Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

I’ve been thinking about clothes this week. Okay, I know I always think about clothes! I subscribe to far too many fashion magazines, and shop more than I should. But this week even more than usual. There were wedding clothes (for my brother’s wedding, see pics here, plus one I’m attending this afternoon). There was the Horrifying Revelation that a gown Sarah Jessica Parker wore to one of the 450 Sex and the City premiers had (gasp!!!) been worn before. And I was sick for a few days, and laid on the couch watching recordings of Gossip Girl reruns.

Gossip Girl was my newest TV obsession last season. Twisted storylines, snappy writing, sex and drugs (in limos!), revenge through dinner reservations. Despite the disappointingly weak season finale, this is television gold! And what I like best is the fashion, and how it’s used to help define characters. With glamorous events like cotillion balls, masquerades, and, y’know, going to school, every week is a couture wonderland. Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel! Chuck Bass and his dumb “signature scarf”! Headbands galore! What could be better??

June 7 also marks a milestone for 2 historical figures who knew the power of fashion, and how to use it to get their point across.

Beau Brummell was born on June 7, 1778, and for a time during the Regency his opinion on style and wit held highest sway in Society–until gambling and extravagance, along with quarrels with former BFF the Prince Regent, led to his downfall. He ended up bankrupt and syphilitic, and what’s worse dirty and slovenly, wandering around France. But his style holds sway in menswear to this day. As Byron purportedly said, there was nothing much remarkable about his fashion except “a certain exquisite propriety.”

He established a mode of understated, dark-colored, perfectly fitted and cut clothes, along with an impeccable crisp white cravat. He also emphasized daily bathing, shaving, and tooth-cleaning. It was said he took 5 hours to dress. Would he approve of Chuck Bass’s style of modern dandyism, with seersucker suits, bow ties, and the aforementioned scarf?

For more information, I recommend Ian Kelly’s book Beau Brummell: Ultimate Man of Style. On an unrelated note, I also recommend the show Blackadder the Third, where Blackadder is a servant to Hugh Laurie’s hysterical Prinny. One day Blackadder is reading the paper, with such headlines as “Beau Brummell in purple pants probe” and “King talks to tree–Phew! What a loony.”

June 7 was also the day George Sand died in 1876at age 72. Her refusal to reform to gender conventions of the day led to her use of men’s clothes (she said they were sturdier and cheaper, but they also enabled her to move more freely about Paris and gave her access to mostly-male venues, like restricted libraries and museums and the stalls of the theater). She also (gasp again!!) smoked in public. And had many, many lovers. And wrote 20 pages a night.

Margaret Fuller wrote, “George Sand smokes, wears male attire, wishes to be addressed as Mon frere; perhaps, if she found those who were as brothers indeed, she would not care whether she were a brother or a sister.”

Of course, sometimes no clothes at all is even better…

What have you been wearing (or watching, or thinking about) this week?

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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