Thursday, April 5, 2012

Back to Basics: A Man's Wardrobe for 1812

Let's say you're building a historical wardrobe.  Do you design a look out of thin air and then look for documentation to support your choices, or do you find sources and then aim for a collection of well-made, accurate pieces that you can rely on in any situation?

I don't know about you, but I'm going with option number two.  That's my approach for my own clothing--historical and modern--and it's also going to be my approach with the Huebners' outfits.  Solid construction, mix and match pieces, and investment in good materials.  So with that in mind, I started pulling out inspiration images for Matt's kit.

John Lewis Krimmel (German American arttist, 1786-1821) The Quilting Frolic 1813
The Quilting Frolic, 1813
John Lewis Krimmel

John Lewis Krimmel is one of my favorite painters from this era. Many of his works are of normal people, doing normal things--it's essentially the period equivalent of a candid photo. In this case, I focused on the gentleman just right of center, in the green jacket. He's got a great look; striped socks and trousers, red waistcoat, green short jacket. Erinn and I both really liked this look, so it'll probably be our main inspiration. She's particularly fond of the striped trousers..."sexy stripes," she called them.

Fortunately for her and her stripe affinity, stripes, plaids, and solids were all popular choices for men's clothing in the period. Sometimes you'll see mix & match, clashing stripes, or even full on all-over plaid outfits. Definitely not like what you see today, but oh so wonderful all the same.

John Lewis Krimmel Merrymaking at a Wayside Inn 1811
Merrymaking at a Wayside Inn, 1811-1813
John Lewis Krimmel

This is another fun Krimmel painting, depicting travelers stopping at an inn--and dancing on their way. The gentleman on the left has some snazzy striped trousers, and his friend on the right is a Tower o' Plaid. Also note the shoes on these guys. Gotta love those regency ballet flats.

Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, 1810
Via Nuranar on Flickr.

This dapper gentleman is from an English fashion plate, c. 1810. Which, yes, is slightly earlier than our target time period. I don't know about you, but I'm still wearing clothes I bought a couple years ago. And those trousers are way I'd be throwing them out if they were still wearable in 1812! I also like his spotted handkerchief--just visible in his left coat pocket. He's got some great seaming in his coat, too, with the low shoulder seam and tapered side back lines. Very nice.

Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, 1810
Via Nuranar on Flickr.

Another 1810 plate with striped trousers, this time from the front. You can see a hint of his frog pockets or trouser fall up by his waist on the left, and this is our first really good look at a waistcoat. This one's plain--not a patterned fabric--and has a nice set of lapels on it. Also, his cravat has bunny ears.

Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, 1811
Via Nuranar on Flickr.

This gent from 1811 is one of my favorites. He has the ever-popular striped trousers, with a checked waistcoat. Come on, now, you know you wish you were that awesome. Also note the length of the cuff--pretty long by our standards today, but totally in fashion at the time.

Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, 1812
Via Nuranar on Flickr.

For a more sedate look, we have this plate from 1812, which has a horizontally striped waistcoat--no lapels this time, just a standing collar--with plain nankeen trousers. These have vents at the ankle, which seems to be optional.

Nankeen was a common fabric for trousers, and could be striped or plain--the second plate from 1810 above says in the caption that the trousers are striped nankeen. The plate from 1811 has a caption that translates (according to my mad Google Translate skills) to being trousers of striped duck, or ticking. There are also accounts and descriptions of linen trousers, and also of wool, both woven and knitted. (Yes...knitted trousers. Mike says they're super comfy.)

One thing you don't see a lot of in these plates and illustrations is men's shirts. They were basically an undergarment at that time, and wouldn't be worn alone except by laborers and nekkid folks. For example:

John Lewis Krimmel Village Tavern
John Lewis Krimmel, The Village Tavern
Don't judge; I really do love Krimmel's stuff.

I like to think this is the end of a the day, and you've got a couple of guys just off work stopping in for a well-deserved pint after all day out doing manual labor. Certainly their apparel suggest it--the aprons (and the one on the right is certainly well-worn), one man in his shirtsleeves, the other in sturdy boots. They look like they're no-nonsense types to me.

Another thing to note is that, other than the man I just pointed out in the above tableau, all of these gentlemen are wearing some variation of a black flat-soled shoe, with a relatively low vamp compared to what we think of as men's shoes today. Some of them come all the way to the ankle, but many of them dip low over the instep, which makes them look very ballet-flat-y to a modern eye. Some of them have decoration, and some don't, but it seems that this type of shoe was pretty common.

So for Matt, we're going to start out with some basics. He'll need a shirt, trousers, waistcoat, and coat. Like I said waaaay back at the beginning (*points*), we're going to be using Krimmel's The Quilting Frolic as our main inspiration. Tan striped trousers, red waistcoat, green short jacket. Done up in some nice linens, maybe a wool jacket, this should be a good practical, easy-to-wear starter outfit that he can build on over time. Updates to follow as we make progress!

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