Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1889 French gentilhomme
Subjectgentilhomme gentleman duellist
Culture: French bourgeoisie 
Setting: Troisième République / Belle Époque / Fin-de-Siècle, France late 19th-early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Jonnes 2009 p186
"... Paris ... was noticeably more prosperous and democratic.... The self-made man had come to the fore, and new industrial fortunes such as Gustave Eiffel's had upended the established class-based nobility and social order. Paris, with all its opportunities, culture, and freedom had become a great magnet for the ambitious, much to the outrage of the old guard. The aged Edmond de Goncourt lamented, 'The truth is that Paris is no longer Paris; it is a kind of free city in which all the thieves of the earth who have made their fortunes in business come to eat badly and sleep with the flesh of someone who calls herself a Parisienne.' Of course, the republicans saw the changes very differently."

* Barnes 2019 p137
"The Belle Epoque was a time of vast wealth for the wealthy, of social power for the aristocracy, of uncontrolled and intricate snobbery, of headlong colonial ambition, of artistic patronage, and of duels whose scale of violence often reflected personal irascibility more than offended honour. There wasn't much to be said for the First World War, but at least it swept a lot of this away."

* Venner 1986 p238 caption (describing a pair of dueling swords)
"Les duels politiques et les duels de presse furent très nombreux durant tout le XIXe siècle. Leur pratique ne cessera qu'en 1914."

* Holland 2003 p232-233
"After their revolution, the duel provided a perfect union of the glamourous old aristocratic past with the new world of libertéégalité, and fraternité; butchers and bakers and enlisted men now dueled like gentlemen to their hearts' content.  In 1836, the comte de Chateauvillard published his Essai sur le duel, with a complete list of insults and options, and it was promptly translated for an eager public in England and Germany.  The civil upheavals of the midcentury provided fine fodder for disagreements all over Europe, with the middle classes happily joining the aristocracy on the field of honor.
​    "By the end of the nineteenth century, duels were the national French pastime.
​    "Unlike the Italians, the French preferred to fight in winter and spring; perhaps then as now they all went off on vacation for the month of August.  French labor leaders fought aristocrats, conservatives fought republicans.  Novelists fought each other over stylistic points and other literary matters.  Alexandre Dumas fought the playwright Gaillerdet over the authorship of a drama.  Edouard Manet challenged, fought, and wounded an art critic who, in his review of a group show, mentioned Manet's work only once.  In 1896 Marcel Proust, remembered as a reclusive invalid, fought a critic who had slammed his first book and called him 'one of those pretty little society boys who have managed to get themselves pregnant with literature.'  A brace of literary critics fired four shots at each other to determine the relative merits of the classical and the romantic schools of fiction.  Guy de Maupassant had an eye for the ladies the led him to various duels; he was a fine marksman, though, and walked away after all of them.  (In the end he paid the piper with syphilis.)"

* Nye 1993 p192-193
"In 1893 an editorialist for Le Temps lamented that parliamentary duels, which used to curb parliamentary intemperance, now served to legitimate it, 'as if it were no longer one's conscience, but sheer audacity that was the arbiter of honor.'  Louis Barthou confirmed this point when he argued many years later that a man did nothing less than 'place his honor in peril' when he mounted the tribune.'
    "By the 1880s dueling had become so integral a part of political life that it was practically impossible for a parliamentarian to allow a personal affront to pass without responding.  If a minister gave offense to a deputy, he was obliged to give him satisfaction, despite concern that making a man a 'champion' for his faction might prove to be yet another way of overturning governments.  Nor was any public official likely to take refuge in the legal immunity afforded him if his personal reputation might suffer as a result.  Gustave Larroumet, a functionary in the Ministry of Public Instruction, sent his seconds to Henri Bauer after an article about him in Bauer's L'Echo de Paris.  Bauer claimed the criticism was of Larroumet in his 'public function,' but Larroumet badgered the paper until a staff journalist took up the challenge.  Incidents of a similar kind between deputies and bureaucrats and between functionaries in different corps seem to suggest that public officials might well have been afraid to permit the prosecution of their antagonists to which they were entitled by law.
    "Most political duels reveal themselves to us only through the haze of ideological conflict, but it is important not to forget that political difference in itself was generally not sufficient cause for an affair of honor.  Rather, it was the particular sensibility of the man behind the ideology that was the target of political insults and thus the efficient trigger of a dueling challenge.  We see this clearly in the case of political duels that arose over matters of parliamentary precedence or correction, where ideology seems not to have been a factor at all."

* Holland 2003 p234-235
"The French and the English have rarely seen eye to eye, and as dueling declined in England, the English could point smugly at their own superior civilization, compared to the barbarians across the channel who were still brandishing blades.  In England in 1890, The Cornhill Magazine printed 'The Duello in France,' attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame.  'In spite of the incessant wars which make up the history of France, the record of private combat and bloodshed is an unbroken one, stretching back in a long red stream through the ages, sometimes narrow, sometimes broad, occasionally reaching such a flood as can only be ascribed to a passing fit of homicidal mania.  Recent events have shown that this national tendency is still as strong as ever, and that there is every prospect that the duello, when driven from every other European country, may still find a home among a gallant people, whose solicitude for their honour makes them occasionally a trifle neglectful of their intelligence ...'"

* Barnes 2019 p28
"Merrie England, the Golden Age, la Belle Epoque: such shiny brand names are always coined retrospectively.  No one in Paris ever said to one another, in 1895 or 1900, 'We're living in the Belle Epoque, better make the most of it.'  The phrase describing that time of peace between the catastrophic French defeat of 1870-71 and the catastrophic French victory of 1914-18 didn't come into the language until 1940-41, after another French defeat.  It was the title of a radio programme which morphed into a live musical-theatre show: a feel-good coinage and a feel-good distraction which also played up to certain German preconceptions about oh-la-la, can-can France.  The Belle Epoque: locus classicus of peace and pleasure, glamour with more than a brush of decadence, a last flowering of the arts, and last flowering of a settled high society before, belatedly, this soft fantasy was blown away by the metallic, unfoolable twentieth century, which ripped those elegant, witty Toulouse-Lautrec posters from the leprous wall and rank vespasienne.  Well, it might have been like that for some, and Parisians more than most.  But then as Douglas Johnson, wise historian of France, once wrote, 'Paris is only the outskirts of France.'"


* Boucher 1987 p383-384
"Without undergoing major transformations, men's costume during the Second Empire approached the forms it was to keep for the rest of the century.
​    "The coat à la Française was extremely simplified to give the frock-coat, while the old frock-coat, cut off at the waist, became the tail-coat for evening wear, the English evening-dress, worn with the top hat.  The redingote remained a formal garment.
​    "Under English influence a short jacket appeared towards 1850, called paletotpeel or bucksain depending on its material, and worn with striped or patterned trousers; evidently it was only an informal, indoor garment.  Only at the end of the reign do we see the suit (complet) -- jacket, trousers and waistcoat in the same material -- but this ensemble was also to remain, until the last years of the century, an informal costume, only worn in the morning, in the country or for travel.
​    "The brilliance of the regime revived interest in costume, at court as well as in town.  Details distinguished the man of the world: velvet collars, longer or shorter basques, silk lapels, narrow ties or wide bows, flaring, stiff straight, or down-turned wing collars."

* Mancoff 2012 p18-19 
"In Duroy's Paris [in Guy de Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami, 1885], appearance was everything.  Middle-class men and women, especially those on the rise, followed a strict dress code.  They expressed their knowledge of society through the garments they wore; clothing was a tangible performance of etiquette.  A socially skilled man or woman knew what to wear, selecting costumes in accordance with time of day, nature of event and calibre of company.  But clothing was also seen as a sign of character.  Cutting an elegant figure was a delicate matter of balancing taste with flair, fashion with tradition, and individuality with conformity.
​    "Both during the day and in the evening, men wore a sort of uniform: coat, waistcoat and trousers.  The smallest details made a difference.  Exquisite tailoring indicated self-respect as well as wealth; such fine accessories as supple gloves, a silver-tipped cane and a well-brushed hat added dash, but only if chosen with restraint.  A tasteful man never strayed from the nearly monochromatic palette of black and grey, whether dressing for dinner or business, or even for a stroll in the park."

* Kalifa 2021 p177-178
"[The Belle Époque] fixed the codes of masculine elegance and modern dandyism, as incarnated by Marcel Proust and Robert de Montesquiou: 'A carnation in the jacket buttonhole, a cravat from Jourdain & Brown, a walking cane, and English gloves.' These figures continue to inspire representations of contemporary dandyism, and like the Arsène Lupin figure or the Guerlain perfumery, to signify a certain idea of France.'"


* Evangelista 1995 p185-186
"After the practice of wearing swords on a daily basis had come to a close, the dueling sword came to be a special weapon specifically designed for personal combat.  Its earliest form resembled that of a smallsword.  By the end of the nineteenth century, however, it was much like a modern épée, possessing a stiff triangular blade, a large shell guard, and a simple grip.
​    "When the duelling sword was employed, its razor-sharp tip was dipped in disinfectant.
​    "Also called an épée de combat and an épée de terrain."

* Hutton 1995 p323
"In all civilized countries the walking-sword had vanished from the side of the gentleman, but it was not forgotten.  A form of it still survived in the 
épée de combat, the favourite duelling weapon of the French.  Stripped of the knuckle-bow and pas d'âne, its hilt retained only the shell, which in the early half of the century closely resembled both in size and in shape that of the discarded small-sword; it retained its triangular blade, and the method of using it was very little altered."

* Holland 2003 p233
"In Paris, the salles des armes were lavishly decorated like night-clubs, or perhaps like bordellos, and their fencing masters swaggered around putting on airs.  In 1900 a member of the Assembly did shoot and kill a municipal counselor in a pistol duel, but in general France still preferred the elegant épée to the plebian gun, for maximum grace and flair with minimum bloodshed.  Carefully wielded, it did very little damage, and its flourishments looked more like ballet than battle and lasted longer, providing more fun for the spectators, whose opinion was growing important.  In one Parisian duel in 1904, two rival fencing masters fought each other for three hours without shedding blood.  The reporters loved it.
​    "At the end of the nineteenth century, the American satirist Ambrose Bierce defined the French duel as 'A formal ceremony preliminary to the reconciliation of two enemies.  Great skill is necessary to its satisfactory observance; if awkwardly performed the most unexpected and deplorable consequences sometimes ensue.  A long time ago a man lost his life in a duel."


* Klever 1996 p68
"The art of stick fencing was taught in France during the last [19th] century.  The Brevet de Cannes, color full [sic] and hand colored diplomas were given after a fencing match and were signed by witnesses.  They usually show fencing scenes with neutral spectators, witnesses and watchers, mainly in military uniform.  There were many fencing colleges and teachers, the rules were a combination of sword, fencing, and cane specific techniques, such as circling.  In the 'rose couverte,' the cane was circled over the head at great speed, protecting the head like a helmet.  Figures 40, 44 are the only entries to the subject in a German book 'The fencing instructment' by Jacob Happel, published in 18777 in Antwerp.  A good cane fencer could land between 170 and 180 blows per minute, speed and elegance were the characteristics.
    "At the end of the 19th century, can fencing lost its sporting character and turned into a martial art.  In 1899 a book by J. Charlemont was published, which stressed power and defense.  He criticizes a number of classic strokes and concludes: 'these strokes are useless for serious defense, because they are made with a half open hand.  They are aimed toward the front with an almost straight arm, using only the power of the wrist or the hand; or from above toward the head, also from the wrist.  It is very easy to understand that the cane has its full capacity, if it is hit with great strength, which is impossible if the fist is bent or extended and the wrist is moving.  It is much more dangerous, for the attacker, to firmly hold the cane.  The energy is increased by turning the shoulder, the arm, the lower arm, the wrist and the hand.  The blows are also strong, when given from further away, and their power increases with the power of the muscle the further away they are.  One can not [sic] imagine how bad such a blow can be.  The bent arm, which is as much as possible pulled to the back, draws a speedy circle, and, if well aimed, hits the opponent, usually rendering him out of action, because in this movement, the combination of the lowering of the shoulder and the momentum of the arm and wrist, increase the speed and hence the power of the blow.  This is the principle, once could almost say the secret, behind our classes.'
    "The classical fencing techniques are described in 'L'art de la canne,' but only to improve the flexibility of the wrist and to hold the cane in a more natural position"

* Fryer 1969 p80
"Sword Stick   A walking stick in which a sword blade is concealed. The handle of the stick acts as the hilt and often a press-button release is fitted. In recent times blades have been fitted in officers' batons and umbrellas."