Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

Janice Carlisle

If clothes proverbially make the man, might they also indicate whether a figure in Ford Madox Brown’s epic painting Work (1852–65) is entitled to vote in parliamentary elections? By closely examining the clothes of the many male figures in Brown’s painting and by speculating about the stories that their apparel tells, as he did in his 1865 descriptive catalogue, this chapter attempts to answer that question by analysing how the relative indigence or material wellbeing of its wearers suggests their ability or inability to meet the various economic tests of the tortuously complicated election laws that obtained in the years when Brown was painting Work. The artist invites its viewers to pay attention to the cut, colours, and fabrics that his figures wear through his representations of them in painstaking detail and great variety – from the tattered smock and hat of the barefoot herb gatherer; the sturdy, highly differentiated apparel of the navvies (or excavators); and the dandified shirt and accessories of the beer man; to the head-to-toe finery of ladies and gentlemen, as well as the distinctive wear of the two historical figures in Brown’s painting, Thomas Carlyle and Frederick Denison Maurice. The results of this exercise reveal that Work can be read and might well have been read by its first Victorian viewers as a visual argument about the centrality of institutional politics in general and of franchise reform in particular.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Elizabeth Bishop

The most vivid published images of the imperial administrator Gertrude Bell describe her as equestrienne: one memoirist recalls that a swift gesture intercepting the military salute offered civil authority: ‘a single mounted figure in a dark habit, riding side-saddle in a masterly fashion on a prancing Arab mare. Drawing level, I saw the Union Jack … and saluted. Miss Bell put up her riding-whip vertically to the brim of her tricorne in reply and, setting spur to her mount, went forward at a hand-gallop, followed by a pair of bounding salukis, to direct the sowars.’ External to masculinised hierarchies, her body transgressed them. Building on Sara Suleiri’s observation that ‘[t]o study the rhetoric of the British Raj in both its colonial and postcolonial manifestations is ... to attempt to break down the incipient schizophrenia of a critical discourse that seeks to represent domination and subordination as though the two were mutually exclusive terms’, this chapter notes ways in which Bell’s political and sartorial styles provide an opportunity to discuss Britain’s commerce and empire. While Rosi Braidotti considers the ‘feminine’ to be independent of real-life women, Bell was too visible an agent of imperial power not to threaten this new public patriarchy. Can Bell’s female body be read as imperialising? While it is read as liberated (noting her education, international travel, and political activism) a response calls into question her agency in the genesis and perpetuation of coercive systems, her place in a move from spectacle to intrusion.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Manliness, power, and politics via the top hat
Ariel Beaujot

This chapter identifies an important historical and social phenomenon largely neglected by historians: the way in which headwear functioned as a site in the making of class-based masculinities in Victorian British society. Hats were an index to social power and an object from which a narrative could be read. They were also part of the system of signs and symbols that clarified the public landscape. By focusing on headwear we can assess one of the ways in which power, class, and masculinity were formed and maintained in Victorian Britain. The first half of the chapter explores the symbolism of hats by focusing on the ways in which they depicted and reinforced elite masculinity and status. The second half looks at the particular arena of the House of Commons where several sartorial issues were tested and resolved. This chapter argues that the consolidation of hegemonic elite masculinity is done in what seemed like minor incidents concerning fashion.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Abstract only
Jim Crow’s tuxedo
Kevin A. Morrison

What relevance does a volume that focuses on political and sartorial styles in Britain and its colonies during the long nineteenth century have for the contemporary era? How might a personification of racial prejudice and societal segregation, emerging in the nineteenth century as a dressed caricature and widely used today as a figure of speech, link diverse political actors across borders and nationalities? Can the parallels or precedents offered by nineteenth-century antecedents enable one to become a better reader of political messaging in the twenty-first century? The Introduction explores the material traces as well as the global-historical entanglements of a contemporary sartorial metaphor that might otherwise appear to be merely domestic or nation-specific concerns. Rooting this metaphor in the long nineteenth century, which witnessed a particularly serious effort to theorise the links between political and sartorial styles and also established concepts with which scholars today continue to work, the Introduction foregrounds the contemporary relevance of studying nineteenth-century dress in varied political contexts. It also introduces the volume’s key terms and situates its contribution to the study of style and politics among extant theoretical and historical scholarship.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Britain and its Colonies in the Long Nineteenth Century

Starting with the premise that clothing is political and that analysing clothing can enhance understanding of political style, this collection explores the relationships among political theory, dress, and self-presentation during a period in which imperial and colonial empires assumed their modern form. The book assembles an international slate of academics specialising in literary criticism and material culture, social and cultural history, and imperial history to document the role of clothing in forming political identities and in communicating social and political messages. It sheds light on the material basis of the political cultures of Britain and its colonies while offering timely connections to present-day issues and concerns. Organised under three thematic clusters, the chapters range from an analysis of the uniforms worn by the West India Regiments stationed in the Caribbean to the smock frock donned by rural English agricultural labourers, and from the self-presentations of Members of Parliament, political thinkers, and imperial administrators to the dress of characters and caricatures in novels, paintings, and political cartoons. Because politics was for much of the period on which this volume focuses a man’s affair, the predominant, although not exclusive, focus on men and masculinity – an underrepresented area in scholarship on fashion and style – is a distinguishing characteristic of this work.

Political identities, meanings, and the responses to MPs’ dress, c. 1850–1914
Marcus Morris

Certain sartorial expectations governed the appearance of Members of Parliament from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth. In order to be taken seriously and to convey their suitability to govern, MPs were expected to don the uniform of the House: a sombre black frock coat, silk top hat, and morning suit. Although this uniform was ubiquitous in the Commons throughout the period, others consciously subverted these sartorial expectations, which elicited primarily critical responses from within and without Parliament. Of course, not all sartorial choices had political meaning, and some were born out of eccentricity or contrariness. Most, however, were contrived and had political consequences. This chapter suggests that it is the reaction to such choices from other MPs, the political classes, and wider popular culture that is most instructive. It explores what such reactions tell us about political attitudes to an evolving political culture in a time of extending franchise, social change, emerging radical politics, and nationalist agendas. They tell us about more than just an individual’s political or personal identity. The chapter argues that the invariably negative response was neither a comment on fashion nor a reaction to the wearer, but reflected wider concerns about a trivialising of British politics due to its widening social base, direct challenges to the established order, and the changing political landscape. The reactions to sartorial subversion should thus be read as a manifestation of such concerns, which provide us with a different way of interrogating the political changes taking place in Britain.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Sartorial exchange, social reform, and the work of the novel in Walter Besant’s Children of Gibeon
Peter Katz

This chapter investigates second-hand clothing, political reform, and the social problem novel in Walter Besant’s Children of Gibeon (1886). The novel follows a wealthy heiress as she moves in with the East End seamstresses who she believes are her real family. Appalled by the conditions of the working class, the heiress seeks to alleviate the working girls’ suffering. Her first inclination is towards gifts: gifts of clothing, and gifts of revolutionary politics. In Children of Gibeon, sartorial exchange mirrors social structures. While the novel acknowledges that a change of clothes could produce social change, it dismisses second-hand clothing as effective reform. Second-hand clothing epitomises the working girls’ social condition: they produce clothing, but can afford to wear only rags. When they are offered second-hand clothes, the girls become further enmeshed in the system that exploits them. Second-hand clothing problematises second-hand politics handed down from those who do not directly experience the effects of labour. Like second-hand clothes, the novel’s representation of socialism only covers up rather than resolves the problems. It treats labourers as an abstraction and ignores their suffering bodies – and puts them in debt to the political leaders. The novel challenges the idea of the reformer as one who comes in from the outside and offers material or political gifts. The novel’s heroine learns from her personal relationships with labourers that reform will succeed only if it moves beyond charity or benevolence, and instead attends to labourers as individuals who matter.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Alison Toplis

This chapter examines how various visual perceptions of one garment, the smock frock, influenced nineteenth-century British politics. By the first half of the nineteenth century, the smock frock was a cheap utilitarian ready-made overall used by many working men including small-scale farmers and agricultural labourers. Farmers who worked ‘hands-on’, alongside their labourers, became associated with the character of the ‘smock frock farmer’, also personifying honesty and integrity. However, as growing urban populations put pressure on food production, many saw such farmers as inflexible, adhering to old systems, backward-looking, and against progress. These two conflicting interpretations of this sartorially based term are investigated, considering how they were used for political gain by both sides in many important political debates of the era. The chapter then discusses how the smock frock was taken up as a uniform for class confrontation alongside the fustian jacket, which was commonly associated with working-class radicals. As many rural labourers faced abject poverty and starvation during the mid-1840s, their daily dress, the smock frock, became used as a political symbol of their condition. How agricultural labourers expressed their political discontent using their appearance is investigated along with the implications this had into the late nineteenth century. Politically, the smock frock could thus embody both class conscious radicals and traditionalists opposed to progress. As this chapter illuminates, the dichotomy between the two stances makes the metaphor of the smock frock in political identities fluid and often contradictory.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
The West India Regiments’ dress until 1900
Steeve O. Buckridge

This chapter examines the development of military and British imperial uniforms among the West India Regiments in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries and the role of military dress as a visual representation and conveyer of class, status, power, and identity. The British colonial rulers had long believed that ‘proper’ dress, regardless of location or climate, was required for governing subject people. The chapter explores cultures of differences and the politics of representation within the West India Regiments that policed the British Caribbean colonies. It examines how military dress shaped sartorial communication by its varying need for identification and aims to develop an understanding of how these representations were conformed, contested, and appropriated in relation to cultural space, power, and the body surface. Several questions are central to this study. Did ethnic dress influence military styles in the British West Indies? What sort of race, class, and masculinity issues impacted on the making and use of military dress in colonial Jamaica? How did military dress contort and re-image the black man’s body within the confines of colonial society? The chapter argues that the relationship of military dress to black men’s identity and black masculinity was more complex than has previously been considered and that the military dress of the British West India Regiments was transformed over time into meaningful designs that not only influenced and shaped identities, but also served as a visual reminder and symbol of privilege and elitism that emphasised white dominance and British colonial rule.

in Political and Sartorial Styles
Politics and dress in Melbourne Punch, 1860s–1870s
Shu-chuan Yan

Taking Melbourne Punch as a case in point, this chapter investigates the way in which political cartooning is intertwined with the metaphorical meaning of clothes philosophy, providing a visual vocabulary of signifiers for us to examine the political, economic, and cultural aspects of Australia in the 1860s and 1870s. The chapter addresses clothing as an embodiment of socio-political and ideological fabric of the colony of Victoria, on the basis of the assumption that the journalistic representations of emigrant politicians’ sartorial styles fed the public taste for graphic humour within an imperial-colonial context. The significance of the sartorial satire lies in its ability to communicate to the Melbourne Punch reader a sense of political ideology imbued with rhetorical strategies. It is argued that the comic magazine exploits three major rhetorical devices – the tailor metaphor, literary and cultural allusions, and the trope of sport – as idiomatic metaphoric expressions to construct its clothing languages as a common ground for discussion. These rhetorical devices form a sartorial grammar sharing the lexicon of the political economy of colonial Victoria.

in Political and Sartorial Styles