MORE ABOUT Almost a Gentleman ...

"A Regency? Why, I wouldn't write one if it were the last genre on earth."

Any romance reader would have known I was lusting to write a Regency. I, of course, was the last to find out. I've always loved the sparkling wit and charming, elegant clothes of the early nineteenth century. But I needed to have my own way with the period. I didn't want country house gentility; I was looking for something edgier, sexier, more urban.

I opened a book that had sat unopened on our bookshelves for a decade. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, by Ellen Moers.

Brummell . . . Beau Brummell, the hero of one of the best-loved historical movies of my childhood. MGM had mounted it extravagantly. Stewart Granger was handsome, witty, and urbane, Elizabeth Taylor gorgeous in an absurd powdered wig. Beau Brummell sparked my nine-year-old romantic imagination; I was captivated by the hero's style, intelligence, and reckless disdain for anything safe, boring, or stuffy.

The historical Brummell, according to Moers, was quite as interesting as he'd been on screen - and far more original and enigmatic. He understood influence, celebrity, and image. And he created an entirely new style of male power dressing.

Until the late 18th Century, upper-class European and American men dressed in bright, rather flimsy fabrics that tended to wrinkle and to accentuate the belly (check out the portrait of King George III at right: men looked rather like eggs).

Brummell changed all that. Moers tells us the "wool, leather, and linen were his materials;" black and white, dark blue and the palest fawn were his colors. His exquisitely tailored garments kept their shape and defined a sexy male silhouette of wide shoulders tapering to slim hips and long legs. We recognize the look (see image at right) from a million period movies - and we've come to insist upon it, at least once a year on Academy Awards night.

"By making simplicity the fashion," Moers says, "Brummell established a style suitable for any man, king or commoner, who aspired after the distinction of a gentleman."

Brummell was a commoner; although his father had become prosperous, his grandfather had quite possibly been a valet. In an age of revolutions, this man of humble origins wielded uncommon social power in upper class London. An intimate of the Prince of Wales and a model for Lord Byron, he dominated the world of exclusive London clubs. His disapproval of the cut of someone's coat could spell social oblivion.

An outsider become insider - all because of the perfection of his manners and costume. If a bold, brilliant man of the middling classes could do it, I thought, why couldn't a bold, brilliant - woman?

Reading about male power dressing had opened my eyes to just how strong - and how symmetrical - the contrast between male and female costume had been during the Regency era. Women hid their legs (though their shape might be discerned through their thin dresses) and exposed extravagant amounts of bosom. Men wrapped their chests and throats in high white cravats and flaunted their legs in slim trousers. Upper class dress was a dance of opposites, a provocative game of hide-and-seek.

But suppose a woman decided to hide her female body behind a man's high cravat? And suppose she was also audacious enough to demand the freedom of the late-night London streets and a measure of social power into the bargain?

Suppose she became a kind of Brummell - with the power to judge, to ridicule, and to ostracize?

And suppose she got away with it? Got away with it, that is, until the evening she encountered a gentleman who was fascinated rather than intimidated by her power and magnetism? A man who made her want to be a woman again.

"Well, maybe I will try a Regency," I thought. My sort of Regency, with the working title of of Mr. Knightley Meets Ms. Brummell. Which quite soon became Almost a Gentleman.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

~

NOTE: Moers’ book is out of print, but I’ve had great luck finding out-of-print titles at www.abebooks.com. You can also find out more about the Regency revolution in male dress from Anne Hollander’s Sex and Suits.

image sources: George III http://www.abcgallery.com/G/gainsborough/gainsborough88.html
                     Regency Style http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/rgnclfil.html

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King George II
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Regency style
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