Resource: "Dressed to Kill" – a "must have".

19 September, 2007 at 2:47 am 6 comments

There’s no point denying it anymore: I have developed a very small, actually barely noticeable crush on Jack Davenport fetish for naval uniforms of the 18th and 19th century.

It’s not just the way the uniforms look like; it’s the historic background and the craftmanship – these items are artworks. In general I don’t make a difference between artworks created with a brush, keyboard, tattoo needle or sewing machine. It’s not the tool that defines art, but that’s a discussion for my other LJ.

has introduced me to the following, aptly-named book:

DRESSED TO KILL
British Naval Uniform, Masculinity and Contemporary Fashions 1748-1857
by Amy Miller

Dressed to kill

This book is an absolute “must have” for anybody with even the remotest interest in the RN or fashion of that time. The fantastic pictures aside, there is a lot of interesting background information on the way fashion influenced society, how rank and status were expressed by means of clothing etc., and how wearing the right coat at the right time could make a career (and the wrong one break it).

Historic photographs and caricatures document how fashion’s madness began to influence the uniforms, and especially the “young gentlemen”, the Midshipmen, seemed to have been prone to fall for fashion follies (“Middies in Corsets” would be a great sequel to “Men in Thighs”). This is not only about officers, though; also the change of the dressing code among the normal seaman is documented.

“Dressed to Kill” is a fascinating, well-written book, and for those of you who admire the uniforms for their elegance, it’s nothing short of “fabric porn”. The author, who is Curator of Decorative Arts and Material Culture at the National Maritime Museum, London, has done a wonderful job here.

Yes, I admit, seeing all those dress coats and waistcoats and breeches I simply ignore the fact that uniforms and those wearing them very likely smelled like “wet, rancid sheep”, as a good friend of mine so eloquently put it. And let me not start on the cravats…

Amazon is currently selling this book for only £ 13.20 – reduced price, so really, if you want to spoil yourself, this would be money well-invested.

MIDSHIPMAN IN 1783 COMPARED TO A DANDY-MIDDIE IN 1823

Corset. That’s all I say. Free the Middie, cut the cords!

Dressed to kill

DETAIL ON WAISTCOAT OF CAPTAIN WITH THREE YEARS SENIORITY (1748?)

Rancid sheep or not: this looks like something I’d really, really like to unbutton. Sue me, Dorothy!

Dressed to kill

DRESS COAT, CAPTAIN WITH OVER THREE YEARS’ SENIORITY (1787?)

… *sigh*

Dressed to kill

LIEUTENANT’S TROUSERS (heh!)

I could say a lot about this one, but I won’t. Minors could be reading this… Nice flap!

Dressed to kill

WAISTCOAT OF THE HONOURABLE EAST INDIA COMPANY

And Lord Cutler Beckett is still looking for his waistcoat…

Dressed to kill

Now this one – this one is my favourite. Some people thought it was a bit of a sacrilege when I wrote “Ambarussa”, the Silmarillion/RNotC crossover, with Gillette as one of the sons of Fëanor. If you have a look at this, you’ll see that the concept of Gillette being Amras wasn’t that far-fetched…

LOOK! THE LIEUTENANT IS WEARING LEGOLAS’ COAT!

This is a boat-coat, protecting the lieutenant against rough weather. It’s designed to be so long to cover the shoes and protect the stockings. It’s simply awesome. I’m in love with this cloak.

Dressed to kill

Image-heavy, but worth it. And the cherry on the top? There are *patterns* in the back of the book! We’re not talking “Simplicity: lieutenant’s uniform made easy” here, but the sewing-savvy among you should find the patterns very useful.

Dressed to kill

Highly recommended – I’m in love with it!

If you want to copy any of the clothes in the book, the patterns might not be for you unlike you’re a really experienced seamstress. However, has pointed out this book, The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900 by Nora Waugh, which really looks fantastic. 🙂
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Entry filed under: 18th century, books, resource, royal navy. Tags: , , , .

News: Publication date "Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased)" Question regarding term for a nautical instrument

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Don Mackrill  |  22 April, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Hi we are a maritime museum in Tasmania Australia -we have a couple of naval uniforms(replicas) on dipsplay of George Bass (Surgeon) and Matthem Flinders (Lieut) 1798-to around 1801.
    Can you avdise us on the possible uniforms they would have worn. We have an indication of a dress caot style blue with a white collar front. would a surgeon have worn any rank epaulettes?
    Any assiatance would be appreciated – is the book “Dressed to Kill ” available in Australia
    Regards

    Reply
  • 2. joyfulmolly  |  22 April, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I’m not an uniform expert, so I don’t want to give you any wrong information, especially as my focus is on the mid-18th century. Amy Miller has sorted the uniforms into patterns, the one covering the years 1795 – 1812 would be the one you’re looking for as far as Lieutenant Flinders was concerned. Lapels changed from white to blue and he might also have had epaulettes on his uniform. However, the latter depends on the year. I call the uniforms of those years more “streamlined” – means I prefer the old pattern.

    The surgeon – that’s even more difficult; warrant officer’s uniform I’d say, but I have no documents about that and no pictures. So I’d like to refer you to the following link on the website of the NMM:

    Uniform Research Guide

    And maybe it would be helpful to contact Amy Miller, the author of “Dressed to Kill”? her e-mail address can be found on the link above.

    If you order “Dressed to Kill” through amazon.co.uk, it should be no problem to have it shipped to your place. But maybe you can order it through the NMM directly?

    Good luck with your researches! 🙂

    Reply
  • 3. albert pfleider  |  25 June, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    really interested in Napolianic period. Looking for instructions on blocking my own collection of Bicornes.

    Reply
  • 4. joyfulmolly  |  26 June, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    @ Albert: I’m not much of a hat-expert (apart from wearing them), but I guess the method depends on the material you use. Have you contacted a milliner? I found that some, especially those working in the spirit of the “old school”, have an amazing knowledge.

    Reply
  • […] Still undecided? Read my review! […]

    Reply
  • 6. Lovey  |  28 September, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    This book isn’t 13.20, it’s anywhere from 400-800+ and that’s for a USED copy.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0948065745/ref=sr_1_1_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1317231064&sr=8-1&condition=used

    Reply

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