Hi. Joanna here.
The Regency gentleman's code might be summed up as, "no perfumes, exquisitely fine linen and plenty of it, country washing . . ."
I went in search of Regency bling, hoping for a gold ring in the ear of at least some Regency fops.
Alas, not so much.
The robust and adventurous Tudors wore earrings. The courtier Buckingham sported major rubies. That man of action, Sir Walter Raleigh, a gold hoop. A half century later, Charles I wore a great pearl in his ear when he mounted the block to face the axe.
By the Eighteenth Century, however, earrings had become the province of buccaneers, exotic foreigners, and the most foppish of macaronis.
Perhaps Regency gentlemen recognized a trend.
He was executed by firing squad. His last words are reported to have been,
« Soldats ! Faites votre devoir ! Droit au cœur mais épargnez le visage. Feu ! »
("Soldiers! Do your duty! Straight to the heart but avoid the face. Fire!")
Really, the French have all the good lines.
A cravat pin is a metal needle, about 8 cm long, (3 inches), with a decorative
finial on top. It pierces the fabric of the cravat and sits there at the base of the neck, being decorative.
This works better in some neckcloths than in others. A Frenchman of the Old Regime or an English gentleman dressing for the Court of St. James might nestle a diamond stickpin into the lace at his throat. Sherlock's Dr. Watson probably tacked down his ascot tie with something regimental in the way of a stickpin.
I don't see many cravat pins in Regency portraits. Common sense argues that a stickpin would not be happy jabbed through those intricate, stiffly starched Regency cravats.
So . . . not so many cravat pins in the era.
Now, they did not use studs up and down the front of the shirt or at the collar. There were darned few buttons on the shirt at all. Mostly they had a couple quiet, shy ones that peeked out at the sleeves.
The fancy buttons slipped into buttonholes at the cuff, which is now
lace-free – doubtless a relief to anyone who actually did anything with
They possess a
fugitive charm, these linked, jeweled buttons. They're not going to
show much. A glimpse of gold now and then. A flash of sapphire.
And speaking of buttons . . . May I rant briefly?
Regency shirts did not open all the way down the front with a line of buttons. Regency heroes, be they ever so stalwart or inflamed by passion, cannot tear their shirt off their manly chest like they're opening an oyster. They have to pull it off over their heads.
That's the way it is.
Back to bling.
So, where did the Regency gentleman cut loose, sartorially speaking?
Rings, watches and fobs. I turn my attention to them.
But there's still a flock of Regency rings.
It's generally just the one ring. It can be on either hand, on any finger. Some are plain gold, though there's no indication these were wedding rings. A few rings hold small, discreet jewels.
By far the most common sort of ring is the signet ring.
A signet ring is a seal. What a signet ring does — what any kind of seal does — is stamp an image on some soft material that then dries to preserve the imprint. Seals have been around since iron was the new cutting-edge technology in Babylon.
The seal is signature and authentication and anti-counterfeit security feature all in one. A seal says, "I was here," or "This is mine," or "He speaks in my name," or simply, "Be impressed. Be very impressed."
Naturally, your Regency gentlemen wore one.
The design of this signet ring would be cast in gold or cut into a semiprecious stone. It might be an old family crest — this was a good way for the gentleman to show the world he has an old family — or the design might be a tad bit more recent and inventive.
The signet ring is swank. It's bragging, in an understated way.
But it's useful. That signet ring gets pressed into the blob of hot wax that closes up a letter and makes it private. We use glue. They used a wax seal. Same principle, but I think messing with wax would be more fun.
The gentleman would likely have a seal in his desk drawer.
This would be a substantial object. It might even be a thing of beauty
"A guinea under seal" — remember all those Regency schoolboys who got one from their favorite uncle? — would be a gold guinea, set on the closure of the letter with hot wax dripped over it, to hide it. The seal would be that signet ring pressed on top.
I wonder though . . . A gold guinea under George III was 24 mm in diameter — almost exactly the size of a US quarter. Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park, speaks of sending "a half guinea under the seal." At 20 mm, about the size of a US penny. That sounds more doable.
The signet ring held its design in reverse. A negative image, if you will. See how it's done? You wouldn't necessarily appreciate the artwork or recognize the design of that ring till you looked at the wax imprint.
The Phantom's ring, on the other hand, is a positive image that would leave a negative, and permanent, dent in the villain he slugged. With all this comic book goodness for the taking, why do we not see more signet rings leaving their imprint on the jaws of Regency villains?
Which brings us to the fob.
We talk about fobbing somebody off. It is not immediately obvious how this is related to watch fobs.
The word fob comes to us from two, possibly unrelated sources. Going back to 1600 the word means a cheat or trick. To fob somebody off is to attempt to pass off deceit or hand over inferior product. Not long afterwards, fob came to mean a small pocket sewed into the breeches for carrying a watch or money or valuables. Maybe it was considered a deceitful pocket? Maybe that's why they called it a fob.
Watches were a big deal. Not just beautiful.
Not just expensive.
They were there for the joy of displaying them.
And aren't they beautiful objects?
What happens next is an example of the eons-long struggle between clothing designers who are righteously bound and determined that they will not put useful pockets into any sort of clothing and the ordinary bloke who has to — you guessed it — put stuff into those bitty little pockets. Watch pockets were large enough to hold your fingers up to about the second joint, or a watch, but were not large enough to hold fingers and a watch. So you couldn't reach in and extract said watch.
Dealing with this idiocy in a typically pragmatic fashion, folks attached a chain or a ribbon to the watch and used that to pull the watch out of the fob pocket.
They tucked the watch in the pocket and let the chain or ribbon hang out in the breeze where it was useful to pickpockets. Then they hung stuff on the chain, giving in to what seems to be an irresistible temptation to humankind.
Words creep around. Fob started out meaning the pocket, began to mean the ribbon or chain that hung out of the pocket, and eventually fob meant the ornaments hanging on the end of the fob ribbon.
What ornaments? Oh, there's a long list of them. Jewels, keys for winding the watch, (so practical,) pretty silver and gold charms, tassels. And seals. That's what hangs on the end of the fob chain or ribbon very commonly. A seal. Like signet rings, the dangling fob seal says, "This is who I am. This is my coat of arms. I write important letters at the drop of a hat. I have a seal and I'm not afraid to use it."
Some of these fob ribbons are six, seven, eight, nine inches long. Nine inches. The longer ones must have slapped and twirled and jingled when the fops walked. (Fop, in case you were wondering, is not related to the word fob. It's a century older in the English language and comes from a Latin word for fool.)
When I look at pictures of these elaborate multi-fobs, I'm reminded of the chatelaine – that useful object the lady of the house wore at her waist. Here's one. You can see how it hooked over the waistband. This plethora of fobs the menfolk started toting around is a bit like that, but without the utility value.
One more interesting fob fact. A couple decades before the
Regency, fashionable gentlemen decided that if one watch was good, two would be twice as good.
They started wearing two watches and two sets of fobs. (Maybe so they'd stop listing to one side?)
Women took this up, doubtless as tit for tat, since men had swiped the chatelaine.
For a few years all the ton, men and women alike, were carrying double.
It's not amazing the American and French Revolutions broke out almost immediately. The habit of carrying two watches — how often would they agree? — left everybody with a profound distrust of authority.
(stick pins and both gold watches are from The Met here; Chatelaine, Wedgewood fob, gold signet ring with bird, sleeve links, watch with chain and fobs, and watch chain with fobs are from the Victoria and Albert Museum here ; Phantom comic and ring are from wikipedia under cc attrib; casting of a watch fob is from the Museum of London here ; Georgian citrine seal is from Lang's Antiques here.)
So . . . what's your favorite masculine bling, either 'in real life' or for your fictional hero? And why?
One poster will be chosen at random from the comment trail to win a copy of Forbidden Rose, or a copy of the Trade Paperback of Spymaster's Lady. Your choice.