Friday, 16 May 2014

For the apparel oft proclaims the man II

A historical novelist might often have a reason to describe women's clothing. A girl might be dressing for her first ball, or a woman might be buying clothes before travelling to a new job or to visit some long lost relatives. Such scenes help to establish the setting and reveal something about the character.

A writer is less likely to go into detail about men's dress, but it's still necessary to know whether a male character would have been wearing hose or breeches or trousers.

Men's hairstyles in the past also varied as much as women's.  When were wigs worn? Samuel Pepys started wearing one in the autumn of 1663, having his own hair cut off. The King and the Duke of York started wearing them about the same time, so Pepys seems to have been at the forefront of fashion. Not everybody wore a wig, however; Pepys' contemporary and fellow diarist  John Evelyn appears to have worn his own hair.

Styles changed, but wigs were worn throughout the eighteenth century. They were often stolen or knocked off in fights. Hair powder was also used, by men and women. William Pitt the Younger's Hair Powder Duty, introduced in 1795, is said to have ended the practice of wearing powdered hair or wigs. It survives now only in the legal profession.

Then there is facial hair. Beards were in fashion in the Elizabethan period and into the early seventeenth century. Facial hair did not become popular again until the Victorian era. Then it seemed that anything went; beards, moustaches, side whiskers, all luxuriantly grown. Hair products for men were advertised along with those for women.

When writing historical fiction, especially romance, one has to consider what a modern reader might find attractive in a hero.  A  neatly trimmed beard would be acceptable to most people.

A man's own hair, short or long, is fine. A man's own hair, powdered and tied back for a formal occasion, might also be attractive. The very elaborate wigs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the facial hair of the Victorian era are less likely to appeal to a modern reader.

In the 1870s, when my current work in progress is set, one of the male characters, whom my heroine finds attractive, almost certainly would have been wearing side whiskers. When introducing him, I avoided the issue by not mentioning whether he was clean shaven. As long as readers don't imagine him with a beard, which he definitely would not have been wearing, they are free to think of him as they please.

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