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Whom the Gods Love, by Kate Ross

October 22, 2013

Julian Kestrel and the Importance of Wearing a Necktie

In Whom the Gods Love, the third Julian Kestrel novel, Julian schools a surly young man in the art of being a dandy:

“People suppose what I do must be right, because I do it with conviction. A true dandy ought to be able to walk down Pall Mall with an upturned bucket on his head, and have every young blood in London scrambling for one just like it. It’s all conviction – sheer effrontery, if you prefer. A kind of philosophical conjuring trick: I believe in myself, therefore I am-“

And then shows him how to wear a neckcloth:

“This is called Trône d’Amour. It’s extremely simple. It has one dent in the centre and no collateral creases, and it ties in a knot in front – so. The neckcloth ought to be starched, but no matter.”


Thanks to an 1818 manual on ties, “Neckclothitania or Tietania, being an essay on Starchers, by One of the Cloth,” we can see exactly what the tie would have looked like.

Neckclothitania, published in 1818.

Neckclothitania, published in 1818.

Julian himself, as we learn in The Devil in Music, has three dozen neckcloths, and we know from Cut to the Quick that he favors the severe Trône d’Amour style himself. And indeed, being a dandy was all about a kind of impeccable simplicity and severity of clothing that greatly simplified what had been the over-the-top style of men’s clothing prevalent in the 18th century. A simplicity, however, backed by extreme effort behind the scenes, requiring, at the very least, massive amounts of laundry. The starched neckcloth was introduced by Beau Brummell, the dandy par excellence. As this fascinating article in Cabinet magazine puts it, Beau Brummell’s fashion philosophy, just like Julian’s, was “the maximum of luxury in the service of minimal ostentation.”

A constant source of tension in the Julian Kestrel books is the discrepancy between Julian’s shallow appearance and the hidden depths of his mind and backstory. The tension, in other words, between what’s visible and what goes on underneath, between person and persona. For Julian, a young man of dubious origin, the perfectly starched neckcloth is a kind of armor.

 

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