Wellingtons: the Man AND the Boots
Military uniforms, fame and fashion have always been closely linked. Regimental dress uniforms were designed to stand out and impress young men into joining up – with the added bonus of attracting the opposite sex in the process. LOL!
When the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1792–1815) brought much of Europe into battle, it is hardly surprising that they also introduced many military fashions into civilian life.
In the 1790s officers in the British Army wore boots called ‘Hessians’, which were named after the German mercenaries who fought alongside the British in the American War of Independence (1775–83). Made of soft, highly polished calfskin, they were knee-high with a curved top, similar to a riding boot, but with a ‘V’ shape, decorated with a tassel, cut into the front.
Ordinary soldiers stationed in hot climates began to wear lightweight linen trousers instead of their normal woolen breeches. In England the fashion for wearing these tight-fitting trousers caught on in the 1800s, particularly associated with Beau Brummell, the style icon of his day.
Unfortunately, the tassel on ‘Hessian’ boots–which were designed to be worn with traditional breeches–made them difficult to wear with these newly fashionable trousers.
Enter Arthur Wellesley, then Viscount Wellington, who asked his shoemaker, Mr Hoby of St James’s Street, London, to cut his boots lower and remove the tassel, thus making them easier to wear with the new trousers. When he won his great victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the new Duke of Wellington became a patriotic role model, and subsequent fashion icon. By 1817 his new style of boots had achieved the status of must-have fashionable footwear, and duly became known as ‘Wellingtons’.
Wellingtons remained fashionable past the Duke’s death in 1853, but declined in popularity when the ankle boot finally superseded them in the 1860s. Nonetheless they continued to be worn by senior officers in the British Army, seeing service in the Crimea and the First World War.
Totally agree with Brenda about Regency men in boots 😉 ! Very Mr Darcy!
There’s a lot about Georgian menswear and military uniforms in my blog and my new book at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UPI8BWG
Hope you don’t mind me mentioning it!
Not at all Chas! This sounds very interesting. I may have to add it to my collection 🙂
I’m doing a presentation on the Battle of Waterloo soon – I forgot about Wellingtons! Thank you for the reminder! Rain boots in the UK are all called Wellies, now, as I’m sure you know. No doubt you also know about the Prince Regent’s love of designing uniforms for military units.
I did know about “Wellies” Beatrice. Somehow they aren’t quite as romantic when thought of as rain boots. LOL!
Glad I aided in your presentation. Good luck!
Your repost of this today gives me an opportunity to tell you that not only did my presentation go swimmingly, but I was able to include a photo of postilion boots from the Royal Ontario Museum. Now those are impressive boots! Definitely not made for walking, they are so thick and heavy that the servant’s legs are protected from being crushed by the horses he rides amongst.
I love boots on men in the regency! Something very sexy about them IMHO! Thanks for sharing for now I know the difference in Hessians and Wellingtons. 🙂