18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Gentleman in Red, 1760s

Last week’s 1840s plaid-ish dress was like a woman who is technically not the least bit beautiful, but who is so clever and witty with her looks that she tricks people into thinking she is more attractive than her more classically arranged sisters.  The illusion divided you into those who were completely taken in by the subterfudge, those who saw it and admired her more for it, those who looked straight for the true aesthetic and missed the wit altogether, and those who saw and dismissed the clever screen and cast your vote for the academically prescribed aesthetic.  Which is right?  All of them, and none of them!  They are what make the world interesting.  And together mush all the sharp ups and downs of the ratings into a respectable but not exactly brilliant 6.9 out of 10.

Last week one of the main complaints from the latter two camps was that the colours of the dress were too dull.

I hope this is bright enough for you.

Edward Howard by Pompeo Batoni, 1766, Victoria & Albert Museum

Celebrated Italian painter Pompeo Batoni depicts Edward Howard, a young British nobleman on his grand tour, in a suit of red, with more red, and red, in red, and then some red over that, with red.  And then just a little bit of gold, and maybe the tiniest bit of black and white.  And a dog.

What do you think? Is Edward’s outfit the epitome of elegance, or is he the mid-18th century version of a young man going through his ‘cap on backwards, jeans halfway down his bum’ phase (do guys still do that?  Or is the new sartorially dreadful episode for young men when they don skinny jeans and paper thin T-shirts with deep necklines?)?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Well, I like the red, and I like the gold! And I like the trim, so based on all of that this outfit is getting a good rating.

    However, I have a question: What is the, ummm… “thing” sticking out of his pants? Just over his left thigh? I can’t really tell what it is, but I can tell what it looks like, and now it is the only thing I am staring at and it is distracting me from the fact that his vest looks too tight, rumply, and ill fitted. Ummm, yeah. Points off for looking sloppy, though maybe not as many as I would normally deduct as I am still distracted by the thing and can’t think straight until I figure out what it is.


    • fidelio says

      Are you talking about the sword hilt just below and behind the hat?

    • Two things occur to me. Firstly, that Italian painter, he did not like Mr. Howard. Then I thought, maybe this really WAS a flattering painting and the real Mr Howard was so much more pasty and rumpled than this. But not even THIS will put me off my passion for red and gold, Ma’am!
      4/10. Could be a nice suit. But as this fels like a very bad holiday snap, I cannot stretch to more. Rather like Mr Howard’s weskit, I feel…

      • Bwahahahahaa… Even more pasty and rumpled.. Probably so. It behooves a painter to flatter the subject lest they refuse to pay…

        4/10 as well.

    • The ‘thing’ in question is the dog’s leg as the dog jumps up…

      • fidelio says

        Yes; the lighting (or the quality of this reproduction) does not help the dog much; he’s pretty much lost in the shadows. (FWIW, I’d have called that center-righton Mr. Howard, given the sword hilt on his left (our right) side.

        I find his complexion, as depicted by Batoni, highly suggestive of early rosacea.

        It’s not a bad suit–I’d give it an 8 out of 10. The gold braid is nicely understated for the general era.

      • Ah! Thank you. Knowing puts my mind at ease. You know, as much as one can be at ease with this painting.

      • Elise says

        Oooooooh. Now I see the dog. It’s like one of those trompe l’oeil paintings…. But I can’t rate it, because I just cannot see the rest of the outfit, now.

    • Haha! I knew someone was going to see that and be quite confused by it. Yes, as Mrs C pointed out, it’s the dogs paw. Dreadful placement.

      • I showed my sister who is studying art history for school and she says these things are ALWAYS purposeful. Go figure.

  2. Zach says

    Unflattering indeed! I don’t think that was a good day for him–or week; I don’t know how long it took the painter to finish. I kind of feel like he is staring hungrily at a bowl of ice cream or something…I see a great deal of lust in his eyes. As far as his outfit goes, I love it. If I had half the nerve (and materials) I would try making that. Red and gold are amazing together.

    Eight out of ten. The dog helps!

    • Well, Mr Howard didn’t get the painting until 2 years after he had left Italy, so apparently he left a memorably unattractive impression!

  3. The costume is brilliant; lovely color, restrained but effective trimming. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really suit the wearer. It makes him look at best like a middle-aged guy making an unsuccessful attempt to preserve his lost youth, and at worst like a mincing, overweight fop. 10 for the costume (including the tricorn and saber), and a whack over the head for the wearer and his tailor, who seem to have conspired to make him look like a buffoon in it.

  4. Stella says

    I like the suit, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good look for Howard. But that’s not the suit’s fault. I’m giving it 7/10, because I think red and gold suit and red and gold waistcoat is a bit too matchy-matchy. I’d prefer it if the waistcoat was a contrasting colour.

  5. Batoni must have been one of those painters who strove for accuracy rather than flattery.
    And somebody got a really good deal on a bolt of red fabric.


    This ensemble is just a bit too red for a non-uniform. Like Stella, I think it’s a little matchy-matchy.

    • Perhaps he did flatter. After all, we have no idea what Mr H looked like in real life! Perhaps he got as close as he could without people thinking “Who the heck is that!?!” Whenever I see this picture I think of that scene in Casanova 😉

  6. Is this, like Jos Sedley’s mocked ensembles in “Vanity Fair,” meant to evoke military garb without actually being military? 6 out of 10 – because pimpin’ ain’t easy!

  7. Lynne says

    6/10 because I can’t resist red and gold. But it doesn’t suit the lad. The waistcoat that clings to his pot belly is too unkind. It is hard to see just why he is so pleased with himself – must have been seriously rich. I can’t find anything much about him – so many Howards.

  8. Daniel says

    I like – actually, I love red, I like gold, but for me, this is pretty much the 18th century equivalent of Calvin Klone – practically every second boy with some funds would’ve worn a similarly styled outfit to this, so I’m not really feeling it. Maybe it the colour were better or there was some more personality to it, I’d like it more rather than simply liking it a bit.

    Has to be 6/10 from me as it’s a good solid classic staple suit design but it’s not really terribly unique, and the wearer doesn’t really show any flair or personal style to raise it above the average.

  9. That suit would look awesome on a thinner man with darker hair and skin. Right suit wrong model. 9/10 for the suit. 1/10 for the tailor who convinced this poor guy that this off the rack number would be just the thing.

  10. Overall a decent suit, but I think it’s too “matchy-matchy” as has already been voiced. Contrasting breeches or waistcoat would have made this so much better. I’m not a fan of red and gold, but the trim isn’t overdone here. However, the poor boy needs help. Let’s just say that if I was a 18th C. lass, it would be very hard to convince me to marry him. Who cares about money, I’d look for a farm boy. At least they don’t have a pasty complexion and pot belly! 😀 Anyways……rating for the suit 7/10.

  11. ellipsisknits says

    The gold trim is too thin and looks out of proportion against the amount of plain red needed to cover the much, ah, thicker wearer. Looks like they were skimping, or like a cheap immitation or costume rather than the genuine article.

    It’s fitted a bit too tight for my tastes as well.

    Doesn’t do much for me.


  12. The shade of scarlet is so evocative of British officer’s uniforms that I can’t help but wonder if it’s a nod…or a rip-off. Regardless, this poor fellow doesn’t have a very military bearing (a dog poking you in the inseam can’t help) and the choice to go with all-over red, rather than, say, a gold or pale fawn set of smallclothes and a red coat (or vice versa), is a bit much. There’s a reason those British officers wore white smallclothes (or started to later in the 18th century if they weren’t already)…lets the red shine without overpowering!

    Still, I love the simple cut and the sumptuous trim. The fit is excellent–I know it may seem tight, but it should–he’s not trying to hide that potbelly and smallclothes should fit slimly. And while the red may be too much, it doesn’t kill the ensemble. 7/10 and nice try. Now teach your dog some manners and entertain the idea that blue may be more your color.

  13. Eh…. I’m not sure where I stand on this. I’m sure it would look better in person? I like the gold and the red, but there’s not enough visual interest in this one.


  14. Anna says

    Well, at least his pants are pulled all the way up. That is the only redeeming thing I see. 2/10

  15. Laura says

    9/10. I like the suits from this era, although it was the beginning of the end of ornamentation as a common feature of male-associated garments, and this is pretty sedate for the era itself. I can’t say that I understand why people are giving poor marks for the fact that the wearer is fat, but I also think he looks fine in it.

  16. As it’s the suit and not the wearer … 9/10. I love the red suits – I like the idea that you go for the Grand Tour and you get a red suit to show it. As has been pointed out, the gold braid is very understated for the era, and that’s another thing I’m fond of.

  17. leg says

    If he didn’t have the blush on he’d look washed out with all that red.

    I know I’ve read too many romance novels (Georgette Heyer – fun!) so I don’t know if this is true or just made up, but young men taking their tour of Europe had someone along as a guide. I got the impression from the novels that they didn’t have a lot of power (if any) over their charges. I suppose that it would depend on the family.

    Howard’s family had to have money to send him on the Grand Tour. I don’t think that the point of the Tour was to meet a prospective mate. Howard may have been shaking things up a bit with this less than conservative outfit. He may have seen one on a cool kid or someone a bit older he wanted to emulate. I wonder if his guide was present when Howard was choosing his clothes and tried to talk him out of it or was overwhelmed by its splendor.

    Well, the suit’s red and gold matches and the black tricorn hat does, too. However, the vest is tight (the buttons are pulling against the edge of the button holes) and the pants are too tight and pulling (and golly that embarassed me to say it). He probably has been induldging himself in food and drink rather than tailoring since he got to the Continent. Because I am obese I don’t blame him for indulging in food, but it would seem likely that he has money for tailored clothing!

    Failure to buy clothes that fit (since he probably has the money)/ Bad tailoring is gonna cost him – 2/10

    P.S. If he is literally “down at the heel” I wonder what kind of valet he has.


    I took a look at your last post before this one so I’m chiming in late – I just found your website – awesome!

    I love the layout of the semi-plaid material on the bodice and sleeves. The material also lends itself to the pleats giving the skirts something of a tromp d’oeil effect.

    I’m not fond of the colours, though. I really like the mauve and thankfully that is the one that stands out.

    I’d say 7/10.

Comments are closed.