SNARK WEEK: No, 18th-Century Men Did Not Wear Lace Bibs


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The first time I saw a still from 2015’s Beyond the Mask, I was horrified on many levels:


From 2016’s Snark Week…

The following year, I honed in on my least favorite element — the fucking shitty-ass (yes that’s the technical term) eyelet lace bib being worn by John Rhys-Davies in a story supposedly about “A British East India Trading Company assassin seeks to redeem his past by thwarting a plot against a young nation’s hope for freedom”:


Snark Week, 2017


Beating head against wall

Here’s the thing: in the eighteenth century, all that white ruffly stuff you see around a man’s neck is actually made up of multiple elements. Now I’m no expert in menswear, and I will be happy to have those that are weigh in on what I’m about to impart, but here’s my understanding:

First, you’ve got your shirt, which has a flat standing collar, long opening at the center front, with ruffles sewn to each side of that opening. It’s those pesky ruffles that confuse a lot of people when looking at done-up portraits, I think.

North Italian School, Portrait of a Man holding a Compass, 18th century

North Italian School, Portrait of a Man holding a Compass, 18th century

That guy holding a compass is half-dressed. To do himself up, he’d hold his shirt closed by tying a cravat around and over his standing collar. A cravat was a length of (usually but not always) white cloth (usually linen), sometimes with lace at the ends. The cravat is tied in front, then the ends are either left hanging or tucked into the shirt opening:

Pierre Ernou (1665-1739), Portrait of a Gentleman, 1713

Pierre Ernou (1665-1739), Portrait of a Gentleman, 1713

Mitte Augsburg, Portrait of a Man, 18th century

Mitte Augsburg, Portrait of a Man, 18th century

Collot d'Herbois, late 18th century

Collot d’Herbois, late 18th century

Alternatively, he could wear what was called a “stock,” which was a piece of pleated fabric sewn into a structured band that buckled in back. But the stock did not have any hanging lace or ruffles attached to it, those ruffles you see are coming from the shirt.

Man's neck stock associated with George II, 1740-1760, Colonial Williamsburg

Man’s neck stock associated with George II, 1740-1760, Colonial Williamsburg

Portrait, 18th century

Portrait, 18th century

Portrait of Guillaume Herreyns (1743-1827), early 19th century

Portrait of Guillaume Herreyns (1743-1827), early 19th century

Now, early in the century you do get long drapes of lace coming from the neck:

Portrait of Robert Jocelyn, 1st Viscount Jocelyn (c.1688–1756)

Irish School; Robert Jocelyn (1688?-1756), Baron Newport and 1st Viscount Jocelyn, as Lord High Chancellor of Ireland; National Trust, Castle Ward.

Some of these look tied, so I wonder if the wearer has simply arranged things so the tie is hidden under the uppermost end. But again, not an expert, and please feel free to tell me this is a separate piece of lace attached to something else!

Stadtholder William IV (Karl Heinrich Frisco), Prince of Orange-Nassau (1711-1751)

Oil painting on panel, Stadtholder William IV (Karl Heinrich Frisco), Prince of Orange-Nassau (1711-1751), Dutch School, circa 1742. A three-quarter-length portrait, head facing slightly right, wearing breast-plate over red and gold tunic, long powdered wig, and jabot, a baton in right hand.

There’s also some weird bands which someone else can explain, but note that this is not lacy and is in two pieces:

Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Daniel Wray (1701-1783), Antiquary, Fellow-Commoner (1718/1719); Queens' College, University of Cambridge;

Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Daniel Wray (1701-1783), Antiquary, Fellow-Commoner (1718/1719); Queens’ College, University of Cambridge.

Now what about the so-called “jabot”? According to Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe, this is the French name for a man’s shirt ruffles. This definition is held out by 18th-century French dictionaries, which basically define it as “Fabric & lace that is attached as an ornament to the opening of a shirt in front of the stomach.” The term is used a lot in the NINETEENTH century, particularly for lacy/frilly bits worn at the neckline of WOMEN’S ensembles.

You can read more about 18th-century men’s neckwear at Colonial Williamsburg, Regency Gentleman, and LACMA.

Now, going back to our messy eater above, here’s the problem: somewhere in the mists of time, someone decided that 18th-century men’s neckwear involved what is essentially a stock (that band that goes around the collar), to which is attached a lace bib:


Via Etsy.

To which I say:

no bernie sanders gif NO gif NO!

Let’s take a look at just some of the offenders:

1776 (1972)

1776 (1972) was able to get it right for so many!

1776 (1772)

Except, you know, Ben Franklin. *sad trombone*

Lady Oscar (1979)

Lady Oscar (1979) gave its lead, cross-dressing character what is basically a lace-edged napkin.

Lady Oscar (1979)

But Fersen got multiple tiers of shitty nylon lace.

Lady Oscar (1979)

Apparently they ran out of the good stuff and had to go full grandma-curtain-lace for King Louis XVI’s shitty tiered monstrosity.

Young Catherine (1991)

Young Catherine (1991) is actually a good movie, despite mostly shitty costumes. Check out Grand Duke Peter, who apparently can’t afford historically accurate neckwear.

Young Catherine (1991)

I don’t know WHAT is hanging from Christopher Plummer’s neck, but if it eats his head, I’m all in.

1991 Young Catherine

Julia Ormond sure looks gorgeous! Too bad her neckwear is total crap.

Farewell My Queen (2012)

Farewell My Queen (2012) was a mixed bag, but there’s no question about the THING worn by the servant masquerading as King Louis XVI. Yeah. This will fool those revolutionaries!

Ekaterina (2014)

Trystan gave us many reasons to question Ekaterina‘s (2014) costumes, but I can’t handle this lineup. Are they about to head to Larry’s Lobster Shack?

Ekaterina (2014)


Do shitty details piss you off too?


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19 Responses

  1. themodernmantuamaker

    Oh gawd, so much sad trombone. I think you need some kind of GIF to use at these moments. I don’t know how to make them or I would do it for you.

    And I’m not a menswear expert either but I’m pretty sure the double tabs thing is occupational – lawyer and/or clergy.

    • Kelly

      I don’t know if it’s strictly occupational but it persisted longer among the legal profession than the general public. There are some great prints from the late 19th century in my office of legal people and all but one have them.

      In some countries judges still wear the two tab collars or jabots. And of course rbg’s Collars are inspired by that tradition.

      • Janet Nickerson

        Re: Daniel Wray portrait. Those are called ‘elevens’ and were worn by clergymen and lawyers. I’ve seen pre-fab cravats in a French costume book of the 19th century that contained many 17th/18th century fashion prints – basically a fancy bow or fall of lace attached to a stock that tied in the back of the neck..

      • shellieeyre

        The clerical “elvens” is still worn by barristers in Britain – I see them a lot in and around the courts in Nottingham, along with wigs.

        • Grace Burson

          Still worn by old-fashioned Reformed preachers, too, and called “preaching bands” in that context.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I don’t know what is worse sad trombone, derpy bonnets or head necklaces of any type. What I do know is it should be a crime for costume designers to use polysatin baroque materials, metal grommets on corsets and bodies, and letting their leads wear poorly fitted bodies like AB in Wolfe Hall.

    There are exceptions say an actress has lost a lot of weight due to new baby and no longer pregnant or costumes were fitted, cut and made for actress A, actress A had to leave project close to filming, actress B cast too late and had to go in front of camera with minimal fittings, budget constraints prohibiting new garments being made otherwise designer needs to return to school.

    Sad trombone is the equivalent of head necklaces for men.

  3. Nzie

    Bless me mother, for I have sinned… I helped make a Hamilton costume for a colleague for a cultural exchange event. He had a surprisingly good closet to pull from but needed the shirt/vest/cravat thing. It was a quick turnaround because of crazy schedules and I did it in my off hours (ha) with scrap fabric (I work for a nonprofit, and nothing about this relates to my regular job at all), including some terribly cheap lace. I made I think a 3 tier ruffle thing that buttoned onto the collar. Oops.

    It’s rather hilarious to find this out this way though. I repent of the error of my ways. Actual cravats only in the future.

  4. Alison

    Really the only place you should see one of those confections is on extremely formal Highland dress (known here in Scotland, not always kindly, as ‘the full Bonnie Prince Charlie’). Maybe that’s where the idea that they’re universally traditional has grown from.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth here’s the description and definition from the KinlochAnderson, kiltmakers, website:

    “Originally the term jabot referred to the frilling or ruffles decorating the front of a shirt. It has evolved into a decorative clothing accessory consisting of lace or other fabric falling from the throat, suspended from or attached to a neckband or collar; or simply pinned at the throat.

    Jabots survive in the present as components of various official costumes and continue to be worn as part of the highest formal Scottish evening attire. They are usually worn with high-necked jackets or doublets (Sheriffmuir or Montrose), often with matching cuffs for both genders and a fly plaid of the same tartan as the kilt, draped over-the-shoulder for men.”

  5. picasso Manu

    The tabs, in France at least, where the bourgeois thing to put on. Honest, how is an aristocrats in Versailles supposed to know if he can look down his nose onto you if you wear the same lace as he does, I ask? It relaxed over time, of course, but stayed a mark of industrious people… Or bigoted, but that’s a whole other can of worms!

  6. Liz

    I think we can blame the Victorians and Edwardians (and the 1970s) for this one. When they “revived” 18th century fashion for women, the Victorians used lace bibs and collars to get “the masculine look” without having to wear a men’s shirt. It’s very 1890s-1905 ladies clothing rather than 18th century menswear. Also, #1970s. OMG…the 1970s! The bicentennial hit and the resulting wave of historical costume mania created a lot of the tropes we’ve come to associate with poor HA choices. I’ll admit, though, I love me a good lace bib. They are hilarious and flamboyant! I like them on anime characters and for comedic effect (Mozart and 1776, I’m lookin’ at you!), but for serious costuming moments…NO.

  7. Vincent

    Oh man, these are horrendous! 18th century menswear is my Very Favorite Thing, and it pains me to look at so many lace bibs.

    Another thing that stands out here is that every. Single. One. of these coats is cut incorrectly in the front. The front pieces are all too narrow, and too straight. Where’s the lovely sweeping curve??? (Some early coats have front edges that straight, but still not that narrow) Not a single one of these coats could be buttoned up anywhere along the front edges.
    In the earlier part of the century the coats were cut very full, and large enough to close down the entire front edge (though the fashion was to wear them open, or only buttoned at the waist) And later the front edges swept back, but they could still be buttoned up at the top, or closed with hooks and bars! BUY A NORAH WAUGH BOOK AND CUT YOUR FRONTS CORRECTLY YOU BIB-WEARING BUFFOONS!

  8. Angelina

    To be fair sometimes costume designers are subject to the director who may have absolutely no context on anything other than what they like. Which had been the case in many a bad costume selection that made me absolutely cringe when I used to do theater costuming years ago. Sometimes a director is bent on the stupidest thing and you can’t change their mind because it’s part of their ‘vision.’

  9. David Ledoyen

    Depiction of bearded man in 18th century Western Europe is already an aberration (unless depicting beggars or some religious minorities) but a such a beard with a wig is plain abomination. :) It seems a very common way for film maker to make a “corrupt administrator” visible to the audience.