The French are well known for their fashion and style. They were often flamboyant, especially the men during the late 1780’s. Many descriptions I have found describe them as peacocks. Like in nature the male is or was more stunningly attired to attract a mate. Was it the same in the human world. Doubtful – many marriages were arranged. A woman was considered property and went to the highest bidder or the richest man her father could find to help strengthen his own wealth and political ties.
So what did the men wear then? Well it depended on what part of society you belonged. Those with wealth would flaunt it, something which the French finally found detrimental to their health with the French Revolution where many lost their lives via the guillotine – including King Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette.
Like the women of their time, men had a dress code to adhere to, Morning Coats, Court Coats (when visiting royalty) Evening Coats. Stockings and Knee Breeches, Long Trousers, Linen Shirts, Waistcoats and cravats made up with various complex knots – depending on whether you followed Beau Brummell (a leader of men’s fashions) or the Corinthians. With Beau Brummell you wouldn’t be dressed like a peacock, he much preferred an understated, well fitting look with his clothes and was a know Dandy – more interested in what he wore than anything else. Corinthians were sportsmen, loved to race horses, hunt foxes and many were members of ‘Gentleman Jackson’s’ boxing club.
The Chemise Dress was first worn by Marie Antoinette in 1783. Though to be immodest it didn’t get to the mainstream of fashion until after her death. Better known as the Empire Line Dress, during the time of Napoleon Banaparte’s reign. It was generally made of thin flowing cotton and often found to be in white or pastel colours.
The trend soon reached London Town which was then in it Georgian period, with King George III on the throne. Sadly due to ill health his son became Prince Regent in 1810 – 1820, which is whence the Regency Period got it’s name. The Empire dress started to fall out of favour and waistlines once again dropped back tot he waist, meaning women were soon back to wearing corsets.
Though my books are written from around 1834, which was called the Romantic Era, they dresses were once again changing, getting wider at the hem, showing a bit of ankle and the ineffable corset. This style of dress would still be seen in the poorer area’s of society as hand me downs or by those who couldn’t afford to update due to lack of funds. It was only if you were in High Society that you needed to be dressed in the latest of fashions. As the Victorian age looms closer the dresses began to once again get more voluptuous with tiny waists.
Sadly for Matilda Templeton, who was born during the Regency Era and dressed in the Romantic Era. She was left near destitute by her husband who was inconsiderately killed during a duel after loosing all his money at the gambling tables. It was a sad state of affairs that women in those days belonged to their husbands, along with any monies, houses and land which had been passed on to them.
At some stage n the future I will be looking at writing a book about Matilda’s parents and grandparents, therefore covering the Empire Line dresses more thoroughly.
Matilda Templeton starts out as a widow, however, this maybe one of the types of dresses she wore though of course in Black, depending on what stage of mourning she was in.
Photo one is courtesy of History of Fashion and Dress
Photo two and three are courtesy of A Trip to Bath Fashion Museum