There is a reason why I like writing books set in the early 1800s despite being a medieval historian by trade. It's also a reason why I suspect Mr Darcy is still so popular - many lovely heroes haven't his longevity, but then nor do many heroes have the power of the sexiest male dress there has possibly ever been: breeches. In a shamelessly admiring word: Rrrrrr!
There is something just so masculine about breeches. There's no hiding, no pretending, no ambiguity. This also means there's nowhere to hide; in a world where women are continuously judged by their dress and appearance, breeches redress that balance. In the period I use (1800-1820), breeches were so tight that one could see a man's muscles flexing. They were outrageously tight - in Russia, the ever-expanding Tsar Nicholas I gave his tailors nightmares because he was always outgrowing his skintight breeches and refused to accept it. There was no forgiveness in those garments, no elastic waist for the Tsar to fool himself. At their worst, breeches could be horrifically unflattering.
At their best, they were terrific. I'm happy that none of my heroes has any issue wearing breeches - in reality, few young Regency gentlemen would because they did so much exercise. Walking miles every day, riding more, training for those in the Army, these men were in great shape and their clothing showed it. Breeches for them showed honed leg muscles that were probably the most exciting thing some young ladies saw, even if the young ladies weren't allowed to say so. Or weren't supposed to say so - when you meet some of my heroines, you might find she's a bit less shy when gorgeous-legged men in breeches come near her.
This then leads to today, where alas, breeches are in very short supply. There's also a disappointing lack of men in the nearest equivalent - jodhpurs. I live in a very rural part of England but men in jodhpurs are non-existent, so what would my historical heroes do today? What could they wear that would have the same effect? Is there anything out there to show the beauty of the heroic masculine leg?
In short, yes. Very happily, yes, there is:
1. Rugby kit. Not football kit. Football shorts are too long or too horrible tiny 80s to be attractive, but rugby strikes a perfect balance of tiny shorts with skin-tight undershorts coming down a little further. The leg is therefore on display but with a flutter of modesty around it, as beautifully demonstrated by the French in the Six Nations recently:
When looking at my own heroes, I could definitely see some of them today as rugby players. Lord de Waare would have no trouble smashing through the defence, while Jack Darenth would be whippy on the wing. Sandy, on the other hand, couldn't because of his war injuries, but then he is perfect for the other option:
2. The kilt. Now there is something so terrific about a man in a kilt, and not the horrible fake, oiled-up posing pictures you get from Google. These two men have just about got away with it because they're working out in Scotland, which will be freezing, but in reality men in kilts look best when there's nothing on display except a flicker of leg when they move and the material swishes. I'm married to a man who wears a kilt, take my word for it. You've got to have good legs for a kilt, and you don't need anything else on display. This picture's only up because a) it does actually show their legs and b) my husband would kill me if I put up his.
Would Sandy wear a kilt? Yes. Would de Waare? No chance. Would my latest, very-much-tried hero? Probably, if he had to, but he wouldn't be at ease the way you have to be. He's far too English. Just as well he's in the cavalry, so the girl of his dreams can see him in breeches.