An Edinburgh Gentleman’s Remarks on Fashions of 1841-45
A really well made buttonhole is the only link between art and nature - Oscar Wilde
As an Edinburgh born gentleman I saw many changes in the world of fashion I can bring back from memory as if it were yesterday.
Young Ladies had their hair rolled up into tight balls so that they may be covered in curls the following morning. How uncomfortable the night must have been for them.
Elderly Ladies often had two broad flat plaids covering their ears as if they were ashamed of them, while above a large turban balanced by three inch earrings in the shape of an inverted exclamation marks.
With mutton sleeves on fluffed out dresses covering white trousers ending in frilly ankles. Every thing that could be done to detract from the natural grace of womanhood was applied.
Men fared no better, bewigged, wearing silk stockings and the tightest of pants strapped over top boots. With coloured coat tails trailing.
A tailed coat was commonly worn during the day with arms encased in very tight sleeves. This had me wondering how a large fist or muscular arm made it through. In the evening a gentleman always buttoned his coat, whilst some were designed intentionally not to be buttoned causing some strange sights.
Fashion and style could be crystallised by events. At the unveiling of the Duke of Wellingtons statue by Sir John Steele, at the end of Princes St, the prominent City Gentleman assembled sporting evening ties and tall hats wearing white gloves, like a line of waiters waiting to be called. Needless to say this fashion then ruled all society.
A policeman, Postman and Railway Signalman or any civil official would wear tight buttoned coats and tails.
History records the first wearer of the Chimney Pot hat being subject to indignant crowds jeering so much that the wearer placed before a magistrate. He was charged with “ conduct calculated to provoke a breach of His Majesty’s peace.”
In my youth the clergy, lawyers, doctors, country and town gentleman wore tall hats including civil servants.
At the advent of the penny post by Rowland Hill, Postman paraded in tall hats and bright yellow bands. The hatted postman in the rain with it dripping from the rim on to the letters would be in an unenviable position.
Policemen encountering disruptive youths would have his hat knocked off and used as a football, or pulled over his eyes.
In the country a ploughman or labourer on the Sabbath day would have a tall hat placed over his ragged suit.
The sportsmen of the day including cricketers, golfers, shooting parties and the spectators were resigned to lofty hats.
The military where subject to the dogmatic remark of King George IV, a seam in a soldiers coat is permissible while a crease is a crime.
The principle idea was stiffness and show such as Artillery men in Tailed Coats. Royal Marines wore glazed tall hats with strings at the sides comparable to an Anglican Bishop.
Fashion can be a cruel task master for both women and men and changes are like that of the kaleidoscope. A young ladies styles can be as absurd as their mothers. Men old and young in whiskers (mutton chops) moustaches as ornaments to look distinguished. A beard could be a thing to be stared at causing a debate whether the wearer was a rabbi or a lunatic.
While a solicitor in the Court of Justiciary with Lord Hope presiding was called as a witness. He wore a beard for medical reasons and was congratulated by Lord Hope saying, “ am I to understand you are in practice?” “Yes my Lord,” replied the solicitor. “Most marvellous,” said the judge.
From blue be-fogged frocked coats to long moustaches uniformity reigned till fashion changed.