Today’s stop: Diary of an Eccentric

I am at Diary of an Eccentric today, talking about the more outlandish side of men’s fashion in the early 1800s. My character Freddy is a fop and proud of it. Come check out some of what he’s wearing.

Diary

(Copied from Diary of an Eccentric)

Men’s Clothing and the Regency Fop: Guest Post by Riana Everly, Author of Teaching Eliza (with Excerpt & Giveaway)

It’s my pleasure to welcome Riana Everly to Diary of Eccentric today to celebrate the release of Teaching Eliza, a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Pygmalion. Riana is here to talk about men’s fashion during the Regency period, and she’s brought with her an excerpt from the novel and a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

Teaching Eliza _ smallMost of my characters in Teaching Eliza are borrowed directly from Jane Austen, but a few are my own creations as well. Would it be horrible of me to say that of these, my favourite is Alfred, Viscount Einshill, affectionately known as Freddy? I needed Freddy to fill the role of Freddy Einsford Hill from Shaw’s Pygmalion, but in my novel he is a bit of a different creature. Shaw’s character is sweet and doting and very proper and elegant, and also flat broke! My Freddy is sweet and doting and very elegant, and filthy rich! And did I say elegant and ostentatiously dressed? Oh, yes, the man likes his clothing.

In short, Freddy is a fop!

In terms of men’s fashions, the time of the Regency in England saw the transition from the elaborate garb of the Baroque and Georgian eras to the more subdued and sedate styles we associate with men’s formal wear even today. Gone were the frills and brocade and richly embroidered coats of the earlier 18th century. In their place, largely thanks to Beau Brummel and his crusade for simple elegance, came immaculately clean linens, precise tailoring, and restrained colours. Pantaloons and then trousers took the place of knee-britches in formal wear, and indeed, the entire style was based on the less formal clothing of country squires and sportsmen rather than on courtiers bowing and scraping in their elaborate velvets and silks. Waistcoats were the one place were the Regency Dandy was allowed his bling, for they were often flashy and elaborate.

But as with any style, the elegant dandies were soon subject to their own fripperies. A class of gentleman arose, known as fops, who wished to outdo the Beau and each other in their quest for sartorial pre-eminence. In these circles, clothing became something of a competition, with an eye not to elegance but to show. 

In her book Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester writes:

“Like the dandy, the fop took an absorbing interest in his clothes. Unlike the dandy, however, the fop dressed for show, adorning his person with clothes of bold or unusual design or hue and embellishing them with ostentatious jewels, frills and furbelows. The fop craved attention and did everything in his power to draw the eye of the passer-by. He was frequently a chatterer and usually deemed a vain fool by his peers…  Many fops aspired to set a trend or create a new fashion and some took their clothes to extraordinary extremes – such as wearing their shirt collars so high that they could not turn their heads or wearing voluminous trousers or coats with overlong tails.”

Fig. 1 Les Invisibles, satirical drawing, 1810. (British Museum)  Look at the high collars and crazy hats!

Fig. 2 Man’s coat and vest with metal thread embroidery, c.1800

Fig. 3 A more restrained example of a Georgian dandy. Note the high collar points again.

Fig. 4 The English Ladies’ Dandy Toy, Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1818. This is a rather heavily caricature. The toy she’s holding is a jumping jack (where pulling the string moves the arms and legs), but is shaped to resemble a dandy of the period. Note the pinched-in corseted waist.

Fig. 5 A well-dressed Regency gentleman. Note the sedate colour of the clothing, the cutaway tailcoat, the immaculately clean waistcoat and trousers, and the elaborate cravat. The top hat and cane were also de riguer for anyone pretending to fashion.

Our Freddy is, perhaps not quite as bad as some of these, but he certainly wishes to be in the forefront of fashion.

Let’s see what Elizabeth Bennet thinks of him.

****

An Excerpt from Teaching Eliza, courtesy of Riana Everly

The door flew open, and a man strode in. Elizabeth was half-hidden behind the countess and could not immediately take the measure of the newcomer, but she imagined it could only be a resident of the house, and so it turned out to be.

 “Alfred,” the countess exclaimed, “I had no notion you were to come down for our at-home! You are always ‘out’ when our guests arrive.”

“Mother, Richard, Darcy,” he greeted his family. “Richard told me there was to be a special guest today, and I hoped to meet her. Has she arrived? Is she as pretty as Richard intimated? I shall have to be on my best behaviour, I suppose.”

The countess stepped aside to reveal Lizzy, who now rose to her feet to greet the stranger and be presented. The gentleman she saw was fine and tall, with all the affectations of the aristocracy. He was very finely dressed, albeit in a selection of hues that the Beau would certainly disparage. Eggshell-white trousers fell in perfect lines to his polished slippers, and a striped blue and gold waistcoat emerged from beneath an exquisitely cut coat of soft mauve. From the lapels of his coat, an elaborate knot decorated an embroidered cravat, which in turn disappeared into collar points so high the man could scarcely turn his head. Lizzy could not help by compare his peacock-bright garb to the professor’s understated elegance in black and dark green, or to the colonel’s serious military garb of scarlet and brass.

The gentleman’s hair was tousled to the ideal degree, which must have taken his valet some considerable time to arrange, and not a single one of those hairs was out of place, but they shone golden and perfect in the bright sunlight that suffused the room. Lizzy could not help but let her eyes flicker over to the professor, whose own mane never quite obeyed his commands of perfection, to the wayward lock that gave the serious Professor Darcy a dash of roguish charm.

The countess made the introductions. “Alfred, Viscount Eynshill. Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

The viscount stood perfectly still, his eyes riveted to Elizabeth. “What vision is this, to transfix me so?” he whispered, turning his entire upper body in his brother’s direction — for such were the restrictions of his fashionable collar points —  but not allowing his gaze to wander for a moment from Elizabeth’s face. Eyes wide, he finally bowed in Lizzy’s direction, executing a motion so graceful and effortless that he must have spent hours practicing before a looking glass. “Miss Bennet. A delight. An unfathomable delight.”

***

(From a bit later in the book, at their second meeting)

Tentatively at first, Lizzy began to speak of her studies into the research of John Dalton, and Aunt Patricia responded enthusiastically. By the time Darcy returned with Mrs. Pearce some time later, the two ladies were deep in a spirited discussion about cloud formation and the trade winds. “If I understand correctly,” Lizzy was saying as they entered, “the sun constantly heats the earth and the air successively from east to west. The air being heated then expands in different directions to restore an equilibrium of pressure. Because this expansion has a lateral and perpendicular motion, it has a concurrent effect on the barometer, as well as influencing wind strength and direction.”

“How fascinating!” Aunt Patricia supplied.

“How charming!” came a voice from behind Darcy and Mrs. Pearce, and Alfred, Viscount Eynshill, strode into the room. “Miss Bennet, a delight to see you again. Once more, I am enthralled by your knowledge and abilities. I must chastise my cousin yet again for hiding you from us for so very long. Really, Darcy, she is a treasure!”

“Freddy,” his mother greeted him, “You did not tell me you planned to come by.” Her tone was not approving.

“You would only have forbidden me, Mother,” he replied with a smile. “And how could I be denied another opportunity to converse with the enchanting Miss Bennet?” He executed an elaborate bow and threw another wicked smile in Lizzy’s direction. “I brought these for Miss Bennet.” From behind his back he withdrew a bouquet of flowers that perfectly matched the dress she had worn the previous day and presented them to her with a flourish. Lizzy accepted them gracefully and requested a vase be brought. A glance at Darcy’s stony face informed her that he was unimpressed.

Watching, as if from a distance, Lizzy took further stock of the viscount. Tall, as were the entire family, with the same light hair as the colonel, he was slightly more handsome and entirely charming. He moved with the ease and grace of long practice, and caught the eye with his elegant demeanour, and Lizzy suppressed a chuckle as he paused before the mirror above the mantelpiece to assess his striking appearance.

The viscount had his brother’s amiability and easy nature, but where Richard’s pleasant demeanour was overlaid atop the sober and responsible core that comes with the demands of military leadership, Alfred’s was pleasantry atop frivolity. It was clear that he loved his clothing, for he wore his finely tailored garb like a model for the clothes-makers’ magazines. As with the flowers, he had chosen a waistcoat that matched the yellow of the previous day’s frock, and he picked carelessly at the ample lace that extended from his cuffs. If he was a man, like Narcissus, who admired himself too much, he was redeemed because he liked others nearly as much, and sought to befriend where another man might seek to disparage.

Lizzy knew he was a man who could afford to indulge his whims. She knew he need never account for his actions, for his life’s work was merely to be the earl and eventually provide an heir. With those two requirements easily managed, he had the luxury to do and act as he pleased. If he did not waste away the family’s income, he would be considered a fine example of an English nobleman; if he did fritter it away, he would be thought no worse than most of his breed. It was a career well suited to his temperament.

Despite his foppishness, Lizzy could not help but like him. He was nothing like the serious, deep-thinking men she often found the best company, but his genuine friendliness and lack of condescension endeared him to her almost immediately. That he clearly liked her very much also did not impede her affinity to him. He lowered himself to sit beside her, careful not to disarrange his apparel, and when seated on the long sofa with its old-fashioned and elaborate upholstery, turned his body to face her and offered a friendly comment, then another, and another, until she began to answer in like fashion.

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