No Fol-de-Rols

Margaret Anne Doody

  • The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity: England 1550-1850 by David Kuchta
    California, 299 pp, £29.95, May 2002, ISBN 0 520 21493 5

What is it our mammas bewitches
To plague us little boys with breeches?
To tyrant Custom we must yield
Whilst vanquished Reason flies the field.
Our legs must suffer by ligation
To keep the blood from circulation.

Our wiser ancestors wore brogues
Before the surgeons bribed these rogues
With narrow toes and heels like pegs
To help to make us break our legs.

And to increase our other pains
The hat band helps to cramp our brains.
The cravat finishes the work,
Like bowstring sent from the Grand Turk.

‘Written for My Son, and Spoken by Him at His First Putting on Breeches’ (1731)

As Mary Barber knew, male clothing is as irrational a cultural imposition as women’s. Yet, while the absurd, even unhealthy frivolity of female clothing has been attacked for centuries by Philosophes, physicians and divines, male dress, equally artificial, has passed largely unregarded and unrebuked, treated instead as normal, natural and reasonable. David Kuchta’s revisionist history makes male clothing the centre of attention.

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