … on the back of the neck, the ends being brought forwards and crossed, without tying, and then fastened to the braces, or carried under the arms and tied on the back. It has a very pretty appearance, giving the wearer a languishingly amorous look.”

Anonymous “languishingly amorous” gent.

The American

“differs little from the Mathematical, except that the collateral indentures do not extend so near to the ear [the diagonal crease between the ear and the knot are not as long], and that there is no horizontal or middle crease in it.”

Robert Stewart (1769-1822), Viscount Castlereagh, later second Marquess of Londonderry, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Royal Collection Trust, Waterloo Chamber, Windsor Castle.

The Mailcoach/Waterfall

“is made by tying it with a single knot, and then bringing one of the ends over, so as completely to hide the knot, and spreading it out, and turning it down in the waistcoat. The neck-cloth ought to be very large to make this Tie properly”…. “A Kushmeer shawl is the best, I may even say, the only thing with which it can be made.”

Portrait of a Gentleman by Francois Mulard, 1805, York Museums Trust.

Let me just pause the historical portrait examples right here and give a shout-out to the dresser of Rupert Penry-Jones in 2007’s Persuasion adaptation for having the most perfect Mailcoach/Waterfall I’ve ever seen.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth, Persuasion, 2007.

The Trone d’Amour

“is the most austere after the Oriental Tie – It must be extremely well stiffened with starch.” Its only ornament is “one single horizontal dent in the middle.”

Portrait of Frederick H. Hemming by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1824-25, Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

The Irish

“This one resembles in some degree the Mathematical, with, however, this difference, that the horizontal indenture is placed below the point of junction formed by the collateral creases instead of being above.” If you squint you can see that the diagonal creases meet at the point under the middle dent, just above the knot.

Thomas Campbell by Sir Thomas Lawrence, before 1830, National Portrait Gallery. I never thought I’d find an Irish cravat where you could actually see the two diagonal creases framing the center horizontal crease.

The Ballroom

“it unites the qualities of the Mathematical and Irish, having two collateral dents and two horizontal ones… It has no knot, but is fastened as the Napoleon.” In other words, just keep wrapping, just keep wrapping.

Joshua Tevis by Jacob Eichholtz, 1827, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Horse Collar

“It is certainly the worst and most vulgar… It has the appearance of a great half-moon, or horse-collar.” But you can tuck a double-chin behind it!

Portrait of the Artist John Vanderlyn, 1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Hunting

“is formed by two collateral dents on each side, and meeting in the middle, without any horizontal ones.”

Other Archer, Earl of Plymouth by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1817, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Those horizontal creases are everywhere!

The Maharatta/Nabob

“is very cool, as it is always made with fine muslin neck-cloths – It is first placed on the back of the neck, the ends are then brought forward, and joined as a chain-link, the remainder is then turned back, and fastened behind.”

Portrait of Sir Edward Pellew by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1797, National Maritme Museum.

Want to see some neck cloths in action? Head over to Townsends, and 18th century reproduction clothing and accessories house. It’s American, but it’s a nice place to lose some time. They have a nice little video on neckwear, too.

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Steenkirk

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Steenkirk

Readers of Regency Romance may think only heroines can be found in dishabille. Au contraire!

Steenkirk

A muslin neckcloth carelessly put on, from the manner in which the French officers wore their cravats when they returned from the battle of Steenkirk [sic].

19th century wood engraving of a gentleman wearing a Steinkirk cravat, Probert Encyclopedia.

Apparently, those Frenchies were in such a rush to get to the fight, they had no time to properly tie their cravats. The Battle of Steenkerque was a fight from 1692, during the Nine Years’ War, where the French forces took on a joint English-Scot-Dutch-German army commanded by William of Orange. The French won, messy cravats and all.

Map and Overview of the Battle of Steenkerke, 3 August 1692.

Voltaire explained the Steinkirk neckcloth phenomenon in his 1751 tome, Age of Louis XIV:

The men at that time wore lace-cravats, which took up some time and pains to adjust. The princes having dressed themsevles in a hurry, threw these cravats negligently about their necks. The ladies wore handkerchiefs made in this fashion, which they called Steinkirks. Every new toy was a Steinkirk.

Steinkirk cravats consisted of a long, narrow, plainly trimmed neckcloth wrapped once about the neck in a loose knot. The ends were then twisted together and tucked out of the way into a button-hole, either of the coat or the waistcoat. This tyle was popular with men and women until the 1720s.

I personally think the Mailcoach and Waterfall styles of the Regency have their origins in the Steinkirk.

Portrait of J.B. Belley, Deputy for Saint-Domingue by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1797, Palace of Versailles.

Mr. Tilney seems to sport a bit of a Steenkirk.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, 2007, Northanger Abbey.

As well as Mr. Darcy himself, of a fashion.

Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy, 1995, Pride and Prejudice.

Go ahead. Just yank that annoying, slap-dash cloth off.

Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy, shedding that silly old Steenkirk.

Cravats are delicious things.

The only question I’m left with is exactly how many different ways are there to spell Steinkirk? I discovered Steenkirk, Steenkerque, and Steenkerke.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Ditto

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Ditto

Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
Polonius to Laertes, Act 1, Scene 3, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

The last line above, from Hamlet, is often misquoted as “clothes make the man.” It can also be said that clothes betray a man: within the first few paragraphs of Persuasion, Jane Austen has revealed much about Sir Walter Elliot.

Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion.
Chapter 1, Persuasion, by Jane Austen

A man so accustomed to the observation and worth of appearances would have never been so unseemly nor unfortunate as to fall victim to this week’s word.

Ditto

A suit of ditto; coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all of one colour.

The Regency era gentleman who dressed in ditto was likely no gentleman at all; those of means, and especially those with valets, wore the height of fashion, and that meant a variety of colors and patterns. So much so that I couldn’t find any contemporaneous examples of men in a suit of ditto, save vicars.

The Vicar of the Parish Receiving His Tithes by Thomas Burke after Henry Singleton, 1793, British Museum.

Caricature on the evils of drink, courtesy Jane Austen’s London post The Agonies of Gout.

And one entertained bystander of a distressed dandy.

An Exquisite Alias Dandy in Distress! 1819, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

The Encyclopedia of Fashion reveals that by the mid-1800s, the Ditto Suit became the “dominant form of Western men’s dress clothing of the next century.” It was also called the sack suit, and was generally worn on more informal occasions, such as travel or street wear. Perhaps this more staid – and some might say lazy – style of dress was in reaction to and rebellion from the stylish, Brummelesque designs in demand (and all the crack!) earlier in the nineteenth century.

I did manage to find one example of a self-made gentleman dressed all a-ditto, albeit for a movie (although I think his waistcoat is actually a deep green rather than unrelieved black/navy).

Captain Wentworth, portrayed by Rupert Penry-Jones, Persuasion, 2007.

And he looks rather charming all dandified, too.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth, Persuasion, 2007.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.