Ben Townsend, Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion (Helion, 2020)
This is Ben Townsend’s second volume describing the “Uniforms and Dress of the British Army 1800-1815”. As the title suggests, however, there is more going on here than a simple survey. The British Army’s uniforms became subject to often elaborate design changes throughout the Napoleonic Wars, some of which served no practical purpose. It is that dichotomy, between form and function, that Townsend explores through the army’s annual uniform regulations.
Townsend begins with Wellington’s ‘Dandies’, an officer clique that dressed impeccably to a fault. Unlike his later austere image, Wellington also dressed fashionably if not flamboyantly. But fashion cost money and that made it less available to lower ranks, including many officers. Townsend embarks on a series of annotated chapters for annual regulations, beginning in 1809, interspersed with chapters on specific elements such as greatcoats, leggings, and supply. The pivotal changes came in 1812 with the meddling of the Prince Regent, himself quite the dandy, though Townsend gives him the benefit of the doubt. Townsend adds appendices on Army agents, a Court Martial warrant, a breakdown of costs for outfitting an officer, and a list of French prints pertinent to occupation images. He concludes that for all the attention paid to fashion by young men considered fops, they fought hard for their country when called upon. The text is sprinkled with useful illustrations, including a section of colour plates, most of them contemporary.
Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion is a difficult book to read for the non-specialist. The willingness of Townsend to include source texts without interference as much as possible reflects his prodigious research into this narrow topic, but his book becomes mired in information, so that Townsend’s points are sometimes difficult to extract. His references and bibliography are, however, also impressive. Somewhere in these two volumes is a book that general readers might find interesting, but as structured this will appeal more to Napoleonic enthusiasts and social historians of dress and costume. And, of course, if you enjoyed Volume I, you will find this equally enjoyable.
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