Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New buck-skin breeches

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Loretta reports:

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.

*fitting snug
**muscle-ly

15 comments:

Vanessa Kelly said...

Fanny emboldens William!! Loretta, that's hilarious.

And William's limbs are, er, very well-made, indeed.

Sewicked said...

One of the joys of the SCA was the sight of a well-muscled leg in hose. Shorts just are not the same. I get all dreamy, just remembering..mmmm.

Ms. Lucy said...

I love this post- so interesting! Thanks:)

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Inquires Mr. B--, "Why are you turned suddenly rosy, m'dear?"

"Well," say I, "the TNHG email just arrived, and you know how it tempts me to click through."

I must say thank you for this post (and lovely shout out), for i find the virile footman fantasy and character in romance very appealing. But I'm wondering whether it's the reality that footmen were entirely for show, or that also they had to be fit to perform responsibilities we see them portrayed fulfilling: bodyguards, message runners, etc.

nessa: limbs. snork

LorettaChase said...

Vanessa, it's quite a scene, among many--er--eye opening scenes. Sewicked, having seen the sight in Colonial Williamsburg, I do agree--though it took until then for me to really get it. Thank you Ms. Lucy. I'm going to answer Michelle separately, because as usual she asks a very thought provoking question.

LorettaChase said...

Hey, Michelle. Good question. I,too, wondered whether that footman-for-show thing was more myth than reality. Going by the Rowlandson print of the servants' registry--the lady eyeing the handsome footman--and Mrs. Beeton's complaint, I have to think it's based in reality. But you're absolutely right about the practicality of hiring a strong young guy. The ones who did work were bodyguards; they hefted heavy stuff up and down stairs (and not just in my lady's chamber), and ran messages around town. They also had to endure standing in one place, at attention, for hours on end--e.g., at the back of a carriage or in attendance at dinner. And if master and mistress are going to be seeing a servant day in, day out, I'm thinking they want something nice to look at. The upper classes were the kind of people who used to move whole villages because the hovels spoiled their view. Well, gee, this could be another whole blog! Thanks, Michelle!

Becke Davis said...

I was over at RBTB and Michelle said, "You might want to run over to Two Nerdy History Girls and click the word 'temptation.'" She should have warned me not to take a drink of my tea before clicking it -- yowza!

I'm "officially" following you now. I'm a pretty recent convert to historicals, but -- thanks to recommendations by Anna Campbell -- Lorraine's were some of the first I read. I'm well and truly hooked now.

Becke Davis said...

I said Lorraine. Do you want to hit me now? I really do mean Loretta, because I'm madly in love with LORD OF SCOUNDRELS, MR. IMPOSSIBLE, LORD PERFECT and all of those wonderful books. I'd say it was a senior moment but I've been calling people by the wrong names since I was a teenager. Sorry! (blushing madly)

Loretta Chase said...

Becke, as long as you know which name to look for at the bookstore, I'm not going to complain.:-)

Becke Davis said...

Loretta - I've read all your recent books, now I'm haunting the used bookstore for your older books. You are now on my must-buy list!

When Anna Campbell found out I had only recently starting reading historicals, she took me in hand and gave me a list of books/authors to read. You were at the top of the list.

Vanessa Kelly said...

The mind just boggles at those poor guys having to stand at attention in various situations, for hours at a time. And in the summer - with livery and wigs. Standing for that long is soooo physically taxing.

Add to that, possibly servicing m'lady at the end of the day. Although maybe they considered that their benefits package!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Yes, nessa, another benefit to the footman's package.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Michelle, I knew you would read it that way.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, and doesn't it all give new meaning to Blogger's pop-up windows?

Shelley said...

Not to mention the trouble the attractions gave to William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp...

 
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