I want a natural style with a touch of affectation. Oscar Wilde
My first post on Oscar Wilde presented some of his famous witticisms on dress. This one focuses more directly on his dress, especially clothing worn during his 1882 tour of North America. Those who interviewed Wilde often noted what the famous London Aesthete was wearing. Roy Morris, Jr. describes these outfits in Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in America. These reports allow us to appreciate better the details of his self-styling. I’ve adapted descriptions from Morris’s book.
The most famous garment is undoubtedly Wilde’s great green overcoat trimmed in otter fur. He had the coat made by his tailor and wore it with a round sealskin hat. Other well-documented items of clothing worn on the American tour include a pair of patent leather dancing shoes with silver bows on top, knee britches, silk stockings in black and other colors, velvet coats (grey, brown, purple), and colorful cravats. (Examples of the shoes, cravats, and smoking jackets are all visible in the photos.) In cartoon caricatures artists often depicted him with a large sunflower pinned to his lapel, an adornment Wilde frequently wore during his tour.
Espying Wilde on the gangway of the Arizona, a reporter wrote: “Mr. Wilde is fully six feet three inches in height, straight as an arrow, and with broad shoulders and long arms, indicating considerable strength. His outer garment was a long ulster trimmed with two kinds of fur, which reached almost to his feet. He wore patent-leather shoes, a smoking-cap or turban, and his shirt may be termed ultra-Byronic, or perhaps–décolleté. A sky-blue cravat of the sailor style hung well down upon the chest. His hair flowed over his shoulders in dark-brown waves, curling slightly upwards at the end.”
At an interview with reporters from the New York Tribune, Wilde wore a brown velvet smoking jacket, brown trousers, red silk stockings, and an olive-green cravat. For an with the Buffalo Courier, he wore long gray trousers, a fawn-colored after-dinner jacket, and vest in the same color. He accessorized the outfit with a rose cravat and handkerchief. The reporter deemed the ensemble “rich in the extreme, if a little bizaare.” Reporters for the Chicago Daily Sentinel found Wilde stretched across a sofa draped with a bear skin rug wearing grey trousers, mouse-colored velvet smoking jacket, and matching magenta neckerchief and slippers embroidered with golden sunflowers surrounded by silver sprays of lilies. Such outfits form the basis of “Oscar of the first period.” While he kept his green coat, he cut his hair into a more severe bob style and abandoned sunflowers. For much on Wilde’s views on dress, see the forthcoming Oscar Wilde on Dress.