Fashion in the field in the 18th Century
Portrait of a Gentleman shooting with his pointers – Watercolour, circa 1765
This Sporting Gentleman is kitted out in the latest field clothing for the serious devotee of the relatively new sport of “Shooting Flying”. His attire is similar to that painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1762 of William Poyntz Of Midgham and his dog Amber and also to Joseph Wright of Derby’s 1769 portrait of Fleetwood Hesketh or Johann Zoffany’s 1765 portrait of The Third Duke of Richmond, out shooting with his servant.
So, what is he equipped with for a day’s shooting in 1765?
Flint Lock Shotgun
The new method of shooting flying birds, introduced in England from France in the late 1600s, encouraged the development of the shorter barrelled gun. Flint Lock shotguns, with four foot barrels became typical in sporting guns of the first quarter of the eighteenth century and by mid-century 36” was common. In the 4th (1785) edition of The Art of Shooting Flying, Thomas Page gives unambiguous advice on barrel length: “It is necessary for any gentleman who sports much to have two guns: the barrel of one about two feet nine inches (33”), which will serve very well for the beginning of the season, and for wood-shooting; the other about three feet three inches (39”), for open shooting after Michaelmas: the birds by that time are grown so shy, that your shoots must be at longer distances. But if you intend one gun to serve for all purposes, then a three-foot barrel (or thereabouts) I think most proper.”
By his feet, on the right of the watercolour lies a typically marked English Pointer, while the dog on the left, trying to attract his attention, is a solid colour. These dogs appeared in Britain in 1713, at the end of the War of Spanish Succession, when British army officers brought them home. Italian pointers were also brought to England around the same time and were crossed with the Spanish pointers, contributing to the Pointer as we know it today. The Pointer’s type, temperament and hunting ability were fairly standardised by the end of the 1700s and actually have changed very little since.
This gentleman’s choice of pointers over spaniels probably indicate his higher social position – it is likely he could afford to have his dogs trained for him. Spaniels were the more popular choice for the mid-18th century sportsman, being quicker and easier to train. Originally, spaniels were divided by the game they flushed, not by breed. Cockers (woodcock) and Springers (partridge, pheasants, and hares).
Of course, no 18th century man is complete without a tricorne hat. Other types of hats existed, such as the ever-popular slouch hat. But who thinks of slouch hats when they hear 1700’s? There’s a good reason for that; the slouch hat was originally a farmer’s hat. The tricorne hat is what anybody who was anybody wore – but it did not offer the protection from the sun or rain that the slouch hat afforded. Since the 17th century, the slouch hat was defined as any fairly soft hat with a low crown and a medium brim. However, over time the term has become specifically applied to a wide-brimmed felt or cloth hat most commonly worn as part of a military uniform, often, although not always, with one side turned up against the crown.
The 18th-century man almost always wore some sort of neck cloth, whether fashionably dressed or at labour. The cravat was one of many forms of neckwear. It was a narrow length of white linen that was worn wrapped about the throat and loosely tied in front. The cravat was first seen in fashionable dress in the mid-17th century. It was derived from the “crabate” worn by Croatian soldiers serving with the French Army (c.1645-1650). By the mid-18th century it was worn in informal attire.
Short Cuff-less Coat
The major innovation with this gentleman’s coat is the lack of the wide and often elaborate folded back cuffs normally associated with 18th century dress. The removal of the cuff allowed greater ease of movement – less cloth to get snagged on foliage and a smoother present when mounting his shotgun. The sleeve buttons stayed on cuff-less men’s civilian coats, first to make it easier to put on coats with the tight-fitting sleeves of that period, then later simply as a fashionable decoration. He has forsaken the popular bright colours of the day for a drab brown cloth, offering both camouflage and cleaning practicality. His coat is cut short, again to afford ease of movement in undergrowth.
Slung over his right shoulder is a game bag – no doubt little different than it is today.
From the late 16th century until the early 19th century, most men wore breeches as their lower body garment. Through the centuries breeches were seen in many forms and lengths. In the early 18th century breeches were barely seen beneath long waistcoats and coats. By the mid-18th century they were more noticeable beneath shorter waistcoats and open coats, and so the cut of breeches became tighter and revealed the shape of the leg. Worn by all levels of society, breeches were made in a great variety of silks, cottons, linens, wools, knits, and leathers.
Since a man’s breeches of the 18th century came to just beneath the knee, a covering for the lower leg was required for warmth and protection. Leggings fully covered the lower leg from a few inches above the knee extending to cover the top of the foot. Spatterdashes covered the leg from the mid-shin to the top of the foot. Made of stout woollen or linen cloth or of leather, spatterdashes were worn by the sporting gentleman, labouring man, and the military. The term later became abbreviated to that which we are still familiar today – “Spats”.
Portrait of a Gentleman shooting with his pointers – Watercolour, circa 1765. Price £275
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