Sunday, 20 July 2008

Beau Brummel Rides Again

As far as mens' fashions go, the 21st century has proved to be tedious in the extreme.

What have we got? A well-cut suit if you're lucky, comfortable trousers, jackets, sweat shirts, polo shirts, cuff and collar shirts and sportswear and then you've got jeans which will do for almost every occasion....

oh, and T shirts.

Dull, dull-plus and bargain bucket supa-dull-with fries.

None of it sets the world alight. There are no extravagant wigs - except in the higher echelons of the legal profession - no pantaloons, no fetching Mr Darcy baggy shirts, no fabulously shiny knee boots.

Riding in Richmond Park recently, one couldn't help but notice the packs of dedicated, svelte, long-legged racing cyclists in training. It was a spectacle which called into question how anyone in their right mind could revile the wonders of Lycra but it also highlighted how tastes and fashions have changed.

Two hundred years ago when London and Bath were fashion capitals and the male form was celebrated and enhanced with more zeal than it is today, fellows like these would have been much feted and admired.

With enough cash and time on their hands, they could have been the Beau Brummells of their day.

Most of them , with a few exceptions, possess precisely the correct turn of ankle, calf and thigh which would have caused Regency ladies to swoon by the carriageload.

As the penny farthing didn't turn up for another sixty years to aid the requisite leg development, Regency gentlemen either had to put up with the leg and body shape determined by their genes or resort to artifice at considerable expense.

Where the upper body was concerned, gentlemen often wore whalebone corded lace-up corsets such as the Glasgow Stiffener for boxing, hunting and fencing. These corsets were not unlike weight-lifters' belts and designed to create the impression of strong, straight backs and deep chests.

If nature had failed to provide sufficient musculature in the leg department, the slim-calved gent would wear appropriately padded stockings.

For the desperate, a cheaper option was to buy a pair of false calves and strap them to their legs beneath the stockings. This was riskier , carrying with it the possibility of slippage and eye-catchingly swollen ankles.

Pantaloons were deliberately cut on the bias to emphasise the leg and thighs and had an outside seam to avoid chafing. They were tucked fetchingly into the boot at the calf or ankle.

The downside of all this splendour was the lashings of cash, time and downright cheating that it took to achieve.

Beau Brummell, the man credited with introducing the concept of the suit worn with necktie, sometimes took five hours to get ready to go out. If it started raining, he'd have to start all over again and change into a completely different set of clothes.

Not feasible these days and probably just as well.

After all, it just wouldn't seem right for a fellow to spend far longer on his appearance and grooming than his lady.

The sensible option in 2008 is to invest in modest racing bicycle and the right kind of lycra and join the beautiful people doing circuits of Richmond Park

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