Saturday, April 18, 2015

Men’s Clothing History: Suits and Coats

During the Victorian era, it was quite easy to tell a man’s social position by his style of dress.  Class distinctions were clear cut and rigid.  It would have been unsuitable for a working man to imitate the fashions of his betters; and indeed he had neither the wish nor the means to do so.

The standard suit of the 19th century was a modification of the military uniform of the Napoleonic wars.  Jacket lapels were derived from the high collared tunics of military uniforms.  To make themselves more comfortable, soldiers unfastened the upper buttons, and rolled back each side.  When the fashion spread into civilian clothes, tailors retained the notch (indicating the break of the original collar) and the buttonhole (where the tunic would have fastened at the neck).  As for the cuff buttons, it was the great Bonaparte himself who ordered that buttons be placed on the cuffs of his soldiers uniforms so that they could not wipe their noses on their sleeves.

 Whether single or double breasted, a man’s jacket always buttoned left side over right.  This design prevailed so that a man would not catch his sword in the opening, when drawing right handed.

By 1855 the bright colors, glitter and gold of the early 19th century gave way to darker, more uniform colors.  Sober businessmen felt that bright colors were not suitable in a hard working age; and they preferred clothes that were richly plain rather than gaily colored.  Black frock coats replaced the blues and greens of previous decades.  White evening waistcoats were exchanged for black ones.  Good tailoring became the mark of beauty and fashion in a suit.

In Victorian times, tailors would take a dozen fittings to perfect a suit.  Even Royalty accepted the importance of the way a suit fit a man.  Admiral Sir John (“Jackie”) Fisher once appeared before King Edward VII wearing a decidedly elderly outfit.  “That is a very old suit you are wearing,” said the King, “Yes, Sir,” he replied, “but you’ve always told me that nothing really matters but the cut.”

It was a sign of wealth to have a separate jacket for “sports”.  For, “in casting away clothes worn during working hours, the cares and worries of the daily round fly with them; a change of raiment makes a new man of one.”

Woolen tweeds like Cheviot, Irish, Scottish, Yorkshire and Saxony became the first choice among Victorians and Edwardian country gentlemen.  The blazer, so popular in our own time, made its appearance during Holmes’ heyday.  The origin of the blazer goes back to the Captain of the frigate H.M.S. Blazer, who was faced with a visit to his ship by Queen Victoria.  To smarten up his crew the Captain had short jackets in Navy blue serge, with brass Royal naval buttons, made up for his men.  Queen Victoria was impressed and the jackets became a permanent part of the crew’s dress.

A brief look at the life of the Victorian gentleman, based on the habits of the great detective Mr. Sherlcok Holmes. Included are: (1) Clothes, (2) Food, (3) Smoking, (4) Clubs, (5) Etiquette

Wine History: Wine and the English

     The English have always had a fondness for eccentrics.  Prime Minister William Gladstone, who presided over Parliament during much of the 1880’s certainly ranked among these. A man of many quirks and strange habits, Gladstone once observed, “I have made it a rule to give every tooth of mine a chance, and when I eat, to chew every bite thirty two times.  To this rule I owe much of my success in life.”

     Whatever the reason for Gladstone’s success, some speculate that his most important accomplishments may have been lowering the tariff on French wines and permitting grocers to stock and sell wine.  For the first time, the many varieties of French wines, together with German Rhines and Moselles, became widely available in England.

     By the late nineteenth century, a variety of wines were supposed to be set out for a proper dinner party:  sherry with soup and fish, hock or claret with roast meat, punch with turtle, champagne with whitebait, port with venison, port or burgundy with game, sparkling wines with the confectionary,  and for dessert port, tokay, madeira  or sherry.

     Although the Victorian’s enjoyed a variety of wines, they did not indulge in the excesses in quantity known in earlier times.  It had been the custom in Georgian times, for example, to drink a bottle, per person, after dinner.  Indeed, King William IV expected his governmental ministers to be two bottle men, if only to keep level with the typical Anglican cleric.

     Sherry came into fashion when the Prince Regent announced that he would drink nothing but sherry.  The Prince’s sudden conversion came about after a British privateer captured a French merchantman sailing between Cadiz and Le Havre.  In the ship’s cargo were two butts of a remarkably fine brown sherry destined for the table of the Emperor Napoleon.  Presented to the Prince Regent instead, sherry won an immediate and passionate convert.  

     Edward VII, while still Prince of Wales, is credited with having popularized champagne in England.  Edward preferred light Chablis and extra dry champagne, and these were produced specially for the English market, with spectacular results.  In 1861, some

three million bottles of champagne were exported from France to England.  By 1890, England was importing over nine million bottles of French champagne annually, almost half of all of the champagne being produced.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Lincoln Funeral Train

    Presidential Railway Car in Alexandria, Virginia

      In the spring of 1865, a private railroad car was constructed for President Lincoln’s personal use. It was built in Alexandria, Virginia.  Ironically, this presidential car was employed for the first time as a funeral car to transport the slain Lincoln to his home in Springfield, Illinois.  Lincoln’s funeral train left Washington on April 21, 1865, and retraced much of the route Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861.  The nine-car Lincoln Special whose engine displayed Lincoln’s photograph over the cowcatcher, carried approximately three hundred mourners.  Depending on conditions, the train usually traveled between 5 and 20 miles per hour.
The locomotive’s distinctive balloon stack was intended to control sparks from the burning wood fuel.  A cab offered protection for the engineer and fireman.  Most locomotives of this period had cowcatchers to minimize damage should the train encounter livestock on the tracks.  Each engine had a tender. Which carried wood, fuel, and water.

The practice of embalming came into its own during the American Civil War.  President Lincoln eventually sanctioned the procedure for all fallen soldiers.  President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 but his body was not interred in Springfield, Illinois until May 4.  The passage of the body home for burial was made possible by embalming and brought the possibilities of embalming to the attention of a wider public.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

     Several hundred Confederate dead were buried at the new national cemetery at Arlington by the end of the war in April 1865. Some were prisoners of war who died in custody, some were executed spies, and some were battlefield dead. The federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves. Families of Confederates buried at Arlington were refused permission to lay flowers on their loved ones' graves.
     In 1868, families of dead Confederates were barred from the cemetery on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day). Union veterans prowled the cemetery ensuring that Confederate graves were not honored in any way.  Cemetery authorities refused to allow monuments to the Confederate dead or allow Confederate veterans to be buried at Arlington.
     Because of the Spanish-American War and the need to end still simmering sectional differences, the federal government's policy toward Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery changed. On December 14, 1898, President McKinley announced that the federal government would begin tending Confederate graves since these dead represented “a tribute to American valor”.  Several hundred Confederate soldiers buried throughout Arlington National Cemetery were disinterred and reburied in a “Confederate section” around the spot designated for the Confederate Memorial.  
    On June 4, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the Confederate Memorial at Arlington. The Confederate Memorial was dedicated to peace and reconciliation and to the hope of a united future.  U.S. Presidents have traditionally sent a wreath to be placed at the Confederate Memorial on Memorial Day.