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Men

The wild hellraisers and mannered gentlemen who populated this era.

The Spirit of Ecstasy

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Rolls Royce Silver GhostOne of the world’s premiere automobile brands, Rolls Royce conjures the image of wealth, class and elegance. Founded in 1906 by Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls, the firm soon became entwined with the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, Conservative MP and motoring enthusiast, and the Hampshire village of Beaulieu, the location of his ancestral home, Beaulieu Abbey. By the early 1900s, the Rolls Royce quickly outpaced its competitors as the motorcar for the wealthy and sophisticated–no doubt because of its costliness (the average price of a car in chassis form was around £650 and the Silver Ghost cost ₤1,154!)–and the series of motor trials which convinced those who took up the automobile for sporting purposes that the Rolls Royce was reliable, looked good and drove fast.

The motorcar was here to stay despite protestations from the rural districts, coachmen and other citizens alarmed by the emergence of the horse-powered vehicle over the horse, but many automobile manufacturers and enthusiasts found it prudent to capture the support of lawmakers, preferably the highest in the land–Parliament. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu was a powerful ally. Friend of the King, and founder and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine, his support, among others, of the 1903 Motor Car Bill raised the speed limitThe Silver Ghost to 20 mph and implemented the registration of all motorcars and motorists. Lord Montagu raised the profile of motoring by introducing King Edward to the sport, appearing at many of the first motor rallies and raised the profile of the Rolls Royce when the mascot he commissioned was presented by its sculptor to the company–the Spirit of Ecstasy.

The early motor car featured a radiator cap on its hood/bonnet, but by 1910, the hood ornament/car mascot became fashionable. Responding to customers who felt a firm as prestigious as Rolls Royce should feature its own luxurious mascot, and concerned their customers were affixing inappropriate ornaments to their cars in its absence, Claude Johnson, the managing director of Rolls-Royce, was asked to commission something suitably dignified and graceful. He turned to sculptor Charles Sykes, asking him to produce a mascot which embodied “the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace…” Years previously, Sykes had been asked to create a mascot for Lord Montagu’s Silver Ghost, and he submitted a modified version of it to Rolls-Royce in February of 1911.

Lord Montagu and Miss ThorntonWhat was listed initially listed as an optional extra, only to become a standard fitting in the early 1920’s, was no ordinary car mascot; the silver sculpture of a flying lady had a past. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu had commissioned this mascot as an emblem not of wealth and luxury, but of love. The subject, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, was a young woman hired as his secretary in 1902, and the two fell quickly in love. But the baron was married and Miss Thornton was barred from being his partner not only because of his matrimonial bonds but also by her much lower social status. The two nonetheless were inseparable for the next decade, Eleanor bearing his child and continuing her work with him on The Car Illustrated. To commemorate their secret love, Eleanor modeled for Montagu’s personal hood ornament, and Sykes crafted a figurine of her in fluttering robes, pressing a finger against her lips – to symbolize the secrets of their love. The figurine was christened The Whisper.

Tragedy struck in 1915 when their voyage aboard the SS Persia, on which they were traveling through the Mediterranean on the way to India, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. There was no time to get to a lifeboat and as they made for the decks on the listing ship, “Montagu had Eleanor in his arms, the next they were hit by a wall of water and she was gone.” He survived and made his way home to read his own obituary in the Times. The baron passed away fourteen years later and with him, the secret story behind Rolls-Royce’s iconic emblem.

Happily, the tale of the star-crossed lovers lives on today, as it has been announced that Batman Begins actor Christian Bale has been tapped to star in The Silver Ghost, which will tell the story of the thirteen year affair between John Montagu, who later became Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and Eleanor Thornton, his secretary.

Further Reading:
Agony and the Ecstasy: The great Rolls-Royce love story
Wings of Desire: the secret love affair that inspired Rolls-Royce’s flying lady

Dressing the Edwardian Man

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Morning dressUnlike women’s fashions, traditional articles of gentleman’s clothing changed very little; the only concession to the passing of time were tiny details: a new cut to trousers, a new shape to a jacket, etcetera. As it had since the turn of the nineteenth century, colors remained fairly dark, the only places allotted for color, the waistcoat, the sweater and the tie. However, with the rise of sports such as hunting, yachting, cricket, polo and others, there came the introduction of sportswear. As with most things pertaining to the Edwardian era, the Prince of Wales heavily influenced not only what men wore, but when.

For day, morning dress was de rigueur. To be seen in London attired in nothing less was an affront to sartorial sensibilities. Morning dress consisted of a morning coat, which was almost always single-breasted, of serge, worsted, cheviot or vicuna, and black or iron-gray; a waistcoat, either single- or double-breasted, which matched the coat or was of a lighter color; striped spongebag trousers (trousers of wool serge, baggy at knee); a cravat; and silk hat (though a bowler/Homburg could be worn). The frock coat, a double-breasted, knee-length coat of black or dark gray wool, was worn on formal morning occasions, though by the Edwardian era, it was more often seen on elderly men. By the 1900s, the lounge jacket began to replace both the morning coat and frock coat. Generally high of neck, with short lapels and double-breasted, the front curved away at the bottom.

evening dressFor evening, men’s attire was strictly composed of a black dress coat, white waistcoat and trousers matching the coat. The dress coat was double-breasted with a cut-away front and two tails at the rear. In 1900, the tails were knee length and the front cut away square at the waist, with two or three buttons on each front. The sleeves would end plain or with a cuff, and slit with two or three buttons also. There was also the choice to wear the dinner jacket if dressing for dinner at home or at a men’s club. This was worn with a white shirt and a dark tie. As the era progressed, the dinner jacket was increasingly cut on the lines of a lounge jacket, and from it emerged the “tuxedo” (though this was the American term; the Continental term was “Monte Carlo”).

Norfolk JacketDue to Bertie’s fondness for lounge suits, sport jackets, Norfolk shooting jackets with front and back pleats, and knickerbockers in loud tweeds, there came a greater emphasis on comfort, and a greater obsession with sports. This was the epoch of polo, cricket, shooting and hunting, and in the 1890s, such new sports such as tennis, football, golf, cycling and motoring. And of course each sport required its own set of clothing. Knits, flannel and tweeds were popular, with the color white most used for yachting, golf, tennis, cricket and polo. For cycling, shooting and golf, knickerbockers and plus-fours, a type of loose knee-breeches fastened at the knee with a band were favored, and for rowing, knit sweaters in team or school colors (e.g. light blue for Cambridge, navy for Oxford).

Typical outwear consisted of the Chesterfield, a single-breasted coat of herringbone tweed with velvet collar; the ulster, a slightly less-fashionable coat with shoulder cape or hood generally worn for travel; theTrench coat Raglan overcoat, a long and full coat of waterproof material, made with side seams to allow access to trouser pockets; the Inverness cape, a waterproof coat with a cape-like front composed of two “wings” taking the place of sleeves and covering the arms–made of fur or fur-lined for motoring; and mackintoshes, a raincoat of rubber, tweed, cotton, parramatta, etc. Made of gabardine, the trench coat, was invented by Thomas Burberry in 1901 as an alternative to the heavy serge greatcoats worn by British and French officers. Though not in widespread use until the Great War, it was an optional piece included in a typical officer’s kit.

Hats were also dictated by fashion and time of day. Casual hats for the day included the Homburg, a stiff felt hat with a dented crown and turned-up silk-bound brim; the Trilby, of a similar shape but with a softer felt; and the Derby (Bowler in Male dressAmerica), with either curved or flat sides. The top or silk hat was worn with the frock coat, morning coat and evening dress, but as the first two were replaced by the lounge suit, the top hat was less seen in the streets; the boater, a flat-brimmed, flat-crowned straw hat worn in the summer; and the opera hat, also known as a “Gibus” after its inventor. This hat was of corded silk or merino and the crown was supported by a spiral spring that enabled the hat to collapse and fold quite flat.

The “tooth-pick“, a shoe of black or tan with a long pointed toe, was worn, though boots were correct for dress wear. From 1910 on, shoes became more popular thancasual dress boots, and about this year, the American Boston, or bull-dog toe was introduced. This had a blunt round toe with an upward bulge. Accessories for men included gloves, spats, scarves, umbrellas, walking sticks and various items of jewelry. Gloves were essential for town wear, of tan kid for day, and suede or fabric for evenings. Scarves were of knitted silk or wool; some plainly colored, shootingsome striped. Spats of drill or box-cloth were in black, drab or white, and covered the top of shoe and ankle, fastened with four buttons and a strap and buckle under the foot. The umbrella, when tightly rolled, doubled for a walking stick, and during the 1890s, became a fashionable substitute for it. Walking sticks of malacca and rattan were favorites for Town use, with crook, crutch or straight handles, very often mounted with silver bands and tips. Some sticks cleverly held in their recesses pencils, cigarettes, flasks, pipes or even devices for measuring the height of horses.

Watches were of the pocket type, open faced, half-hunter and full-hunter cases (withregular dress the glass protected by a metal cover; the half-hunter had a circular cut-out in the middle of the cover, with the hour chapters engraved around it; the hands could be partially seen through this cut out). They were made of gold, silver, nickel and oxidized steel. Matching Albert chains passed across the waistcoat, through a chain-hole, and the watch was placed in one pocket, the other end of the chain in the other. Pins were of gold for ties and scarves, and made in many shapes. In gold or silver also, were cigarette cases and visiting card cases. Leather wallets, note cases (for pound notes) and purses were also worn by men. To round off other accessories were cuff links, key-rings, silver match-boxes, petrol and tinder lighters, cigar and cigarette holders of meerschaum or amber, and pipes and tobacco pouches were carried from time to time.

Further Reading:
Handbook of English costume in the nineteenth century by C. Willett Cunnington
Handbook of English Costume in the 20th Century 1900-1950 by Alan Mansfield and Phillis Cunnington
Men’s Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century by Mitchell Co. and Jean L. Druesedow

The Dandy

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In a manner, the dandy was the male counterpart of the professional beauty: he had no other occupation than to devote himself to being clever, witty, well-dressed and amusing. Much like the Regency dandy, the Edwardian version flourished in an era where birth and breeding were no longer indicative of entrance into exclusive circles of society.

In England, King Edward set the standard by his attention to the finer details of dress. So acute were his sensibilities, he was not above rebuking a subject for not appearing up to date: as in the case of the Marquess of Salisbury, who, rushing to a Drawing Room and dressing without his valet, horrified the Prince of Wales by his haphazard attire (according to an account, Lord Salisbury ironically replied, “It was a dark morning, and I am afraid that at the moment my mind must have been occupied by some subject of less importance.”), or with the American-born Duchess of Marlborough, who was coldly rebuked by the king when she appeared at a supper wearing diamond combs in her hair instead of a tiara, like the Queen (to this, Consuelo quietly answered she had little time to change, having hurried home from a charity event). Under his aegis, it was very important to know exactly when to wear the right clothes, as any departure from the norm was regarded as a social gaffe.Joseph Chamberlain

As such, the 1880s and 1890s found dandyism once more of good repute. The English dandy oddly enough, was most likely found in the Houses of Parliament. With the exception of W.E. Gladstone, new standards of sartorial elegance were set, most notably by Lord Randolph Churchill and Joseph Chamberlain, whose image became synonymous with the ever-present monocle, silk hat and orchid boutonnière he wore. On stage, the plays of Shaw, Pinero and Wilde demanded super-fine, even fantastical costumes for the male characters, and the “fashionable novel,” which depicted the lives of the upper classes, made a triumphant return, and every one had its chorus of showy dandies. In 1889, the London weekly, Vanity Fair, debuted a new column, “The Fashion for Men” by “the Man in the Mall”, whose author wrote detailed recommendations for “stiff collars, velvet bands, true and false waistcoats, peg-top trousers, yellow gloves, gilded sticks, and violet boutonnières”.

oscar_wilde1The most notorious dandy of this period was, of course, Oscar Wilde. His early years were spent in the standard clothing of a middle-class young man: tiny Bowler tipped rakishly over a brow, bright tweeds and comfortable trousers, waistcoat and jacket. By the end of his term at Oxford, he set himself on the path to becoming “Professor of Aesthetics” and dressed the part in knee breeches, a flowing tie, velvet coat, wide, turned-down collar, and a drooping lily. Laying siege to London society, he quickly conquered such notables as Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry and Ellen Terry, among others, by writing them countless invitations to supper, flower arrangements and requests for photographs. These celebrities, and anyone with which they associated, were news, and by 1880, two years after Wilde came down from Oxford, he was a star. Moving from strength to strength in the ’80s, by the wit of his pen and sweat of his violet-scented brow, Wilde’s plays reached the stage, and to wild success. As he achieved both financial security and creative success, his style of dress changed from that of languid Aesthete to the florid Regency-era dandy. In the ’90s, fame, brought about by his plays, replaced the trivial notoriety of his earlier years, and his dress became coldly correct, Wilde expressing his individuality with a single detail: a green boutonnière, a bright red waistcoat, or a turquoise and diamond stud.

beerbohmCaricatures of Max Beerbohm show him attired in a high stiff collar, gloves, a carefully tilted silk hat, a cane, a boutonnière, an artfully bulging frock coat, and tapering trousers–the basic equipment for the ’90s dandy of the most correct school. A contemporary of Wilde’s, and half-brother to celebrated actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Max Beerbohm exemplified the Edwardian dandy. As befitting a proper dandy of this period, he was in much demand as a guest at the great dinner parties of Mayfair, where he was considered by many to be the greatest wit in town. His inspiration came directly from Brummell and D’Orsay, and as the era experienced a revival in the 1880s and 1890s, materializing in numerous plays, and reprinted memoirs and biographies,it was as “prophet” of the English Regency that his reputation was made.

Across the Channel, the French dandy was personified in many of le gratin‘s gentlemen, most notably Comte Robert de Montesquiou and Comte Boni de Castellane. Both gentlemen were members of France’s most elite aristocracy, and both had a reputation for decadence and bizarre ostentation. The favorite subject of Comte Robert de Montesquiou was himself, and his vanity prompted him to commission innumerable portraits of himself. To any criticism, he was indifferent, saying “It is better to be hated than to be unknown.” Descending from the count_robert_de_montesquiou1dukes of Gascony and the Merovingian kings, he was exceedingly proud of his royal connections and, sublimely self-assured, he held sway over a worshipful band of muses, literary ladies and young Symbolists. He selected his costume based upon his moods, and could turn up in sky-blue, or his famous almond-green outfit with a white velvet waistcoat. His collection of scarf pins was notorious; ranging in motif from an emerald butterfly to an onyx death’s head. On a finger, he wore a large signet ring with a crystal hollowed out to contain one human tear. Adding to this affectation was Comte Robert’s place of residence. Living on the top floor of his father’s hotel prive, his remote suite of rooms were reached by climbing a dark, twisting staircase and passing through a carpeted tunnel lined with tapestry. In this suite were fantastical rooms decorated by his various moods: a pink room, a gray room (for which he ransacked flower stalls daily for gray flowers), a room featuring a Russian sleigh and polar-bear rug, and a library housed in a glass conservatory.

Though his wife was extremely plain, Anna Gould had a dowry of fifteen million dollars. Bolstered by this, Boni de Castellane devoted himself to thecastellane art of dandyism, spending those millions lavishly on the construction of the Palais Rose, a pink marble palace in the Avenue du Bois fitted with a staircase as grand as that of the Opera, an immense ballroom and a private theatre with five hundred seats; maintaining two châteaux in the country, a villa at Deauville and a 1600-ton yacht; buying priceless works of art; and becoming the best dressed man in Europe. Despite his spendthrift behavior, Comte Boni was a person of polish and culture, who could converse on any subject. His only crime was to have been born in the wrong century, for he adored the court of eighteenth century Versailles, and did anything to recreate the bygone era. His reign came to an abrupt end, however, in 1906 when he arrived home to discover the electricity out. After eleven years of marriage, five children and the spending of $10 million of her dowry, Anna Gould had filed for divorce. She cut off his funds, threw him out of his houses and sent his clothes, his only remaining fortune, to him in care of his parents and shortly thereafter, married his cousin.

The outbreak of the Great War brought la belle epoque to an abrupt end, and with it, the dandy. Certainly gentlemen since have cared greatly for their appearance, but the art, the cultivation of it, and even the acceptance and admiration of it by both men and women, seems strictly the province of the long nineteenth century.

Further Reading:
The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm by Ellen Moers
Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity by James Eli Adams
Dandies by James Laver
Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes by Joel H. Kaplan and Sheila Stowell
Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II by Philip Mansel