The Roman Fall Fashion of the 1800s

There were all sorts of strange fashions that eighteen and nineteenth century people adopted. For instance, patches or mouchets were at one time applied to the face to cover pimples, smallpox scars, or other facial imperfections. Of course, there was also Queen Marie Antoinette‘s high hair that everyone adopted and was so tall, women were forced to kneel in their carriages. Another strange fashion adopted happened after Alexandra of Denmark developed a limp and fashionable women embraced it so that limping women were soon seen on streets. However, it was also claimed that men adopted what was known as the “Roman Fall.”

Sample of the Roman Fall, Author's Collection

Illustration of the Roman Fall. Author’s collection.

Although Victorian people began to talk about the Roman Fall, some people claim that it was a fictional fashion that began with the song “The Roman Fall.” The music was written by Hugh Willoughby Sweny Esq., composed By Alfred Lee.,  and sung by The Great Milburn in 1770. However, others maintain that it was a real fashion and that officers of the French “Empire were forced to adopt this unnatural posture because of the tightness of their uniforms.”[1]

The Roman Fall. Courtesy of Washington State University Digital Collections.

This male fashion was somewhat similar to the female walking fashion known as the Grecian Bend. However, with the male version, men stooped backwards so that when they walked, they created a backward posture that could be described as S-shaped. As shown in the illustration, the man’s head was placed forward, his upper body was tipped backwards, and his lower back was tucked in causing his behind to slightly jut out.

Whether the Roman Fall existed or not this supposed odd fashion struck some people as being so ridiculous they could not resist commenting about it. One comment came from a nineteenth century gentleman who stated it was nothing more than an “absurdity of fashion.” He also claimed that its popularity ran “like an epidemic through the ranks of the shallow-witted and idle members of the community.”[2]

Similar to the fun poked at the Grecian Bend fashion, people began to create comedic songs about the male fashion. The following song was published in 1870.

The Grecian Bend for West-end belles,

Is thought by Jove the thing,

The Roman Fall, for Pall Mall swells,

Is what my Boys, I sing;

No more the “Piccadilly Crawl,”

Displays the tailor’s art,

We substitute the ‘Roman Fall,’

and charm our darling’s heart;

As three abreast we do the row,

The thing is quite unique.

The patent of a Bond Street beau,

The trade-mark of your clique.

The Roman fall, &c.[3]

Punch also got in on the humor and published a poem “To the Tottering Lily,” with one stanza stating:

“The Grecian Bend, the Roman fall,

Set all our beauties waddling, wobbling;

Sight of your toosicums so small,

Fair totterer, might be setting all

Our beauties hobbling![4]

References:

  • [1] Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, 2005, p. 1204.
  • [2] A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin, p. 178.
  • [3] Diprose, John, Diprose’s Standard Song Book and Reciter, 1870, p. 27.
  • [4] Punch, 17 February 1877, p. 65.

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