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The road to elegance and fashion

April 24, 2009


The plate on the left is taken from a fascinating book published in 1830, The whole art of dress! or, The road to elegance and fashion by a Cavalry Officer. Doesn’t that conjure up a wonderful mental image of a dashing young blade of a Cavalry Officer? (Presumably he preserved his anonymity to avoid being laughed out of the Officers’ mess when word got out he’d written a style manual…)

Our Cavalry Officer shares his wisdom on all manner of sartorial matters, among which is the thorny issue of neckwear:

The origin of stocks is very ancient, though for the last half century they have been worn almost exclusively by the army, navy and marines, until first revived into public notice by his late Majesty in the year 1822, when they immediately became an universal fashion.  Though at first viewed with a prejudiced and jealous eye by friends of the old school, after some opposition from the petits maitres tribe they at length found their way into the opera and ball room and became a portion of full dress costume. But this has only occurred since his Majesty was pleased to display one at Drury lane theatre composed of velvet and satin, from whence the present full dress stock takes its name.

The English king referred to here is George IV, who in his youth was a dashing arbiter of style and fashion, but by the end of his reign his corset was made for a waist of 50 inches (127 cm) and he had a reputation as a lazy womanizing glutton. On his death the Times newspaper wrote that “there never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow?” 

The painting of George below was done in 1816 by Sir Thomas Lawrence, when George was still Prince Regent, and shows him sporting a rather glorious stock:


The stock worn in this portrait is exactly the stock that our Cavalry Officer notes as being called The Royal George (the other types being the Military and the Plain Bow): 

His Majesty and his royal brothers were always remarkable for wearing them extremely high on the cheek, so that the sides came close under the ears extending to the utmost verge of the chin. Though this certainly gives a very noble and fine effect to some countenances, the rage for it has passed away and is now deemed singular.

It has been claimed that George wore a stock like this to cover up his double chin, but, whether or not that is true, the fashion caught on.

Our Cavalry Officer also has helpful hints on how to deal with neckcloths. Nowadays, we use the words neckcloth and stock as words that mean the same thing, but in 1830 there appeared to be a difference. A stock was a more rigid garment that buckled or hooked at the back of the neck, and came in a variety of fabrics such as silk. A neckcloth was a less formal strip of fabric (usually linen) which was tied in front of the neck. Neckcloths were usually starched, and our Cavalry Officer offers the following advice:

When a starched neckcloth is brought home from the wash it will be immediately seen that one side is smooth and shining; the other more rough. This is occasioned by the one being ironed and the other not. I do it myself, and consequently recommend it to others, that the rough side should be worn outside during the day, but that on putting on a cloth for the evening, the smooth side should be the visible one .



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