Posted by Jen Black
One of the little known facts of Beau Brummell’s residence in Chesterfield Street was that it had limited wine-cellar space but an unexpectedly large coal-cellar. This housed the sea-coal that fed the fires that allowed Brummell’s addiction to bathing. He bathed in hot water, and this was considered as remarkable as the fact that he bathed every day.
Captain Jesse and Harriette Wilson report his words: ‘No perfumes, but very fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.’ City-dried washing, with all the attendant soot spots, would not do; therefore gentlemen’s shirts and unmentionables strewed the washing lines of Islington.
According to Brummell, if the clothes were clean, so should the body beneath them be. The musk and old perfumes worn by the previous generation to hide their lack of personal hygiene were banished along with wigs and lace.
Brummell kept the door of his bedroom ajar so he could converse with friends as he washed, shaved and dressed, even though some of the time he was naked. He exfoliated his body with a coarse-hair brush, and shaved himself with a series of miniature cut-throat razors and then plucked out stray hairs with tweezers. A modern barber suggests the reason for the high neckcloth pioneered by Brummell may well have been to hide razor rash.
Dressing the upper body began a plain, lightly starched white shirt with a collar so large that it enveloped the wearer’s entire head before being folded down. Neck and cuffs fastened with tiny Dorset buttons, and the collar was folded once to the level of the ears. Then a triangle of fine Irish muslin, folded twice over at the widest point, was wrapped around the neck.
Brummell stood before the mirror with his chin in the air and then tied the particular knot of the day and lowered his chin slowly to achieve the desired rucks in the starched material. Once pressed into place and rubbed with an older shirt, the pleats would last for the day.
If all did not go well, the cloths and even the shirt were ripped off and the whole business begun again. Out went the cost of lace and spangles and in came adherence to perfection of line, which demonstrated a gentleman’s wealth and style in a different way.