THE GIMLET EYE
BREECHES AND OTHER 18TH CENTURY DELIGHTS
You might wonder why I set my historical romance, Mercy of the Moon, in the 18th Century. One word–breeches. Have you ever seen Russell Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World?
Let me tell you straight off that I’m not an expert on 18th Century fashion; I just find it fascinating. My trusty Oxford American English dictionary defines breeches as, “short trousers fastened just below the knee . . .” Breeches fit nice and snug on various parts of the male body. A woman may or may not get a peek of the gluteus maximus, via the slits in the waistcoat. A lady can only hope. You see, men’s clothing in those days was a little more …flattering, allowing the men to display a muscular calf to advantage, at the very least. The hair, now that’s a different story.
I’ve heard people say we are more narcissistic these days, with all the plastic surgeries and money spent on makeup, creams, and so on. Nowadays, even men get face lifts, calf implants and butt lifts. Clearly, vanity wasn’t invented in the 21st century. Woman and men were vain even back in the 1700’s. Look at Marie Antoinette and King Louis the XVI.
Even men less pedigreed than King Louis were fashion conscious. There was a trendy group of fellows who called themselves “macaronis.” As a kid, I’d heard “Yankee Doodle,” and was always puzzled about the “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” line. Come again? Why don’t you just call a feather a feather? Years later, I discovered that “macaroni” was an 18th Century word used to describe a feather-in-the-hat-wearing fashion conscious British dandy who liked to put on foreign airs, not something you mixed with cheese.
My hero, Ian Pierce, has his mind on other things besides fashion, like midwife Maggie Wilson. He is well-travelled, and had a couple of suits made in the Far East, where he was in search of…well, that’s another story. He had to dress up to perform at the courts of King George II and King Louis the XV. Ian has great presence, with his wide shoulders, long legs and endless vitality that midwife Maggie finds so mesmerizing.
People in that century weren’t much different than we are, really. They too wanted to be admired, cherished, and loved, despite the lack of modern dentistry, sanitary conditions or medical advances. Men are men, and we women, no matter the time period, fall in love with them whether they’re wearing breeches, khakis, or kilts.