By the 19th century, wearers of the plush breeches referred to in my last blog tended to be, as I indicated, servants, public and private. A comment from Michelle Buonfiglio of Romance B(u)y theBook reminded me that of the private servants who wore livery (and breeches), the most glamorous were footmen.
They were, generally, hired for their looks. They ought to be tall and good-looking, and of course their snug breeches and stockings must show off well-muscled legs. Mrs. Beeton wrote, “When a lady of fashion chooses her footman without any other consideration than his height, shape, and tournure of his calf, it is not surprising that she should find a domestic who . . . considers the figure he cuts behind her carriage and the late hours he is compelled to keep a full compensations for the wages he exacts, for the food he wastes, and for the perquisites he can lay his hand on.”
One perquisite might be one of the ladies of the house. Or--as in the case of the heroine of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the boss’s mistress.
Fanny Hill, annoyed with her lover, Mr. H--, (who's paying the bills) turns her attention to the young manservant Mr. H-- has just hired: “a very handsome young lad, scarce turn’d of nineteen, fresh as a rose, well shap’d , and clever-limb’d; in short a very good excuse for any woman’s liking.”
She takes careful note of his livery and how well it becomes him: “new buck-skin breeches, that clipping close,* shew’d the shape of a plump,”** well-made thigh, white stockings, garter-laced livery, shoulder-knot . . .”
Fanny, like Mae West, could resist everything but temptation.
1640s English Lady
1 day ago