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Subject: ‘Fashion’

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Fashionable Beau Brummell died in a lunatic asylum for paupers

Posted in Fashion, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 12 December 2013

This edited article about Beau Brummel first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 491 published on 12 June 1971.

Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent, picture, image, illustration
"Who's your fat friend?" asked Beau Brummell, about the Prince Regent, by Paul Rainer

Beau Brummell held London society in the palm of his hand for nearly two decades, at a time when London was the most glittering playground in the world, filled with fantastically rich playboys who thought nothing of gambling thousands of pounds away each night, and aristocratic women who rivalled each other with their elaborate dress and extravagant parties.

The time was the early 19th century. George III was king, and his son George was Prince Regent. The Prince was a great man for balls, hunts, soir√©es, and other aspects of fashionable living. London followed his example, and everyone tried to outshine his neighbour in magnificence of dress, quality of stable and style of entertaining. Fashion became shoddy and sensational, and London’s streets were crowded with men who were either extravagantly overdressed or just downright untidy.

Amidst all this Beau Brummell kept his sense of good taste. George Bryan Brummell, born in 1778, the son of a civil servant, came from no aristocratic family, and his fortune was not particularly large. Yet Beau Brummell rose to a point where he was acclaimed by all and enjoyed the friendship of the Prince Regent.

In matters of dress there were none to better him. His fashions were based on simplicity, perfect tailoring and cleanliness. Not for him the heavily embroidered waistcoats, the excess of jewellery and the silks and satins of the other dandies. He wore trousers rather than kneebreeches, and invented the starched cravat, which many tried unsuccessfully to imitate. It is said that he spent two hours every day in the bath, scrubbing himself meticulously, and that he changed his shirt twice daily. Other men thought it enough to change their shirts twice weekly.

His eating and drinking habits showed the same refinements. While other men gorged, he ate sparingly but well. While other men drank brandy and spirits to excess, Brummell confined himself to good wine and the best champagne, taking sufficient only for his thirst and rarely too much for his head, unlike the Prince Regent. He lived his life by a strict set of rules. Moderation was the theme throughout. He arose, breakfasted, bathed, dressed and dined with such punctuality that other people actually set their clocks by him.

The Prince admired him for a long while, for his wit was very entertaining. On one occasion, when asked if he liked vegetables, he replied: “I don’t know; I have never eaten them.” He continued: “No, that is not quite true, I once ate a pea.”

But it was Brummell’s wit that finally lost him the affection of the Prince Regent and led to his downfall. Their friendship had been waning for some time when, one day, Brummell and his friend, Lord Alvaney met the Prince and Lord Moira in the Mall. The Prince ignored Brummell and talked to Alvaney. As they turned away, Brummell said, “Alvaney, who’s your fat friend?”

Brummell began to gamble heavily and ran up so many debts that he was forced to flee the country. His home, and everything in it, including his collection of rare porcelain, his splendid library and his cellar of connoisseur’s wine, were sold by auction to pay off some of his debts. Meanwhile, Brummell continued to get into debt in France, even though his friends sent him money. Finally he died, in a lunatic asylum for paupers, an almost forgotten man.

Changing fashions on the sportsfield and even in the Officers’ Mess

Posted in Fashion, Historical articles, History, Revolution, Sport on Friday, 8 November 2013

This edited article about fashion originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 453 published on 19 September 1970.

Bloomers. picture, image, illustration
The mid-Victorian fashion for ladies wearing bloomers was invented by a Mrs Bloomer

Some of the craziest fads in fashion have had to do with sports clothes. Some of these fantastic fads are still with us. For instance, it is a strange fact that a gentleman’s full evening suit of top hat and tails is really a riding habit! Yet who would go to a banquet in a hacking jacket and jodhpurs?

In the decades before the French Revolution, whilst French noblemen were dancing around in elegant clothes at Court, English gentlemen chose to spend as much of their time as possible on horseback. They preferred their hunting and shooting on their country estates to fussing around in London society. The fashionable coat at the time was long and full skirted and it was not very comfortable to wear on horseback. Eventually a great piece was cut away from the front below the waist and the back of the coat was split from the hem to the waist, thus allowing it to hang down on either side of the horse. The three-cornered hat was rather unsuited to fast galloping and it gave little or no protection to the wearer in a tumble. Therefore the brims of riding hats became smaller and the crowns harder and higher.

Then came the French Revolution. Away went the heads of the aristocrats and away went their lavish fashions. The revolutionary Frenchman looked for something plain and ordinary to wear – and the English country gentleman’s clothes were just that. In fact for a short time there was a fad among the Revolutionaries to admire and copy anything and everything English. So it was that the English riding clothes became fashionable in France and recrossed the Channel to be accepted as high fashion in London too, and so they have remained, with very little alteration, to this very day.

Except for riding, sports were played in everyday clothes until the end of the 19th century. For instance the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race was rowed by young men wearing long white trousers, ordinary shirts and top hats. Early cricketers merely peeled off their jackets and waistcoats and played in their everyday trousers (white was the fashionable summer colour), shirts, braces and top hats. The top hats and braces have gone, but white shirts and trousers have become regulation cricket wear.

Sports blazers and club ties became the vogue at about the same time the British Army gave up its conspicuous regimental uniforms for universal khaki. Men displayed their membership of regiments, schools, colleges and clubs by striped ties and livid coloured blazers. The “old school tie” is now something of a joke, but 70 years ago its sometimes ghastly colours were first being worn with pride. In the far tropic corners of the Empire, strangers would greet each other like long lost brothers – if they were wearing the same tie.

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The history of hairstyles is one of vanity, ingenuity, absurdity – and even simplicity

Posted in Fashion, Historical articles, History on Friday, 8 November 2013

This edited article about fashion originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 452 published on 12 September 1970.

Wigs alight, picture, image, illustration
Wigs alight by Barrie Linklater

Fads and fashion are always with us. We make no real choice what to wear. We do not really choose how we should look. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, or even if we realise it or not, our choice is made for us – by fashion.

Fashion rules the waves of our hair, it shapes our shoes and decrees the shape of our underwear and our overcoat and dictates our dress for bedtime, schooltime, worktime and holidaytime!

Fashion is nothing new.

Men and women have decorated themselves with fantastic patterns since they climbed down from the trees. One Stone Age beauty lost her comb, which archeologists found several thousand years later. As civilisation progressed, so did pride in appearance. Some forgetful Bronze Age Ena Sharples left her hair net laying around for us to find.

Ancient Egyptian ladies loved to preen their hair. They decorated it and styled it. So did Assyrian girls and the classical beauties of Ancient Greece.

Fashions changed in ancient times, but more slowly than they do now.

It was in Rome that fashion gave way to fad. As the conquering legions pushed northwards into the German forests, they sent back captive men and women as slaves. We all know the story how St. Augustine admired the flaxen haired Angle children on sale in the slave market and declared: “Surely they are angels, not Angles!”

The fashionable ladies of the eternal city envied rather than admired the long, fair hair of the new slaves, so they bleached their own black Italian locks.

Yet the most fantastic hair fads of all time flourished at the court of King Louis XVI of France.

The ladies of the court spent hours every week having their hair arranged for palace functions. The hairdressers devised fantastic creations, often piling the hair up in the heights of folly, in more ways than one. It was not unknown for some stately madam’s coiffure to brush against the lighted candles of a chandelier and catch fire!

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The crinoline was a lavish fashion statement which influenced Victorian architecture

Posted in Absurd, Fashion, Historical articles, History on Friday, 8 November 2013

This edited article about fashion originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 451 published on 5 September 1970.

Crinolined equestrian,  picture, image, illustration
The Crinoline Equestrian

Have you ever wondered why some old houses, even small ones, built during the Victorian era have wide doors? It was not to save bricks, nor was it because the house was built in a more spacious age. It was so that the women of the house could go in and out with their crinolines.

Everything changes in fashion, particularly in women’s fashions, but nothing has changed more through the ages than the shapes and sizes of women’s skirts. At various times they have been long and loose, at others so tight fitting that the wearers could hardly hobble. They have been so huge and flounced and stuffed and padded with petticoats that they must have been a burden to wear, or they have shrunk and shortened until there is hardly anything of them at all. Some people think that the “mini” has had its day. What next, the “maxi” and the “midi”? Then will these more ample garments swell into ultra modern reincarnations of the cumbersome crinoline?

The crinoline first appeared in Paris about the year 1840. It was a wide skirt padded out with horse hair and linen. (“Crinis” is Latin for hair, “linum” for thread.) Previously dresses had been very high-waisted and very straight.

At the start of this fashion skirts were padded out with petticoats. A cool two or three to begin with, but as the competition hotted up for the widest skirt, so did the petticoats, until young ladies at dances were suffering in the swirling midst of 14 petticoats! Once immersed in this sweltering array of linen they just had to stand. They stood in their coaches on the way to the ball, and they stood for refreshments and in between dances. For if they once sat down their crinoline and 14 petticoats would be crumpled and pushed out of shape.

And what a shape they were! Writers of their own time said that women in crinolines looked like tea cosies or bells!

To save weight and heat, attempts were made to stiffen the outerskirt with pneumatic tubes that were blown or pumped up like bicycle tyres. Some dresses had tubes filled with water, but these were disliked for fear of an embarrassing leak. Hoops of rolled horsehair, cane and wire were more popular, although they had the amusing effect of causing the skirt to swing from the waist like a bell, rising at the back if the lady stood too close to a table, rising high in the front if she sat down, and exposing her “ankles” almost to her knees when walking too close to a friend. At last, in 1856, all these problems were solved by the invention of the cage crinoline. The inventor was an ingenious Frenchman. He patented a device of wire spring and tape. There would be as many as 35 hoops in one cage.

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Macaronis were eighteenth-century fashion victims with big hair

Posted in Fashion, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 7 November 2013

This edited article about fashion originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 450 published on 29 August 1970.

Macaroni hairstyles, picture, image, illustration
The Pantheon Macaroni; in this print circa 1772 male and female Macaronis are drinking coffee in a Macaroni club

They gave the Londoners of their own times the biggest laughs in years. They gave us the inside jacket pocket.

They were the fabulous Macaronis, the bright young men about town in the days when private merchants were piling up riches in India and George III’s generals were losing the War of American Independence.

The Macaronis set out to be a restraining influence on fashion. They meant to set an example of refinement and good taste. Somehow or other they ended up wearing the most ridiculous fashions seen in Britain either before or since.

In the pre-Macaroni 1760s long, brightly coloured waistcoats were the fashionable thing to wear. These were decorated with much patient and expensive needlework, and they were stiff with silk and brocade flowers, ferns, loops and spirals. Not content with this display of splendour the wealthy traders from the East, the agents and officials of the East India Company and others, made a show of their wealth by encrusting their garments and fingers with a glittering display of diamonds, rubies and other eye-dazzling gems of the fabled Orient.

Clive of India, who in his youth had been wild, was one of the first to show off his new-found wealth in this manner. It is reported that he appeared at Court glittering with diamonds.

Other men of his age and business background followed suit. Those who had no diamonds had to make do with tinsel.

Clive and the successful men from the East were not youngsters. Not many of them were even of good family or nobility. They were the new rich, and the young men from titled families thought this display was vulgar.

Many of these blue-blooded young men, the sons of dukes, earls and lords, had been very well educated, and part of their education was to travel Europe to see France and, more especially, to pay homage to the surviving classical wonders of Ancient Rome in Italy.

On the Grand Tour, as such a journey was called, they visited not only Rome but such places as Florence and Venice where the young Italians wore clothes of much brighter hues and imaginative styling than those of the usual English cut.

So the Englishmen decided to benefit from their classical education and to introduce some of this “elegance” into their dress and thereby teach the tasteless money-minded merchants a thing or two.

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The growing vogue for reproduction Regency furniture

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Fashion, Historical articles on Thursday, 22 March 2012

This edited article about furniture makers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 672 published on 30 November 1974.

Chippendale, picture, image, illustration

Thomas Chippendale’s workshop in St Martin’s Lane

Over the centuries, woodworkers in Britain have developed their fine skills in the craft of furniture making. Many years before the Norman conquest, woodmen, shipwrights and carpenters were extending their knowledge of working with the timber found in the many forests and woodlands of the countryside. From the days of the Medieval makers of chests and benches to the close of the Georgian period, furniture design in Britain reached a standard which has never been equalled.

It was during the Restoration period that craftsmen began to direct their skills to the production of beautiful, finely-made furniture and these men were called cabinet makers. The famous makers and designers of the 18th century, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Adam and Sheraton made such magnificent pieces, that the period became known as the finest age of English furniture.

At the beginning of the 19th century, during the reign of Prince Regent (later George IV), a light and elegant style of furniture, called Regency, was made. Gradually, as machines began to take over the work of craftsmen, there were a great many changes in furniture making.

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in old, beautifully made furniture and in Britain the firm of Bevan Funnell was set up to manufacture reproduction period furniture. The furniture is made on modern machinery but old fashioned hand carving and hand waxing is carried out in the finishing processes.

Sport, technology and design

Posted in Fashion, Science, Sport, Technology on Thursday, 14 July 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 987 published on 7 February 1981.

The referee, picture, image, illustration

Sports kit has changed since pre- and post-war days, especially in football

Equipment manufacturers are constantly searching for ways to improve sports equipment and dress. Association football provides one of the best examples of developments in this direction.

Before the Second World War, and for several years after, soccer players often wore shirts with long sleeves. Shorts were far from short – usually long and baggy, while socks were of thick wool. And no player would dare take the field without wearing shin-guards, a necessity when one considers the boots which were worn – thick leather with reinforced toecaps with an impact like concrete, and leather studs nailed into the sole of the boot.

In other ways too, heavy boots were a necessity because the ball itself was only made in heavy-duty leather. Not very light to begin with, it got heavier as the game wore on in muddy, wet conditions and needed a great deal of “boot” to propel it. It was also a heavy object to head.

Today the game is faster, and the increase in coaching and tactics has tended to produce more uniformity. Equipment designers have made their mark too: short-sleeved nylon shirts are now the order of the day and shorts live up to their name. Perhaps not so good as the pre-war garb on a cold day, it was highly uncomfortable in the rain to have these long, sodden “shorts” entwined around your legs.

The dramatic changes have come in the boots and ball. The football boot of today is much more like a light shoe, and to kick a pre-war football with a modern boot might result in a broken toe or ankle! Consequently, the present-day ball has a plastic coating and is also much lighter.

Thus it is not surprising that lighter kit, boots and ball have led to a faster game. But at the same time techniques have had to be adapted to cope with controlling and shooting such a ball, since it is obviously much easier to balloon today’s light ball over the bar.

Safety-wise there is also less danger surrounding football: less risk of injury from heading the ball; less risk from being kicked (some players do not bother to wear shin-guards today); and less risk from crashing into a goal-post, most of which no longer have sharp, squared-off edges.

Only on the matter of studs has science a dubious record, both in Association and Rugby football. Some of the plastic and aluminium studs which have been tried can be far more dangerous than the old leather studs and have produced very nasty cuts indeed.

Men’s tennis has tended to follow soccer, the old shirts and long flannel trousers having been replaced by short-sleeved T-shirts and shorts. Dress for women players seems to have settled on close-fitting, short dresses.

The scientists have worked hard in improving tennis rackets and balls – and this applies also to golf, where, for instance, the old hickory-shafted clubs gave way to metal.

The aim in tennis has been to produce a faster game and in golf to make the ball travel further, though even the scientists have not yet evolved a method to ensure that the beginner will even manage to hit the ball at all!

Umbrellas come from the East

Posted in Fashion, Historical articles on Monday, 13 June 2011

This edited article about the umbrella originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 966 published on 13 September 1980.

umbrella, picture, image, illustration

Children feeding their guinea pigs in the rain, by Clive Uptton

When, in 1750, Jonas Hanway appeared on the London streets carrying an umbrella he received jeers and insults. But gradually people realised that, while they were getting soaked in the pouring rain, he remained perfectly dry. It was not long before they, too, began carrying umbrellas.

Although Hanway is believed to have been the first British person to carry an umbrella, he did not invent it. He got the idea from the Far East, where the umbrella has been regarded as a symbol of importance for over 3,000 years. Some of these ceremonial umbrellas had several tiers to emphasize the importance of the person beneath.

The origins of knitting

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Fashion on Friday, 10 June 2011

This edited article about knitting originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 965 published on 6 September 1980.

knitting, picture, image, illustrations

Teddy Bear knitting

Knitting appears to have originated in Arabia over 3,000 years ago. Some of the items knitted by the nomadic tribesmen of that period exist to this day. They seem to have been particularly good at making socks, which they knitted on a circular wire frame. It was not until the 16th century that women became involved in knitting, for up to that time it had been a predominantly male activity. As a result of the Crimean War and the First World War, when women were encouraged to knit for the troops, knitting became a popular pastime, and women instead of men became the principal knitters in most countries. Most notorious knitters in literature are the women who, in Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, sat and knitted as they watched victims of the guillotine going to their deaths.

The deadly fashion for feathers

Posted in Birds, Fashion, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 25 May 2011

This edited article about fashion and feathers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 948 published on 22 March 1980.

Mrs Siddons, picture, image, illustration

Mrs Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough

You have probably heard of the expression, “A feather in your cap.” It is another way of saying a person has done rather well at something.

But a hundred or so years ago the saying had a far more sinister significance. Fashionable women literally did have feathers in their hats, and millions of birds from all over the world became innocent victims of a craze that was to sweep Europe and America.

London, Paris and New York were the centres of a flourishing trade dealing in birds’ feathers. Several species of birds were driven to the brink of extinction as they were ruthlessly hunted down in the quest for dazzling headgear.

A hat wasn’t a hat unless it sported some elegant plume or “aigrette” of an ostrich, heron, egret or, better still, bird of paradise. Some even had whole bodies of birds, heads or wings for that extra eye-catching touch of distinction. Gowns were trimmed with feathers of garden birds such as robins, while fans and muffs were edged with finches’ wings or the heads of larks and buntings.

Wearing feathers was nothing new, but never before had the passion reached such bizarre proportions. Red Indian braves had sported eagle feathers because they believed that they invested them with power and strength. For the natives of New Guinea, the spectacular plumes of birds of paradise were considered to be symbols of authority and prestige. As far back as the 16th century, knights returned from the Crusades proudly showing off plumes seized as spoils of war from eastern potentates.

In the 18th century, the court of Louis XVI became a riot of colourful feathers after Marie Antoinette sparked off a craze for plumes by wearing a spray of ostrich and peacock feathers in her hair on one occasion.

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