by Marie-Louise Jensen
Has there ever been a time when dress for men was more colourful, extravagant and downright splendid than the first half of the eighteenth century? I'm speaking of the wealthy, of course, who were always the privileged few who could enjoy the extravagances of fashion.
I've always found the ruffs and hose of the Tudor and Elizabethan era faintly ridiculous. And I'm not alone in that, it seems, as the series The Tudors opted for historically incorrect trousers, fearing the modern viewer might just not find the clinging hose sexy enough.
And however worthy it might have been, the severity and plainness of the Puritan era wasn't precisely eye-catching. But as we moved into the Restoration and the early Georgian era, men tricked themselves out, for a while, as gorgeous as butterflies.
Breeches generally buttoned just below the knee and were buttoned by various designs at the waist, sometimes with a large flap that pulled between the legs. For formal wear they could be made of satin. The effect was very elegant. Beneath the breeches, silk stockings would be tied with a garter above the knee. These cost quite a few shillings - extravagant indeed - and were often clocked (embroidered with a pattern). Shoes often sported a heel and a buckle. Shirts were of linen, open at the neck and with a stand up collar. Varying amounts of lace could be added on in the form of a necktie and in ruffs at the wrists. Waistcoats were often elaborately hand embroidered at stupendous cost and generally much longer than today's waistcoats. A coat would be worn too, also fabulously embellished with trim and buttons, quite possibly made of brocade silk of a quality that is (I am assured) simply no longer available today because it would cost too much. And then the wig - ah that exquisitely expensive creation! There were a number of different types at different times and for different pursuits. My favourite is the formal long-bottomed wig, popular early in the 1700s. Long loose curls were thickly powdered with hair powder and tumbled down over the shoulders. I wonder if they got powder on the coat? Powder later went out of fashion when the government was unwise enough to tax it.
A gentlemen could not be considered completely dressed without his small-sword at his side, of course, and vents were especially included in the pleats of the coat's skirts to accommodate one. Scarcely a wise addition to the costume in those days of heavy drinking and gaming. Lives were frequently lost.