In my upcoming release, STROKE OF GENIUS, my heroine Grace Makepeace and her family visit the Vauxhall pleasure gardens. Grace's father is offended by the larger-than-life statue of the German composer Handel.
"Now wait a minute!" I hear you saying. "What's wrong with this fairly goofy looking depiction of a harpist?"
Handel is wearing his dressing gown and night cap. One stocking is off and his bare foot is tapping time on his discarded shoe. Why, the man might as well be naked! His outfit was fine for an intimate evening at home, but not in a public garden!
The point of the statue was to show the great composer as his family and closest friends might have seen him. Handel was from the 18th century, but Regency men (early 19th century) still wore dressing gowns called 'banyans.' They were inspired by kimonos and were often quite ornate and beautiful.
Last week I posted about Regency men's outer fashions--Hunks in History and The Joy of Being Properly Tied Up. If you're like me, you'll want to know the rest of the story. What did they wear under their tailed jacket and skin-tight trousers?
The primary undergarment was always the shirt. The fellow at right might be said to be in a state of undress because his underwear is showing. A gentleman never appeared before a lady without his jacket unless he was the lady's husband.
So why was a shirt considered underwear?
Because it might well be all that was between the gentleman and his trousers. The shirt tails were very long and could be tucked over and under like a diaper. Beau Brummell, the menswear guru for the Prince Regent, sometimes didn't wear drawers if he felt they would spoil the line of his trousers.
But if a man did elect to wear drawers, they'd look something like this with a laced up waist and drawstrings at the knees. Kind of easy to understand why "going commando" was appealing.
Stockings of wool or cotton completed a man's underthings. For formal occasions when knee britches were still de rigueur, he might wear cotton stockings beneath his silk ones to minimize the appearance of leg hair.
So now, the next time you watch Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice and see a fine gentleman done up in the height of fashion, will this question run through your mind?
Drawers or commando?