Today, I have a real treat for you. And yes, I realise the title is a giveaway – naked and gorgeous, hey? Now, those who know me – or follow my blog – will know I don’t write much about the Georgian period. I have little liking for the Hanoverian kings and while I can spend hours immersed in portraits of the ladies and gentlemen of the 18th century, because seriously, they dressed like works of arts, assuming they could afford it, it’s just not my period.
This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading about it. I have one author I am especially fond of when it comes to Georgian times, and that is Lucinda Brant. If you’ve not read anything by Ms Brant yet, you really have to do something about that. ASAP. From the first book I read, Salt’s Bride, through the Roxton series to (sighs very, very happily) the books about Alec Halsey, Lucinda has that rare ability of truly transporting you through time and suddenly there you are, saucer in hand while you lip your coffee or sitting to the side as the lady of the day is groomed and made presentable, from the inner layers of sheerest linen to the embroidered silk of her slippers.
I have recently read Lucinda Brant’s latest Alec Halsey book, Deadly Kin (more of that later, but the quick and dirty is I loved it) in which the gent walks about in various types of apparel. One scene in particular had me picturing just what Alec would look like, dark curls neatly in place and contrasting nicely with what he was wearing:
“…[Alec] stepped out into the shade of the loggia wearing a light-blue linen frock coat with matching breeches, and a waistcoat embroidered with sprays of lily of the valley, strawberry flowers, and acanthus leaves. A large, white silk bow at his nape, and diamond shoe buckles completed his toilette. It was a far cry from the buckskin breeches and brown riding frock of earlier in the day, attire in which he was most comfortable. His present outfit was more suited to a stroll through London’s Green Park with his noble peers. But Selina had confided that their country neighbors were rather disappointed in his lack of sartorial splendor upon their previous visit. So, for this occasion he must dress the part of the Marquess Halsey, or an approximation of what they thought a member of the aristocracy would wear when entertaining. She, however, would dress for comfort. And in her present condition she refused to wear anything more restrictive than a pair of jumps under her light cotton maternity gown. He would have to be splendid for both of them.”
Now that, peeps, is what I call an entrance, and so entranced ( 🙂 ) was I by this I just had to ask Lucinda to pop by and give us an insight into just how one dressed a gentleman like Alec in the 18th c. And yes, it is quite the process…So with no further ado, I turn you over into Lucinda’s more than capable hands!
In Deadly Kin, our hero, Alec, Lord Halsey, is presently residing on his estate with his wife, awaiting the birth of their first child.
Alec wakes with the dawn, and careful not to disturb his sleeping wife, he slips out of bed, naked. Not for him one those voluminous nightshirts worn by Georgian gentlemen. Pajamas had yet to be invented, and as I know from the neck to ankle nightdresses I wore as a child, such nightwear just ends up a tangled lumpy mess. So, Alec does not bother with such cumbersome attire. And his wife also prefers he not bother…
Out from under the covers, Alec shrugs on one of his many banyans (dressing gown), this one of India cotton, and slips his feet into a pair of red leather Moroccan mules (slippers without backs). He then pads through to his dressing room. He washes his face and hands at the nightstand and eschews shaving until his return from a morning ride, as is his custom in the country. He is accompanied out and about by his two faithful hounds, and the estate’s steward.
His valet and two attendants greet him upon his return from the stables in the privacy of his closet. A bath has been prepared, so, too, the requisite implements for cleaning, shaving, and grooming their master before dressing him for the day.
Divested of jockey boots, stockings, riding breeches, linen shirt, and riding jacket, Alec soaks his person in the copper bath of warm water placed near the fireplace.
By the bath, on a matching tray, are two silver spherical boxes. One has decorative piercing and holds Alec’s bath sponge, the piercing allowing the air to circulate to dry the damp sponge. The unpierced box holds a ball of scented bath soap. Soap came in many different scents and colors but was almost always spherical for personal use and known as a ‘wash ball’. Alec’s soaps are scented with yellow sandalwood, calamus aromaticus (water plant used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg), and spirit of ambergris.
Alec uses both sponge and soap to scrub himself clean, and because it is a warm summer’s day, he has his hair rinsed with clean water, as he does his body, before stepping out of the bath.
His valet helps shrug him into another one of his banyans to dry off, and he goes through to his dressing room to sit before his dressing table where he will have his face and throat clean shaven.
It is not his valet, but one of the attendants, a manservant skilled in ‘barbery’, who has the task of shaving His Lordship. Years in his profession have given this servant great skill with a razor, and the care of the whetstone—a stone specifically used to sharpen the blades of shaving razors. Lubricated with oil or water, each side of the blade is run across the whetstone repeatedly until it is honed.
The Belgium Coticule, an ultra-fine whetstone found in Ardennes Mountain region of Belgium, is considered the premier whetstone of the 18th century. To make for easier handling and control when sharpening a blade, the whetstone was often set in a paddle, usually made of wood. But also came in ivory, silver, and gold.
Alec’s razors, whetstone, and their carry case, were specially made for him by Henry Birks.
Much technological change occurred to razors during the 18th Century, particularly the improved quality of the iron and steel used to forge such an essential male grooming implement. It is the age of the smooth skinned whisker-free gentleman, and Alec wants to look his best for his wife, and in company. And thus, it falls upon the barber-attendant to keep Alec’s razors sharp, so his master has the closest shave possible.
While his attendant barber shaves him, Alec holds a shaving basin under his upturned chin and pressed close to his neck. An oval bowl, usually porcelain, it is the notch in the broad rim that allows the bowl to be placed up against the skin. The bowl contains a mixture of warm water and castile soap worked into a lather. Castile soap is made from olive oil and is recommended for shaving because it lathers best. Shaving lather is applied to Alec’s face with another 18th Century innovation—the shaving brush.
The modern shaving brush is said to have originated in France just a decade earlier (1750s) and where it is known as a blaireau or “badger.” And this is because the bristles are of badger hair, said to be the finest and softest of bristles, and to hold water and produce the best lather. Shaving brushes have handles of ivory, gold, silver, wood, and porcelain. Alec’s is of silver (to match the rest of his toilette set).
Face smooth-shaven, his valet turns his attention to his master’s head of long black curly hair. Taming it by combing it back off his forehead, he plaits it into a long queu and ties it off with a white silk ribbon. Alec does not wear a wig, his uncle has long eschewed such male vanity, and many men didn’t wear their wigs while in the country).
Alec is now ready to be divested of his banyan and mules and be dressed for his day.
Guests—the local gentry—are coming to dinner, so Lady Halsey has requested her husband wear clothing befitting a nobleman. After all, he is a marquess so cannot disappoint his neighbors. He must dress as if he is off to a gala event, which will provide the locals with the opportunity to admire his clothes, possibly the only time they will ever see such lavish embroidery and expensive tailoring at such close quarters. The measure of a gentleman’s worth and standing in Society— most particularly for noblemen—was most definitely to be seen in his clothing. Clothes in the 18th Century did, literally, make the man!
Alec’s valet and two attendants have prepared his clothing: drawers, stockings, shirt with ruffles at the cuff, cravat, three-piece ensemble of frock coat, waistcoat, and breeches, and a pair of low-heeled black leather shoes with buckles. They go about dressing their master with quiet exactitude.
Alec pulls on a pair of soft linen drawers, that have a button fly, ties at the knees, and are close fitting. Wearing drawers was unusual. For the majority of the male population during the 18th Century, from journeyman to nobleman, the shirt served as their only piece of underwear closest the skin. However, a small number of wealthy men, in England and in France, had begun to wear drawers under their breeches, also known as “linings”. From the second half of the century, male underwear became a specialist trade for milliners and breeches makers, and by the turn of the 19th Century most men of wealth and title wore drawers as a matter of course.
Next, Alec is handed a pair of knitted stockings that roll up over the knee. Finely woven, usually white, and thick enough to hide a man’s leg hairs, they were not unlike the over the knee socks of today (without the elastic tops!). If a gentleman was particularly hirsute, he would resort to wearing two pairs of stockings.
It is not until the 1770s and the Macaronis that men who were found to be lacking in the size and width of their calves (a most necessary male attribute where size DID matter) resorted to padding their stockings with false calves made of cork, papier-mâché, or rags.
Alec has no need of such artificial aids. He naturally has large beautifully shaped calves that are admired by many a lady.
The shirt, this ubiquitous article of male underwear, was also universal in shape. Square, wide, full, with voluminous long sleeves, it went to the mid-thigh. Put on over the head via the vertical slit opening at the neck, two small buttons at the collar offered closure at the throat.
The long slit was further closed by a small, often heart-shaped, shirt buckle, which pinned the two sides of the garment together to cover a bare chest.
Alec owns dozens of shirts, so that he may change it as often as he pleases, sometimes three or four times a day depending on his daily schedule. A clean white shirt was the mark of a gentleman who cared about his person, was refined, and had wealth.
Closure of the cuffs at the wrists is often with buttons, but for those who can afford them, cufflinks do nicely, particularly when made of gold and adorned with precious stones, or cameos. They are further evidence of wealth. So does the addition of lace ruffles, stitched to the cuff, or sometimes tied about the cuff, to draw the eye to the wearer’s elegant hands and manicured fingernails, both indications the wearer does not engage in manual labor and is therefore a gentleman of liesure.
Alec’s valet next passes him a pair light blue linen breeches. They match his frock coat and have a fall front that does up with buttons either side of the flap, and pockets. The legs of the breeches are tight fitting to showcase long muscular legs, while there is enough room in the seat for movement, and to allow Alec to tuck in the bulk of his shirt between his drawers and his breeches. His valet helps secure the fit by adjusting the lacing at the back of the waistband. An attendant then drops to his knees to do up the row of matching covered buttons at his master’s knee, securing the fit of the knee band, and the stockings underneath by way of a small buckle. This buckle is of silver and encrusted with tiny diamonds.
The cravat is a gathered piece of bright white linen that goes about the throat over the upturned collar of Alec’s shirt and buckles or ties at the back of the neck. Sometimes he will wear two, one black and the other white, particularly in winter. Today, Alec sits on his dressing stool and allows his valet to adjust the fit of this essential item of male attire until it is snug without restricting movement (or breath!).
The most ornamental pieces of Alec’s wardrobe, which hang on pegs along the walls of his dressing room, are his sleeveless waistcoats, and frockcoats. The most ornate have elaborate embroidery with metallic thread and spangles to the front facings and pockets. The buttons are covered in matching thread, and while many have a plain back panel, Alec’s most elaborate pieces have contrasting silk lining and silk backs.
Today he has chosen to wear, not a dazzling court waistcoat, but one of summer weight silk embroidered with colorful sprays of foliage.
With upturned cuffs, lapels, pockets, and skirt hem embroidered to match the waistcoat, this is the final piece of clothing to Alec’s outfit, and is made of the same material as his breeches. The covered buttons and matching sewn eyelets are merely for show. The coat buttons are not done up. The skirts of the coat are generous and tantalizingly swish midthigh, allowing the eye of admirers, male and female, servant and peer, to fall on Alec’s long legs and stockinged calves, which have the athleticism and elegant movements of a fencing master.
For the occasion, Alec wears a pair of low-heeled black leather shoes. They have straight lasts, but wearing-in has provided Alec with shoes particular to his left and right feet. Silver buckles matching the knee buckles are affixed in the tongues.
Alec takes one last appraisal in the long looking glass by the window. His valet and two attendants admire their handiwork, for it is a pleasure and a privilege to dress such a handsome nobleman. When Alec gives a nod, they breathe easy, satisfied with a job well done.
Privately, Alec thinks wearing such attire in the country borders on the vainglorious. But for his wife—for Selina—he will be at his most splendid and noble. And how could he not be, wearing such beautifully tailored and exquisitely embroidered clothing. The Marquess Halsey is every inch, inside and out, a Gorgeous Georgian Nobleman.
And there you have him, peeps, Alec Halsey in all his glory!
Now, Alec Halsey may be a nobleman, but his life has not been a walk in the park. Other than overcoming the stigma caused by the circumstances of his birth – gossip has it that he is the fruit of an affaire between Countess Halsey and her mulatto footman – he has had a hard time gaining his rightful place in society, despite his brilliance as a diplomat and his wealth. So when Deadly Kin has Alec happily ensconced in the country with his wife, that made me happy. Except, of course, that Ms Brant rarely allows her readers to just sit back and relax. Instead, she delivers an elegantly constructed plot that twists and turns and adds even more dimensions to Alec’s parentage. All this against a background of a beautifully depicted historical setting, whether it be interiors and dress or the somewhat darker aspects of Georgian life such as the Black Act and other laws that drove the wedge between the haves and the have-nots ever deeper. And then, of course, we have the characters, all the way from Alec and Selina to their not always so likeable relatives and neighbours and the many, many people who slip about in the shadows, unobtrusive but constantly there to wait on their lord and master.
Yet another great read from Lucinda Brant, and if you’re one of those who are seduced by detailed descriptions and vivid prose coupled with love and derring-do, I suggest you look no further!
Or go Behind the Scenes of the history, places and people of Deadly Kin on Pinterest
References to the images used:
Silver Soap and sponge boxes, ca. 1739, Marked by C. Louis Gérard: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/200173
Scented wash balls: https://www.worldturndupsidedown.com/2019/04/18th-century-wash-balls-scented-body.html
Henry Birks razors: https://historyrazors.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/dip-at-toe-stubtails-18th-century-2/
Shaving brush: http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1270786.3
Gentleman’s nightshirt and nightcap, 18thC: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/a-rare-gentleman-s-nightshirt-and-nightcap,-18th-68-c-0c6dc4d791
Man’s At-home Robe (Banyan) and Waistcoat, France, circa 1765: https://collections.lacma.org/node/233769
Men’s drawers: https://www.meg-andrews.com/item-sold-details/Rare-Linen-Under-Drawers/8467
Gentleman’s embroidered waistcoat: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/80095563?
Putting on a cravat from Getting Dressed in the 18th Century—Men:https://www.pinterest.com/pin/278589926938252402/