[Spencer's "On Manners and Fashion" originally appeared in the April 1854 Westminster Review. GOPL

Whoever has studied the physiognomy of political meetings, cannot fail to have remarked a connection between democratic opinions and peculiarities of costume. At a Chartist demonstration, a lecture on Socialism, or a soirée of the Friends of Italy, there will be seen many among the audience, and a still larger ratio among the speakers, who get themselves up in a style more or less unusual, One gentleman on the platform divides his hair down the centre, instead of on one side; another brushes it back off the forehead in the fashion known as "bringing out the intellect;" a third has so long forsworn the scissors, that his locks sweep his shoulders. A considerable sprinkling of moustaches may be observed; here and there an imperial; and occasionally some courageous breaker of conventions exhibits a full-grown beard. [This was written before moustaches and beards had become common -- Spencer's note] This nonconformity in hair is countenanced by various nonconformities in dress, shown by others of the assemblage. Bare necks, shirt-collars à la Byron, waistcoats cut Quaker fashion, wonderfully shaggy great coats, numerous oddities in form and colour destroy the monotony usual in crowds. Even those exhibiting no conspicuous peculiarity, frequently indicate by something in the pattern or makeup of their clothes, that they pay small regard to what their tailors tell them about the prevailing taste. And when the gathering breaks up, the varieties of head-gear displayed-the number of caps, and the abundance of felt hats-suffice to prove that were the world at large like-minded, the black cylinders which tyrannise over us would soon be deposed.

The foreign correspondence of our daily press shows that this relationship between political discontent and the disregard Of customs exists on the Continent also. Red republicanism has always been distinguished by its hirsuteness. . . . If it be a fact that men of revolutionary aims in politics or religion, are commonly revolutionists in costume also, it is not less a fact that those whose office it is to uphold established arrangements in State and Church, are also those who most adhere to the social forms and practices bequeathed to us by past generations. . . . The University dress of the present year varies but little from that worn soon after the Reformation. The claret-coloured coat, knee-beeches, lace shirt-frills, ruffles, white silk stockings and buckled shoes, which once formed the usual dress of a gentleman, still survive as court-dress. And it need scarcely to be said that at levées and drawing-rooms, the ceremonies are prescribed with an exactness, and enforced with a rigour, not elsewhere to be found. [198-200]

Related Materials


Spencer, Herbert. "On Manners and Fashion." Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects. London: Dent/Everyman, 1966.

Last modified 3 March 2003