Men’s Fashion After the Fall of New France (1760s-1780s)

Fashion Flashback: Given that fashion was instrumental in the creation of Canada, this blog series explores the development of what Canadians wore one era at a time.

Suit. Made of wool and gilt metal. British. (c. 1760). [Source]

Now for the follow-up to last week’s post about changes to women’s fashion following Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War. This time around though, guys are in the spotlight.

Habitants / Working Class

Men’s fashion mirrored women’s in the sense that the scale of change really depends on what social class you are looking at. Given that 80% of the male population fell into the habitant/lower class, their clothes (and frankly their lives on the whole) were virtually unaffected by the political shakeup. The remaining 20% incorporated English looks into their wardrobe, but for the most part many still looked to France for their fashion cues.

Colonial Farmer [Source]

Regardless of what class you were in, men’s wardrobes had many of the same features. Outerwear is where the differences lied. Long, loose linen shirts, on top was a waistcoat, followed by a coat or cape if it was cold. Breeches and socks went to the knee, leather shoes were the staple, and hats were often tri-cornered and always wide-brimmed.

Washington as a Farmer at Mount Vernon by Junius Brutus Stearns.

Yes, that is George Washington chit-chatting with a guy who decided “to hell with pants!” for that day. When the temperature got too hot, British colonial male farmers did what their French counterparts did. They would just wear a smock (a long, linen shirt) and some sturdy working shoes (or boots in this case).

Les Premiers Montréalais by Francis Back.

As I said in my previous post, English farmers and French farmers dressed practically the same. The main distinction between the two would have been the Aboriginal influence on the French, (snowshoes and moccasins), and the red toque favored by French habitants. The man on the left is an example of a French farmer; the one in the middle is most likely a civilian soldier or militiaman.

Upper Class British and French Men

Portrait de Charles Claude Flahaut de La Billarderie, comte d’Angiviller (c. 1763) by Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Whenever you think of historical fashion and luxury, the fancy dresses that rich women wore most likely come to mind first. However, wealthy men’s clothes was just as luxurious…although, probably not as heavy. Satin, velvet, and silk were the most commonly used fabrics. Colours were bright and often on the lighter side of the palette (especially if you were from France), due to the preeminence of rococo. Coats, waistcoats, and breeches continued to be popular. However, more attention began to be paid towards the individual pieces. More tailoring was involved and embellishments were added. Fabrics were embroidered in silk and lace trimmings were heavily used as well.

Clothes served as an indication of one’s wealth and status in society. Hence, to be seen as fashionable and to possess a costly wardrobe was of the utmost importance. (Clothing was actually regulated; a poor man was not allowed to dress like a rich man even if he saved up for a fancy outfit).

Portrait of John Grey (c. 1766) by Benjamin West.

Portrait of Denis Diderot (c. 1767) by Louis-Michel van Loo. Notice the use of silk in his clothes.

Sir Henry Bate-Dudley, Bart (c. 1780) by Thomas Gainsborough.

Between 1760 and 1780, an interesting split occurred in men’s fashion. One side went towards flamboyance and the other towards the casual. With the former, a trend known as the “Macaroni” emerged out of the tradition of the Grand Tour, in which primarily English men of means travelled abroad, often to Italy, to expand their cultural horizons. In between learning about classical antiquity and the renaissance, men picked up on Italian styles and brought them back to England. Tighter breeches, shorter coats, big wigs, delicate shoes, and small hats were unique features of the macaroni style. This clashed with the look of the typical British gentleman and as a result was classified as effeminate and was often ridiculed. Despite the criticism, the style was widely copied in Britain as it was seen as a way to not only appear cultural, but it distinguished them from French fashions. (Britain’s elite was very aware of France’s dominance in the fashion world). It was so popular that a Macaroni Club was established in London.

Example of macaroni fashion. [Source]

Caricature of macaroni fashions (c. 1770) by Carrington Bowls

Example of a French three-piece suit (c. 1775). Although this is not a macaroni style outfit, you will notice the trend’s influence in the breeches (tighter than usual).

Fun Fact: Ever been baffled by the song, Yankee Doodle? Take a look at the lyrics: Yankee Doodle went to town; Riding on a pony; He stuck a feather in his hat, And called it macaroni. 

Originally, the song was basically a two-part insult sung by British military officers: (1) Americans were so unrefined (“doodles” was another term for country bumpkin) that they thought putting a feather in their hats would make them fashionable and (2) Yankees were not very masculine. Americans clearly didn’t care though, since they ended up making the song their own.

Upper Class Colonial Men


Sir Guy Carleton (c. 1768–1778). Artist unknown.

Although fashion trends were a year behind, British and French colonial men dressed similarly to their European counterparts. That being said, the macaroni trend did not take hold of colonial men in the same manner that it did in London. Rather, the other side of the aforementioned split in men’s fashion, the shift to towards a more casual look, took hold. Now, by casual I don’t mean they started breaking out the t-shirts and jeans (both wouldn’t be invented for another 100+ years). Clothes were just scaled down a bit. Prior to the 1750s, men’s clothes were generally  bigger and heavier. For example, men’s coats had fuller skirts, cuffs were huge, big wigs were in, and if you went back to the 17th century, sleeves and breeches were very puffy. By the 1760s and 1770s though, the move towards a sleeker look was taking hold. Men’s clothes fit closer to their bodies, big wigs were starting to fall out of fashion, and the three-piece suit was taking over male wardrobes.

The American Revolution is said to have sparked the change, but it was the French Revolution that really got the head ball rolling. Part of the shift was the gradual democratization of society which brought about the end of sumptuary laws that regulated which class could wear what. More on that in the next fashion post though. 😉

Coat (c.1775) [Source]

Suit (c. 1780-1790) [Source]

A light waistcoat (c. 1760). [Source]


Shirt (c. 1750-1800) “The shirt was an item of underwear in the 18th century. Its purpose was to protect the outer clothing from the body in an age when daily bathing was not a common practice.” [Source]

Colonial Boys

As with little girls, boys were expected to dress like little men from the age of 6 onwards. As such, the changes that occurred in men’s fashions was reflected in boy’s fashions. The main difference is that the macaroni trend did not really show up in boy’s wardrobes. Probably because young boys would not have gone on a Grand Tour just yet, so it would not have made sense for them to look like they did.

Boy’s Three-piece Suit. England, late 18th century.

Young Boy’s Formal Suit. (c. 1776) “Cutaway jacket of navy wool with brass buttons, lace cuff flounces, pink silk & wool blend flannel-lined knee britches.” [Source]


Beggar Boy (c. 1760s) by Etienne Jeaurat


Thank you for reading my two-part post about fashion after the fall of New France. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a message in the box below.


Sources

Delapierre, Madeleine. Dress in France in the Eighteenth Century. Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1997.

Finkel, Alvin. Social Policy and Practice in Canada: A History. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. (2006).

McCord Museum Online Collection Database. Accessed from: http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995.

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