THE PRINCE AND THE FASHIONS. 1 - 1 NE of the best of
those gossipping "London correspondents" l_7 who in the provincial press affect t..) know everything, and really know as much as other men who live in clubs and dine out, ascribes to the Prince of Wales a most desirable project. It is nothing less than to abolish an abomination which has lasted a generation, and made that generation the least picturesque de- scribed in pictorial annals—the present fashion of full dress. The idea ascribed to the Prince, whether it be his or not, a point on which we have not been informed either-by His Royal Highness or Mr. Poole, is a very clever one, and much more moderate than most proposed revolutions in dress, which are usually far too Jacobin. Englishmen will not clothe themselves in ancient drapery at anybody's bidding, the crusade against the present. head-dress ended only in the use of a felt which makes tall men look rakish and little men look like grooms, and a recurrence even to the Vandyke theory of manly appearance must be very cau- tiously made. It has taken ten years to make the moustache- popular, and seven to give up the unhealthy habit of swathing the neck in rolls of muslin or thick structures of silk and hair. Human beings with balances are indeed credibly reported to have been seen within the month walking in Pall Mall with laced-up necks, and heads forced back, and cheeks distended with blood, and back incapable of a bow, martyrs still to a misery which began with the Hanoverian dynasty. The present suggestion is simply to abolish the swallow-tailed broad-cloth coat, with its total absence of lines and superabundant buttons—put on originally to- keep the sword-belt from slipping—in favour of a black velvet coat without tails, as like the present frock-coat as the material will admit, and without, we should trust, any recurrence to- the buttons, or rather systems of buttons, by which the speciat beauty of velvet has since the time of Charles II. been de- stroyed. The idea is a good one, and if really entertained by the Prince, a point on which we know nothing whatever, we see no reason why it should not be successful. His Royal Highness is just now in a very happy position for making an inno- vation of the kind. It would not do for Englishmen t as Englishmen all over the Continent, for they b._ .
easily enough by that dialect of French which Mr.
once called Continental English—he has exchanged mots since then for mares' nests, to the world's loss—but in the absence of young men at the Tuileries, an English Heir-Apparent, young and popular, might set the fashion for Europe as well as his mother's dominions. The frock-coat, were it but a little more like drapery, instead of mere dress,—the whole secret of picturesqueness—is one of the best and most useful garments ever invented, and the material indicated is the one which Englishmen of late years have wasted most, light falling on velvet as it never can by possibility fall on the mixture of good wool and rotten shoddy we call broad-cloth. It is not too costly, for it lasts, at least our wives complain so, for ever and a day," while it admits of those hundred grades of quality without which English tailors would be maddened by the novel necessity of drawing up honest bills. Colour is, we imagine, out of the question, for besides the pronounced national taste for black —a taste which is not northern, but arises from an extreme, distaste for gaudiness and individuality of appearance—there is a distinct reason for its adoption. Any attempt to deepen the apparent distinction of classes by dress would be warmly resented, and colour costs too much, spots too readily, and allows of too, great a difference of price in the different quality of the dyes em- ployed. But plain velvet, in a form already accepted and popular, and of the customary colour, would be a genuine improvement, would remove the outward dinginess of an English assembly, and rid us once for all of the abominable swallow-tail. There is a potency of bad taste in the human mind, but even Englishmen could not stand that absurdity in an unaccustomed material, and once vetoed there is not much chance of the monstrosity re-appearing. Sooner should we return to tattooing, or that equally bare adornment the
round jacket, which endures in schools because it is never in the way, and lasted in India till 1850 because it was the nearest approach to nudity practicable under the Police Acts, but is about as much fitted for grown men as a spencer, and nothing else, would be for their wives. The stock has disappeared from everywhere except the mournful memories of old colonels, the dirty appendages called
"straps" have almost ceased to be made, and there is a strange idea creeping among bootmakers that Providence gave us feet that we might walk with them, and that consequently if shoes are .worit: at all they may as well fit the foot, and the time may have arrived for English gentlemen to leave off wearing a tail such as all other mortals leave to birds.
We can only hope that there may besome little truth in the rumour, and if the Prince go a step or two further he would deserve and receiire a national demonstration of gratitude. It is of no use to write any more against that marvellous article of dress the chim-
ney-pot hat, for the power of its transcendent ugliness beat all the artiste, penmen and men of taste in England less that ten years ago. Nobody had the brains, or the inventiveness, or the courage to propose an endurable substitute, and the eye once educated to see men with a foot of cylinder on their heads misses the monstrosity, and wants something strikingly good to make up for its loss. Everybody admits that the contrivance does not fulfil any required function of a headdress, does not warm the head, or cool the head, or protect the head, or shade the eyes, or keep the nape of the neck from the SIM, or ward off the rain ; that it is always in the way in rooms, or in carriages, or on horseback ; that it is costly, and that it completely alters the appearance of the head. No artist will put it in a picture, no sculptor think of it for a statue, no physician recommend it for a covering ; yet there it is, protected like most ugly things by the gap a vacancy would leave. An example would kill it, nevertheless, more especially if the substitute were a decent one, something not borrowed, like the wide-awake, from" horsey" individuals, but capable of wear by quiet people, something, in short, founded on, though not copied from, Holbein's pictures of the head-dress used in his time. The best cap ever invented, perhaps, for warmth and grace was Henry VIII.'s "cap of mainten- ance."
Then, finally, is it beyond the power of Courts, Princes, and decent people to get rid, finally rid, of the ludicrous uniform known as English Court dress ? A monarchy must, of course, be surrounded by etiquettes, and a limited monarchy by very strict etiquettes, but why this particular one? The object of Court ceremonial is to add to the dignity of the Court, but dressing great people like stage footmen and making quiet civilians wear swords which get between their legs, does not add to its dignity. The Court dress as worn has no warrant in history, for it is only the evening dress of the time of George II. continued after it has become not only obsolete, but from its use among footmen even .body looks well in it, nobody wears it easily, for • .he breeches of civilization they have an uncomfor- ..aspicion as to the emotions raised by the thickness or other- 'wise of their own calves when thus reluctantly exposed to view. The substitution of ordinary evening dress would not, moreover, reduce the Court to the regular monotonous black, for the number of uniforms is quite sufficient to break the prevailing colour, and were velvet adopted a really good costume would take the place of a very undignified one. It may be said that the difficulty of access to the Sovereign is enhanced by the use of a peculiar cos- tume, and that difficulty of access is an essential of ceremonial ; but that would be an argument for plate armour, or the dress of the Cherokees, and as a matter of fact the Court dress stops nobody, the tailor supplying coats to a ticket-of-leave as readily as to the longest pedigree. The only effect of the masquerade is a levelling one, all .wearers alike looking almost equally awkward, and the hundred mall signs which still distinguish the gentleman from the pretender being as imperceptible as they are among privates.on parade. The Crown since the Stuart days has, perhaps wisely, shrouded itself from the popular gaze, but the Prince may rely on it that intrusion in masquerade is very much easier than intru- sion in the dress under which habit enables all men to distinguish the gentleman from the "cad." To rid us at once of the swallow- tail, the hat, and motley would be good work for a Prince who announced in ,,his first public letter that his role would be to foster a sense of Art in the national mind.