Toronto Metropolitan University

File(s) not publicly available

Decorated Men: Fashioning the French Soldier, 1852-1914

journal contribution
posted on 2024-03-06, 22:13 authored by Alison Matthews DavidAlison Matthews David

Finery is so instinctual for men, and for the Frenchman in particular, that, in spite of their theories, the fiercest egalitarians from the National Convention to the Commune have festooned themselves with scarves, feathers, braid and multicolored cloth.... Well! This inclination is more worthy of praise than condemnation... Men think, and above all, act differently according to which costume they don: dress the most cowardly of men up in a French officer's, uniform and then get back to me...
    Gabriel Prévost, Le nu, le vêtement, la parure chez l'homme et la femme (1883)

    In an 1864 caricature by the artist Draner, a member of Napoleon Ill's elite bodyguard poses in front of a milliner's shop. With his hat perched jauntily on his head, cape tossed over his shoulder, and long legs swathed in bright red and blue cloth, he usurps the traditional place of the elegant woman on the boulevard. The caricaturist's intention is clear: this officer is a fashion plate himself, a military mannequin. He takes his role seriously: he faces the viewer, seemingly unaware of the admiring glances directed at him by the shop women, whose pale gowns fade in comparison with the flamboyance of his peacock hues. He does not look at the merchandise, he is the merchandise -- a living advertisement for the glamour of the French army. Draner was not alone in his characterization of members of the Hundred Guards. Henri Bouchot, who described the different regiments of the Second Empire wrote: "The Hundred-Guards are more like 'pretty women,' marked by their refined shapeliness" (Bouchot 1898: 294). As unusual as this image may seem to a modern viewer, the juxtaposition between soldier and woman of fashion was not an anomaly in the nineteenth century. Decorated and decorative men were an integral part of the landscape in the latter half of the century, a part of the sartorial environment that historical scholarship has neglected.




Usage metrics



    Ref. manager