Luddites as Fashion Victims
Posted by Richard Conniff on March 8, 2011
When I wrote about the birth of the Luddite movement–200 years ago this week– in the current Smithsonian Magazine, I had to leave out one entertaining detail. So here it is :
The machines the original Luddites smashed were “stocking frames” –that is, looms for making stockings. It was a thriving business early in the nineteenth century, because men need stockings to wear with their knee breeches.
Then along came that great fashion-maker Beau Brummell, popularizing the idea of full-length pants.
The stocking business sagged, and the loss of business imperiled the jobs of struggling stocking frame operators, who ultimately began to riot. Thus the original Luddites were fashion victims.
This hilarious note from Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummel: The Ultimate Man of Style may help explain why the new style of pants suddenly became so popular:
One Persian ambassador to the Court of St. James’s was moved to write that he found the Brummell style of trousers “immodest and unflattering to the figure … [they] look just like underdrawers–could they be designed to appeal to the ladies?” A more sympathetic or aroused observer noted that they were “extremely handsome and very fit to expose a muscular thigh,” and society hostesses were later said to regret the passing of the fashion because “one could always tell what a young man was thinking.”