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We have had Mrs. Lillingstone and the Chamberlaynes to call on us. My mother was very much struck with the odd looks of the two latter; I have only seen her. Mrs. Busby drinks tea and plays at cribbage here tomorrow; and on Friday, I believe, we go to the Chamberlaynes’. Last night we walked by the Canal. – Jane Austen, Letter to Cassandra, 1801

In cribbage, a game still popular today, following the rules of etiquette is important, and a certain order was kept in cutting, dealing, pegging, playing, and using terminology. Sir John Suckling (shades of Mrs. Elton in Emma), a 17th century courtier and poet who was known for his gaming skills, is credited with having invented the game. Based on an earlier English game, Noddy, cribbage was played with five cards in its earliest form, and the crib consisted of one card discarded by each player.

Cribbage board made of bone, 1820

Cribbage board made of bone, 1820

Learn more about the game in the following links:

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Ingres Portrait of Bernier, 1800

Detail of a portrait by Ingres of Bernier, 1800

The cravat rose in popularity during an an age when cleaning dirty linen and ironing clothes presented an enormous challenge. Influenced by Beau Brummell’s penchant for wearing simple clothes and snowy- white cravats, these intricately-tied neckcloths became all the rage among the gentleman of the upper crust. The lower classes, for lack of servants and resources, wore a simpler version of the neckcloth in the form of a square folded and tied around the neck.

Men’s neckcloths hark back to ancient traditions in Egypt, China, and Rome where these pieces of cloth denoted a man’s social status. During the Elizabethan period a high ruffed neckline forced a stiff posture and confined movement, which only the leisure class could afford to adopt. Servants, tradesmen and laborers had to wear more functional clothing in order to perform their duties. During the mid-17th century the French adopted the fashion of neckerchiefs after seeing Croatian mercenaries wear them. The French courtiers began sporting neckcloths made of muslins or silk and decorated with lace or embroidery. These soft cloths were wrapped around the throat and loosely tied in front.

The cravat as seen in Regency portraits attained its distinctive appearance under Beau Brummell’s expert fingers and experimentation with his valet. Brummell’s philosopy of simple menswear was in stark contrast to the dandified Macaroni who pranced about in wigs, lace, and embroidered waistcoats.  In Beau Brummell, His Life and Letters (p 50), Louis Melville writes:

“Brummell’s greates triumph was his neck-cloth. The neck-cloth was then a huge clinging wrap worn without stiffening of any kind and so bagging out in front. Brummell in a moment of inspiration decided to have his starched. The conception was, indeed, a stroke of genius. But genius in this case had to be backed by infinite pains. What labour must Brummell and his valet, Robinson – himself a character – have expended on experiment to discover the exact amount of stiffening that would produce the best result, and how many hours for how many days must they have worked together – in pivate – before disclosing the invention to the world of fashion. Even later, most morning could Robinson be seen coming out of the Beau’s dressing room with masses of rumpled linen on his arms – “Our failures” – he would say to the assembled company in the outer room.

Two examples of cravat styles

Two examples of cravat styles

Regency dandies who wore enormous cravats that prevented movement of their necks – similar to the effect Elizabethan ruffs had – were known as les incroyables or the “incredibles”. Can you spot them in the contemporary cartoon below? To learn about the social implication of extreme fashion in pre-Napoleonic France, click on this link and read Les Incroyables et Merveilleusses: Fashions as Anti-Rebellion.


More links on the topic:

  • Regency Reproductions: Scroll down to read about neck cloths. Includes a free cravat pattern and illustrations of how to tie a neckcloth.
  • Francis Morris, “An Eighteenth Century Rabat”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Feb., 1927), pp. 51-55   (article consists of 5 pages)

Middle illustration from H. Le Blanc’s The Art of Tying the Cravat.

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Dear Readers, As long as my computer woes continue I will be resurrecting old posts. Originally published in 2007, this post describes the gentlemen’s clubs in St. James’s:

As Pall Mall and the immediate neighbourhood of St. James’s have been for a century the headquarters of those London clubs which have succeeded to the fashionable coffee-houses, and are frequented by the upper ranks of society, a few remarks on Club-land and Club-life will not be out of place here.As Walker observes in his “Original,” the system of clubs is one of the greatest and most important changes in the society of the present age from that of our grandfathers, when coffee-houses were in fashion. “The facilities of life have been wonderfully increased by them, whilst the expense has been greatly diminished. For a few pounds a year, advantages are to be enjoyed which no fortunes, except the most ample, can procure. … For six guineas a year, every member has the command of an excellent library, with maps; of the daily papers, London and foreign, the principal periodicals, and every material for writing, with attendance for whatever is wanted. The building is a sort of palace, and is kept with the same exactness and comfort as a private dwelling. Every member is a master without the troubles of a master. He can come when he pleases, and stay away as long as he pleases, without anything going wrong. He has the command of regular servants, without having to pay or to manage them. He can have whatever meal or refreshment he wants at all hours, and served up with the cleanliness and comfort of his own home. He orders just what he pleases, having no interest to think of but his own. In short, it is impossible to suppose a greater degree of liberty in living.”

From: ‘Pall Mall; Clubland’, Old and New London: Volume 4 (1878), pp. 140-64. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=45188. Date accessed: 07 January 2007.

  • This link Will lead you to views of London today. Explore the sights in panoramic views.

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With the love of nature and classical statuary, the young male body became prized. British tailoring enabled better fit and thus could reveal the new athletic ideal. The lower body was encased in extremely fitted coverings that left little to the imagination.

The above quote comes from the Kent State University Museum website, which features the following links to an exhibition entitled “Of Men and Their Elegance”: 1780’s – 1830’s: Sir, You Have Forgot Your Horse! and 1840’s to 1880’s: From Undress to Full Dress. To completely experience this site, click on the headings under the images, and you will be taken to an explanatory page.

The Dandy, Regency Life. Find a short history and description of dandies on this informative site.

Brassiere Pattern, circa 1800: Click on the photos for details. It comes from this amazing living history site. Click on Civilian Clothing, and go to women’s clothing

Comment about dyeing cloth . Unfortunately, no citations were quoted in this informative comment, written by syntenin_laulu. However, I found a source related to the topic, which includes the history of dyeing cloth: How to Dye Cloth, by Sophronia Gallop

There wasn’t really much specific gender distinction in colour (certainly not for small children). Ladies’ riding habits particularly (worn not only for riding, but for every kind of outdoor activity, travel and informal winter wear) occupied pretty much the identical colour range to men’s coats. There was far more of an age distinction – the older you got, the darker and more subdued were the colours you wore.

Strong and bright shades of all colours were expensive and therefore desirable, either because the dyestuff itself was costly (e.g. the cochineal used to make true scarlet) or because it took repeated dyeings to make the colour take well (e.g. a really good navy blue), or because they could only be got by skilled over-dyeing with more than one colour (e.g. bright green) . Good black was expensive and stylish; cheap black dye did – and still does – quickly fade to grey, or go patchy or rusty.

Printed fabrics in more than one colour had been expensive until the end of the 18th century as they had to be hand-blocked. With the rapid development of roller-printing, they now came within the price-range even of the working classes. Printed fabrics were still fashionable, and the latest and nicest prints still much sought after; but the mere fact of wearing printed fabric no longer signalled luxury.

In women’s fashion, the “must-have” colour changed from season to season, and in modish circles a colour such as poppy red or celestial blue might be a sign of (relative) poverty simply because it was obviously “last year’s colour”.

One wrinkle you might use is re-dyeing. Very few outer clothes were launderable, partly because of the non-fastness of the dyes of the period but also because the different fabrics used for the outer layer and the lining would shrink differentially. Coats, habits and gowns could be brushed, aired, sponged, and treated with things like fuller’s earth and hot sand to draw out grease-marks; but sooner or later your good garment would acquire a conspicuous stain, or just become incurably grubby-looking. The solution was to send it to the dyer (many launderers were also dyers) and have it re-dyed a stronger colour. That would give your coat or gown a new lease of life, but I bet a sharp-eyed person could always tell (“That redingote Miss Bates is wearing isn’t new, it’s her old one dyed”).

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In “To Cut a Regency Coat”, Suzi Clarke, a British costumer, goes into great detail on how to make this man’s Regency garment.

The basic man’s coat for the first twenty-five years of the 19th century changed very little. It was cut to fit very firmly across the shoulders, with a shoulder seam that sloped into the back armscye. There was a center back seam, and the side seams curved toward the center back from the same armscye, narrowing in towards the waist. The center back continued on into the skirt, although occasionally there was a waist seam. The two front skirts were cut in one piece with the body, usually with a “fish” or dart at waist level early in the century.

All these coats were beautifully cut and sewn together, the stitching being very neat and small. English tailoring at this time was the envy of the fashionable world, and these coats were of the time of the famous George “Beau” Brummell. The top coat belonged to a banker, Mr. Coutts, and was made by the famous tailor, “Weston” of Savile Row, mentioned in Georgette Heyer, and possibly Jane Austen. It was lodged at Coutts Bank, together with other items of clothing, in 1805, and donated to the Museum of London many years later.

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