September 29, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘The clothes of the eighteenth-century aristocrat were in general very badly made and did not fit at all snugly to the body. Such snug fitting was the very essence of dandyism, and George Brummell prided himself on the fact that his clothes did not show a single wrinkle and that his breeches fitted his legs like a natural skin. Dandyism does not imply gorgeousness in male attire; the exact opposite is the case. There was no embroidery on the dandy’s coat; it was made of plain cloth, with the cut-away originally derived from the hunting coat, and with a preference for the primary colours. Brummell’s coat was invariably dark blue, but it was usual to wear waistcoat and breeces of a different colour; for example, a crimson waistcoat and yellow breeches could be worn with a blue coat, or a white waistcoat and sage-green breeches with a black coat. The collar, which stood rather high at the back of the neck, was sometimes of velvet. Waistcoats were in general short and square-cut, with perhaps a couple of inches showing below the front parts of the coat. The upper buttons were left undone to display the frill of the shirt. In Court dress the waistcoat was of white sating embroidered with gold thread.
In the daytime it was usual to wear tight-fitting breeches fitted into riding boots, but in the evening silk stockings were worn with pumps. Some men wore pantaloons or tights with tasselled hessians. Trousers were also worn, but, although close-fitting, did not show the shape of the leg and ended above the ankles. Very wide trousers à la Turque were also worn, with an anticipation of the wide trousers which were later to be called “Cossacks“.
The dandy was shown not only by the cut of his clothes and the snugness of his breeches but by elaboration of his neckwear. The collar of the shirt was worn upright; the two points projected on to the cheeks and were kept in place by a neckcloth, either in the form of a cravat or a stock. Some dandies were alleged to spend a whole morning in the arrangement of their cravats. Large squares of lawn, muslin or silk, folded cornerwise into a band, were wrapped round the neck and tied in a knot or bow in front… The stock was a made-up, stiffened neckband, buckled behind. Since the wearing of either a cravat or a stock made it difficult to, if not impossible, to turn or lower the head, it contributed in no small degree to the dandy’s imperturbability and hauteur.
Top hats of some form were worn at all times of day, but the correct hat for evening was the bicorne, in the shape of a crescent, the two brims being pressed against one another, which enabled the hat to be carried under the arm. Hair was short, and it was the fashion to wear it somewhat dishevelled à la Titus. Most civilians were clean-shaven, but side-whiskers and occasionally moustaches were worn by military men. The wearing of swords had been entirely abandoned, but it was fashionable to carry a cane; indeed, no well-dressed man was ever seen without one.
Brummell’s dress had always been of solid sobriety, but after his departure in 1819 (he fled to the Continent to escape his creditors) the clothes of the dandies, or those who thought themselves such, began to develop all kinds of extravagances. The top hat swelled out at the top until its crown was wider than the brim, the visible ends of the shirt collar came up almost to the eyes, the stock or cravat grew tighter and higher, the shoulders of the coat were padded and the waist nipped in with the aid of a [men’s] corset. Trousers has now become almost universal, either ending just above the half-boots or strapped under the instep.’
~ James Laver in Costume and Fashion: a Concise History