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Christie's London has recently offered one of Napoleon's bicorne hats (above). Price: 500,000 pounds. It's said that he normally bought dark green velvet hats, specially made, from Poupart & Cie, Paris. He detested those off the production line and assigned valets the task of breaking them in. The dimensions suggest that despite his short stature the Emperor owned an unusually large head.

The convention of the time was to wear these hats with their corners pointed forward and back, a la the Duke of Wellington. Napoleon wore his sideways allegedly to render his figure instantly identifiable on the battlefield, that style being forbidden to subalterns. Or was it a precocious example of clever branding similar to Churchill's cigar or Hitler's toothbrush mustache?

Does an aspiring demagogue need to sell himself, cut through the noise and package his brand? Hitler and the Nazis were marketing geniuses, beginning with the Swastika. The Communists under Stalin surpassed their matchless pageantry in size, but not in style.

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For most people, Napoleon and his hat are one. No symbol ever so completely represented a historical character. Fully conscious of the force of this symbolism, Bonaparte made it part of his image early on in the Consulate. He chose two military uniforms, one of the Grenadiers à pied and the other of the Chasseurs à cheval of the Garde, but the way he wore his hat was entirely his own. Whilst most of his officers wore their hats “en colonne”, that is, perpendicular to the shoulders, Napoleon wore his “en bataille”, that is, with the corns parallel to shoulders. His simple and sober outfit contrasted strongly with the officers around him, glorious in their plumed hats. It meant that he was immediately recognisable amongst his troops on the battlefield.-https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/objects/napoleons-hat/

When digging (not very hard) re Napoleon's hat I came across a site that claimed the 'sideways' stricture was most common during the early years. Now I can't find it. This painting shows the earlier style.


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During the Napoleonic era the paintings of soldiers may have represented the culmination of military plumage; many of the officers were veritable peacocks. The Emperor stressed, to an obsessional degree, the value of a well turned out soldier; he felt it was essential for morale. During a review in 1811 he grew furious over the uniforms issued to a newly created regiment:

Too small, too short, too tight, badly cut, badly made, badly sewed; many of the buttonholes made only with a simple snip of the scissors … sleeves not lined … capotes so tight that they cannot be worn over the uniform coat but they hamper the movements of men who have nothing on but a waistcoat under them; many … are of bad cloth … I want a report!

Like George Washington, Napoleon wanted his soldiers to be 'dressed to kill' thus the Grande Armee was a military tailor’s delight. The dashing  cavalryman, Joachim Murat, represents a kind of apogee:

Image result for murat dandy 

The battles of the Napoleonic Wars were a bloody carnage but, as one officer concluded, 'If you survived, you should look like a conqueror; if you didn’t, you should at least try to make a handsome corpse.' True camouflage finally  came in with WW1.


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