Subject: aristocratic gentleman
Setting: Edwardian era, England late 19th-early 20thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
"The wonders of the modern world, which had only sprang [SIC] into being in the 1880s and 1890’s [SIC] brought the first rewards of modern industrialization and mass-produced abundance. Socially, the Edwardian era was the period during which the British class system was at its most rigid, although paradoxically, changes in social thought, particularly the rising interest in socialism, attention to the plight of the poor and the status of women, expressed in, for example, the issue of women’s suffrage, together with increased economic opportunities as a result of rapid industrialisation, created an environment in which there could be more social mobility and people would become more liberal. This change would be hastened in the aftermath of the first World War. The upper classes embraced leisure sports, which led to rapid developments in fashion, as more mobile and flexible clothing styles were needed."
* Pakenham 1985 p20-22
"The most frequent charge levelled against the Edwardian Empire was a Victorian one, first coined by James Mill: it was a vast system of outdoor relief for the younger sons of the aristocracy. Though the New Imperialists openly admitted that they were looking for markets for 'those superfluous articles -- our boys' as well as for British goods, few of the Englishmen who appear in this book would fit strictly into this category. Aristocrats, even younger sons, seldom bothered with Chamberlain's 'tropical estates' except as soldiers or to shoot game. Lord Salisbury's daughter, Lady Maud Cecil, saw the Empire as a very middle-class affair. 'Of course the best class of English don't come out to the colonies and those that do are apt to be bounders.' And Raymond Asquith, the cleverest of young Edwardians, saw the whole thing as rather vulgar. 'The day of the clever cad is at hand,' he wrote to John Buchan just after the Boer War. 'I have always felt it would come to this if we once let ourselves in for an empire. ... A gentleman may make a large fortune but only a cad can look after it.' Even India in his view did not deserve a Curzon as Viceroy (a view which many Indians and Anglo-Indians would come to agree!) 'It is scandalous the way we lavish the flower of our race on this dull provicial empire of ours.'
"Regardless of this urban disdain, most Edwardian Englishmen in the tropical Empire saw themselves as 'gentlemen,' and did their best to exclude those who were not. Out under the tropical sun, as Leonard Woolf -- the most critical observer of imperial mores -- noted, the English usually became rather grander in manner than they were at home. In the East, with its caste-conscious hierarchies of servants, the rituals of upper-class Edwardian life became accentuated, and were to remain frozen long after they had begun to melt away in England itself; Anglo-Indians really did change for dinner in the jungle. It was in Africa that Lady Maud Cecil 's verdict often proved nearer the truth. East Africa especially soon became a notorious magnet for 'bounders', who arrived in droves, noted Bishop Tucker of Uganda regretfully, as soon as the Uganda Railway was opened. West Africa could be used to solve the problem of the family black sheep permanently. 'Dear Uncle Harry may talk lugubriously of the burden of Empire,' says the hero of Saki's novel, The Unbearable Bassington, bitterly just before he is dispatched to the Gold Coast, 'but he evidently recognises its uses as a refuse container.' He is dead from fever within a few weeks.
"But the Empire also supplied a field for more admirable kinds of aristocratic export: a sense of service or chivalry. What was the White Man's Burden as defined by Kipling in 1897 but a new version of noblesse oblige which was finding itself increasingly without a home in industrial England? Many of the famous Edwardian proconsuls described their early adventures in terms which read like pages from Malory or Walter Scott. Frederick Lugard, a child of Anglo-Indian missionaries, left the Indian Army in despair after an unrequited love affair and went off to Africa to fight the Arab slave-traders -- 'I can think of no juster cause in which a soldier may draw his sword.' Frank Swettenham, son of a highly eccentric Scottish attorney, and Hugh Clifford, who did come from a very old and aristocratic Catholic west-country family, charged about the Malay jungles like King Arthur's knights -- mounted on rafts or elephants rather than horses -- rescuing maidens, freeing slaves, toppling tyrants.
"The result was very nearly always the same: a further extension of the British Empire and the installation of a different kind of tyrant -- the British Resident or High Commissioner. Which leads one to another definition of the word 'bounder' once given by Lord Curzon to a puzzled foreign enquirer. 'A bounder, Madam, is one who succeeds in life by leaps and bounds.' Many Edwardians in the tropics were bounders in this sense, like the Victorian empire-builders before them. The expansionist urge on the frontiers was often as strong as ever, and would burst out against dramatically after the First World War."
* Dressing Downton 2015 p28
"From the late Victorian period onwards, gentlemen on a country estate -- and only on the estate -- wore a tweed wool suit with calf-length beeches [SIC] called 'plus fours.' Worn for daytime activities, plus fours, so-called because they were four inches longer than traditional knickers, were espcially popular for hunting and other sporting activities such as cycling or walking. The choice for going into town, visiting neighbors or attending business meetings was a slightly more formal suit with long pants."
* de la Haye/Mendes 2021 p40-41
"Gentlemen of means and style, though not at the mercy of passing fashions, were nevertheless obliged to keep extensive wardrobes to clothe themselves appropriately at all times. No truly revolutionary departures took place in men's dress between 1900 and 1913 but clothing gradually grew less formal and the lounge suit became dominant. Minute shifts -- an extra button, slightly narrower lapels or a new collar shape -- created comment and gave satisfaction. Few were brave enough to break the many early twentieth-century sartorial rules, which incorporated a store of nineteenth-century edicts. Clothes indicated social status. At Derby Day in England in 1912, the 'notables' won praise for their black morning coats and top hats -- the correct fashion for an important social function in the presence of royalty -- whereas the 'ordinary' crowd came in for criticism on account of their lounge suits in greys and browns."
* Baudot 1999 p58-59
"Originally aimed at the working classes, ready-to-wear garments soon attracted all sections of the bourgeoisie. The new god of the modern age was speed and everything now had to be done as fast as possible, including buying clothes.
"The nineteenth and twentieth centuries continued to reaffirm the essential masculine principle of discretion. Restraint, fitting behaviour, giving women precedence and knowning when to keep quiet remained the best ways for gentlemen to distinguish themselves."
* Laver 2020 p211
"For men the accepted wear for all formal occasions was still the top hat and the frock coat, but the lounge suit worn with a homburg hat (a name derived from the German spa, much visited by the prince of Wales) was increasingly to be seen, even in the West End of London. Straw hats were extremely popular and were sometimes worn even with riding breeches; trousers tended to be rather short and very narrow, and young men were beginning to wear them with permanent turn-ups and with a sharp crease in front, which had become possible since the mid-1890s with the invention of the trouser-press. Collars of white starched linen were extremely high and sometimes went right round the throat. This was an echo, as it were, of the boned necks of female attire."
* Yarwood 1992 p126
"Fashions changed only imperceptibly in these years [1890-1914]. There was an immeasurably slow trend towards informality. Formal day dress comprised the single-breasted cutaway morning coat or the double-breasted frock coat, in grey or black, worn with striped grey trousers. For evening, gentlemen were dressed in black 'tails' or dinner jacket -- white tie for the former, black tie for the latter. Greater informality was displayed in the pre-eminence of the three-piece suit for everyday town wear. City suits had black or dark jackets and grey striped trousers. Other suits were made all of one material, often tweed. In 1895 the vertical crease was introduced into trouser legs and it became fashionable to turn up the hems into cuffs. In general, colours were conservative but style turned gradually towards a looser fit."
* Hyams 2011 p210-211
"[T]he country-house man ... must bow to the dictates of fashion and style. Evening wear, daywear, clothes to shoot in, clothes for leisure, his valet will lay out fresh outfits and help him change his attire at least three times a day. He's less restricted than his wife: the toff's tailored 'look' has been long and lean for some time. His hair is cut short by his valet and, if he has a beard, it's a bit less pointy. Moustaches are sometimes curled. His shoes are mostly boots, sometimes two-tone over-the-ankle boots with the upper half in a lighter colour than the sole, or lace-up boots in dark colours. For business, he wears Oxfords with high arches, a style still seen nowadays. Formal boots usually have white uppers, spats style, and buttons on the side. Or he might go for pumps, a cross between an Oxford and a modern woman's low-heeled shoe.
"Daywear is usually a three-piece suit consisting of a lounge coat (replacing the previous fashion for a frock coat) with a matching waistcoat and sometimes with contrasting trousers. If he chooses, the jacket and trousers match and a contrasting single-breasted waistcoat is worn.
"If he's bang up-to-the-minute, his trousers are a bit shorter than they were before, sometimes with turn-ups. And they are sharply creased front and back. If he wants formal wear in the daytime, his valet will usually lay out a cutaway morning coat to be worn with striped trousers. And his shirt collars are very full and stiffened."