Clothes Make the Man

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Introduction M972.51.1-2 M2002X.6.1 I-27904.1 M972.81.13 I-42589.1 M973.49.7 M973.49.11.1-3 II-100033
La Vie de Jeune Homme
1840, 19th century
Lithograph on paper
Gift of Mr. Louis Mulligan
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Print (10661)
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Keys to History

Despite inhibitions against involvement with fashion, men did not give up on it altogether. Their interest was, however, carefully balanced. Too great a preoccupation with fashion and personal appearance could be interpreted as not simply vain, but also unmanly. Too little interest was equally questionable. Either way, men risked ridicule and derision when their relationship to fashion conflicted with dominant cultural expectations.

This uneasy relationship with fashion that developed during the first half of the century continued, but men found ways of making peace with their mirrors. Despite the social prohibitions against overt participation in fashion, men continued to dress to express power, class, wealth and individuality. Men became increasingly preoccupied with the subtleties of dress--cut, fit, and fabric--and they paid more attention to physical fitness and personal grooming.

  • What

    This print of two fashionable young men, one putting the finishing touches to his toilette, is part of the series La Vie de Jeune Homme by French artist Paul Gavarni (1804-66).

  • Where

    The castoff slippers at his feet and discarded clothing heaped on a chair show that the young man is in his bedroom or dressing room.

  • When

    The print is dated 1840. The man at the mirror, in his daytime frock coat, has probably just dressed to go out for the day.

  • Who

    The young man carefully scrutinizing his appearance in the mirror and his studiously indifferent friend illustrate the uneasy relationship men have with fashion.