A discussion forum for history enthusiasts everywhere
 
HomeHome  ShortcutsShortcuts  FAQFAQ  RegisterRegister  Log inLog in  

Share | 
 

 Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
Anglo-Norman
Consulatus


Posts : 216
Join date : 2012-04-24

PostSubject: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 29 Mar 2015, 16:14

This came out of a side discussion in the Princes in the Tower thread.

Arms, armour and fashion have long had a close relationship. To an extent the armed forces have influenced fashion. For example, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars civilian gentlemen might assume pseudo-military outfits (something delightfully parodied by Thackery in Vanity Fair, in the character of Joss Sedley). More recently the donning by a civilian of military or pseudo-military attire is more likely to indicate an ironic or anti-authoritarian attitude.

Perhaps this is stretching the definition of 'fashion' somewhat, but as far back as prehistoric times the possession of a sword - a costly item with no civilian function - was a status symbol. In the Middle Ages arming swords, though military (the classic single-handed cruciform sword) were commonly worn - by those that could afford them – with civilian dress (at least when travelling) for self-defence. Increasingly they came to be seen as part of everyday clothing, however. No self-respecting Tudor gentleman would be seen without his broadsword and buckler (the latter a small shield), or later his rapier. To extent there remained an element of self-protection, but at the same time their presence perpetuated violence. Street fights (one could hardly dignify them with the term 'duels') between gangs of young men, often over petty issues or personal rivalries, were common. The encounters in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet were very much inspired by what the Bard would doubtless have witnessed frequently in London. "Lay on with your old swashing blows" exclaims one character, and indeed the sound of sword on shield in these fights gave us the term for a swaggering swordsman - a swashbuckler.

In the latter half of the 16th century the sword and buckler gave way to the continental rapier. This was very much an issue of fashion as much as practicality. The elegance of the slim thrusting sword as against the brutal efficiency of the military style cut-and-thrust broadsword, made it eminently more suitable for a gentleman or courtier. Fashions in hilt design and blade length changed over the decades. At one stage blades were becoming so ridiculously long that Elizabeth I (who felt them to be effeminate!) issued an injunction that rapier blades should be no longer than three feet long. (At the same time she restricted the size of men’s ruffs. Anyone caught breaking the rules could have their offending sword/ruff reduced to regulation dimensions on the spot – supposedly giving us the expression “cut down to size”). One of the major exceptions was the Highlands of Scotland, where the broadsword continued to flourish (although ironically Highland Broadswords were mostly produced in Scotland, with the best examples using German blades).

Fashions ever change. By the late 17th century new fencing techniques in France meant the rapier fell out of favour and the lighter, shorter smallsword became all the rage. This was the civilian weapon of choice throughout the late 17th and most of the 18th century. in the late 1700s the sword as part of everyday dress finally fell out of use. Gentlemen would be expected to know how to use their swords, whether or not they ever intended to use them. It was as much a part of their education as any academic subject. Schools of Arms became popular, one of the best known – frequented by Royalty and other prominent figures from across Europe – being that established in the mid-1700s by Dominic Angelo, an Italian swordmaster who moved to England and ‘went native’, and is now regarded as one of the fathers of modern fencing. However, it was more important that you wore your sword than that you used it, and like any item of fashion, you had to have the right sword for the right occasion. Swords with blue or black hilts, for example, were appropriate for mourning or other solemn affairs. The best hilts were from Paris, the best blades from Solingen in Germany (still renowned for it bladesmiths, although these days they’re better known for cutlery). In the Queen’s Guard Chamber at Windsor Castle there is a fabulous display of smallswords, mainly belonging to George III and George IV. One of those belonging to the latter is gilded, but the gold is almost hidden by being covered in hundreds of diamonds in a draw-dropping (if characteristic) display of tastelessness. Swords were jewellery for men. From c.1800 swords as part of civilian wear rapidly dropped out of favour, initially except for certain forms of formal dress, and then almost entirely. Why this should be, I’m not sure. Perhaps there was a connection to the replacement of swords by pistols in duelling. In Britain pistols had long been preferred, since there was a far greater degree of luck involved, whereas with swords duels the better swordsman was almost invariably the winner. The increasing reliability and compact nature of firearms may also have played a part in the self-defence aspect. However, as I say, fashions come and fashions go.

To be continued…
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura


Posts : 2503
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 29 Mar 2015, 16:53

Interesting topic for discussion.

Just an initial point ...  from the early 19th century onwards, civillian weapons go out of favour in part as they increasingly became associated solely with criminals (or even revolutionaries), and no longer to be seen as something a gentleman would carry in public. This (enforced?) change in attitude was reinforced by several acts of Parliament, namely The Vagrancy Act (1824); The Night Poaching Acts (1828 & 1844); The Game Act  (1831); and culminating in The Gun Licence Act (1870) all of which, while aimed primarily at the lower (criminal) classes, nevertheless increasingly restricted the ownership of all "offensive" weapons, be they shotguns, rifles, pistols, swords, daggers, knives, ... and made their open display (except in strictly controlled situations, such as the grouse shoot) anathema to the British public.
Back to top Go down
Anglo-Norman
Consulatus


Posts : 216
Join date : 2012-04-24

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 29 Mar 2015, 17:51

I wonder if events such as the French Revolution also had an effect - the arming of the masses suddenly becoming a real and frightening concept for the ruling classes? It's also interesting that the first of the new laws you mention came into force within a few years of the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The mass disbandment of troops must have led to an upsurge in working class men with few prospects except crime, and all well-trained in the use of assorted weapons.
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura


Posts : 2503
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 29 Mar 2015, 18:15

I think so. As you say the first legislation in Britain comes shortly after the end of the Napoleonic wars when the disbandment of troops must have led to an upsurge in working class men with few prospects except crime. I suspect the legislation was also prompted by a genuine establishment fear of revolution. This government fear probably continued through the following decades up to mid-century, a period which saw events such as: the demands for Parliamentary reform and extension of the franchise: a severe post-war agricultural depression; famine in Ireland; huge social change as people moved from country villages to industrial cities; the expansion of industry itself and the rise of trade's unions as well as the activities of luddites; Peterloo; Fenian terrorism; the very popular (though peaceful) Chartist movement; and of course the widespread revolutions throughout much of Europe in 1848.

That London's citizens no longer walk abroad with a sword on their belt has less to do with changing fashion and more to do with legislation. But that said, one can still stroll down any city street in Texas with a powerful, automatic pistol on one's hip, openly displayed as a fashion/power statement, and not be thought in the least unusual. But then that's the US for you.
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura


Posts : 2503
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sat 18 Apr 2015, 18:47

As a metallurgist I’ve long had an interest in the manufacture of arms and armour, but in my relative ignorance I’d always assumed that most developments in the shape and style of medieval armour were principally due to advances in metal working and primarily made in response to simultaneous developments in weaponry, rather than in response to changing fashion. I had generally assumed that the primary function of armour was to be above all defensive and so not susceptible to the mere flighty whims of fashion. But I now suspect the truth is much more subtle.

From the early 14th century onwards the style of armour seems to closely follow that of civilian fashion … and visa versa.

Some examples I've found...

By the beginning of the 14th century technical developments for the first time allowed for the manufacture of extensive plate armour (as opposed to mail or lamellar armour) and by its very nature plate armour has to generally be bespoke and made to the client’s dimensions – one size doesn’t fit all. And at about the same time the civilian fashion moved away from flowing gowns and simple baggy one-piece costumes towards closer-fitting, literally tailor-made clothing. The fashion was thus towards narrow-waisted tunics, short doublets and close-fitting hose, like this (French, late 14th century):



... and this style was simultaneously mirrored in contemporary armour, (here from about mid 14th century, English):



... or here from early to mid 15th century (German):



…. and even down to the bizarre 15th century fashion for extremely long pointed shoes  … which cannot have been in the least bit practical on the battlefield and hence in armour are usually made to be detachable! (These are part of a 1480s German armour):




By the first quarter of the 16th century the era of the (expensive) heavily armed mounted man-at-arms had just about had its day, to be replaced by large (mercenary) infantry units. These were generally more lightly armed – often just the head and upper body - since to make them completely invincible against the new fangled musket was all but impossible and prohibitively expensive. And additionally such lighter armed soldiers were capable of more rapid, and more sophisticated battlefield manouvres. So in such pike and musket units, like those of the Swiss or the German landsknechts, personal armour was often just reduced to a helmet, and armour over only the chest and upper arms … and the rest of the attire was just normal ‘civilian’ clothes.

But interestingly at this time, the breastplate, one of the last bits of armour to be worn, increasingly looks like the low, wide-necked chemise of the time, complete even with the typical folds that occur since the cloth version was gathered by a drawstring across the chest (here Italian, circa 1500):



At the same time (early to mid 16th century) the civilian fashion was towards puffier sleeves and hose, often with cut-and-slash ... that is with slits through which the lining, usually in a contrasting colour, could be partially drawn. This civilian fashion supposedly arose in mockery/mimicry of the slashed, battle damaged clothing of soldiers. But again it is hard to see which actually came first as at the same time there are armours made to exactly reproduce puffy slashed-sleeved civilian clothes in fully articulated steel armour (German, circa 1525):




 ... that's all made in steel ... isn't it marvellously well done?!

Finally by the late 16th century full armour was generally redundant on the battlefield and so was the preserve only of the enormously wealthy. As a pure fashion statement they seem to very closely follow contemporary dress, with a low waistline, big hipped to enclose the contemporary barrel hose, and with a downward pointed doublet/cuirasse, eg this (English) from the 1580's:



... And then of course there're the strange romanesque parade armours much beloved by all those classically-read renaissance princes. This is the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's quasi-Imperial Roman parade armour (circa 1530):



Needless to say he never actually wore it into battle.

Well anyway, there are a few of my thoughts....


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 19 Apr 2015, 11:21; edited 1 time in total
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura


Posts : 2503
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 19 Apr 2015, 09:02

Just a little bit more ...

Like the ludicrously impractical long-pointed toes, another detail that clearly shows that armour followed the vagaries of fashion and was not just for practical protection, are armoured codpieces. Codpieces, both in clothing and armour first appear about mid 15th century but attain their greatest, ahem!, prominence in mid 16th century. But in armour I can't help thinking there are better ways of protecting this bit than by drawing attention to it and making it stick out!

 (circa 1550)

Though I quite like this one ... a little old man to protect yer little 'old man':

Back to top Go down
Triceratops
Censura


Posts : 2647
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Mon 20 Apr 2015, 09:34

The costumes of the late 15th/early 16th century Landsneckts were extravagant in the extreme.

They were allowed exemption from sumptuary laws on account of their dangerous profession;



Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima


Posts : 4755
Join date : 2011-12-30

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Mon 20 Apr 2015, 19:56

MM, I'm not in the least bit interested in fighting and armour, but the information and the pictures you have given above have had even me fascinated! Thank you for searching it all out and posting it for us.

Back to top Go down
Anglo-Norman
Consulatus


Posts : 216
Join date : 2012-04-24

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Wed 06 May 2015, 17:15

Meles meles, thanks for finishing this off. I was in the process of putting together something similar, but then a string of things got in the way (not least losing access to the internet for several days - twice!). If I may make a few additions:

First a quick correction to part 1: “ironically Highland Broadswords were mostly produced in Scotland” should, of course, have read “mostly produced in the Lowlands”.

Evidence of armour being “fashionable” stretches back to ancient times. Some designs on armour had religious or other significance, but in other cases they seem to have served no practical purpose. Some Roman helmets, for example, had elements such as enamelled studs which appear to have been purely decorative. Sticking with the Romans, the rectangular metal plates that adorned the distinctive military belt (balteus or cingulum militare) are often decorated with distinctive patterns. Since legionaries were expected to pay for their own kit, it’s only natural they might want to personalise it a little. One of the most famous depictions of a centurion (famous because of its recreation by re-enactors) shows him wearing a mail shirt seemingly shaped to mimic the breastplate of a senior officer. (The metal discs or phalerae were awards, by the way, and you can see the decoration on his helmet - not, so far as we can tell, restricted to officers):


There were some incidences of fashion influencing armour in the earlier Middle Ages as well. The early 12th century saw the evolution of the conical helmet into a ‘phrygian’ style with the tip tilted forward. This mimicked civilian headwear of the time.


You've rightly described the link between plate armour and civilian fashions, but it's also worth noting how the aventail (the mail section protecting the neck and shoulders in 14th/early 15th century armour), though a practical piece, in style mimicked the 'cotehardie' hood popular at the time.


It's interested that the 'piked' (pointed) shoes tended to be most extravagant in Germany, which is true of their civilian shoes. In England and other more conservative countries they were generally shorter. During the early 16th century sabatons again changed with fashion, mimicking the broad, squared-toed 'bear-paw' shoes then in vogue. The early 16th century 'Maximilian' style armour below (named after the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, in whose reign the style became popular) displays bear-paw sabatons as well as the chemise-style cuirass you've already discussed. It's also worth noting, though, how the lower leg armour is smooth in comparison to the folds and pleats of the rest - this seems to mimic hose:


Your mock classical parade armour leads me to an interesting diversion: this is a painting of St Martin Dividing His Cloak (one of the best known parts of the legend of St Martin in which Martin, then a Roman army officer, saw a naked beggar and cut in cloak in half so the unfortunate man had some protection. That night Christ appeared to Martin in a dream, wearing the bisected cloak):

The artist has made no attempt to give Martin equipment appropriate to a 4th century Roman soldier, instead dressing him in a beautifully depicted early 16th century half-armour. Nothing too unusual - it was common to portray historical religious scenes in contemporary dress to give then a modern 'relevance'. What is curious, though, is that the artist was Van Dyck and the painting was done c.1620, a century after that style was armour was in fashion! What was Sir Anthony up to??
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura


Posts : 2503
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 10 May 2015, 08:25

I've just come across this one. It's an all steel helmet but in the style of a wide-brimmed civillian felt hat (the capotain hat) of about mid to late 17th century, even down to the fashionably upturned left brim and with a clip for a fancy feather.



In a period when military helmets, although often quite ornate, mostly had practical features such as a reinforced crest, a peak and often a barred visor to protect the face, side pieces or ear flaps, and were extended low at the back to protect the neck ... this hat/helmet seems to trade nearly all practicality for style (though it does feature a slender, retractable nose-guard). I wonder if it was not originally covered in felt so to appear exactly like a gentleman's floppish fedora. And so was it a specially commissioned piece for either an extremely fashion-conscious soldier ... or a particularly paranoid prince, ever afraid of the assassins bullet?
Back to top Go down
Anglo-Norman
Consulatus


Posts : 216
Join date : 2012-04-24

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Sun 10 May 2015, 09:21

Intriguing! John Bradshaw wore an bullet-proof hat during the trial of Charles I, which was indeed originally covered to made it look like an ordinary civilian one. It's now in the Ashmoleon:



However, from the nasal and the horizontal brass strip which seems to mimic a hatband, I'd guess yours was always uncovered and purely military. It was common for officers of the period just to wear hats, indeed during the Thirty Years' War use of broad-brimmed hats by cavalry of all ranks was wide-spread. It maybe, therefore, that the owner of your helmet was being unusually safety-concious, whilst not forgetting to be fashionable. Either way, I'm sure it was specially commissioned rather than standard kit.
Back to top Go down
FrederickLouis
Aediles


Posts : 60
Join date : 2016-12-13

PostSubject: Re: Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour   Thu 05 Jan 2017, 02:06

King Henry VIII of England enjoyed collections of things he valued, particular weapons. He owned thousands of pieces of arms and armor.
Back to top Go down
 

Dressed to Kill: Fashion, Arms and Armour

View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Res Historica History Forum :: The history of people ... :: Customs, traditions, etiquette and ethics-