Puffed and powdered, cocked and shaved

U 8.506-7: Charley Kavanagh used to come out on his high horse, cocked hat, puffed, powdered and shaved.

Sources suggest that a dandy might be described as “puffed, powdered, and shaved”, or “cocked, powdered, and shaved”, from at least the 1830s. The expression appears in several forms, and in some cases it is closely associated with Ireland.

Joyce’s variety of the expression conflates the variant with “cocked” (turned up or erect, like the brim of a “cocked hat”) and that with “puffed” (wearing a garment adorned with puffs; so also, inflated with one’s own importance).

“Puffed, powdered, and shaved” appears first, it seems, in the Freeman’s Journal of 13 July, 1838:

Accordingly, he [sc. a sweep] watched an opportunity to pay off Mr. Bridgewater, and for that purpose watched him narrowly; like an eagle watching his prey, and when he found him leaving his lodgings in Lad-lane, "puffed, powdered, and shaved", he so be-deviled him with soot that poor Mr. Bridgewater was metaphorsed [sic] into one of the fraternity.

The variant with “cocked” is recorded, so far, several years earlier. In July 1834 the Prime Minister, Earl Grey stood down, one of the leading architects of the great Reform Act of 1832. The Age (of London) reports on a celebration held in Grey’s honour by the Whig Fox Club in London. The newspaper’s journalist ridicules Grey:

Look at that immortal pericranium, scorning a perriwig [sic], and shining like the head of an old fiddle! Minerva sprang ready from the brain of Jupiter – the Modern Magna Charta [i. e. the Reform Bill] did more – it started life, cocked, powdered, and shaved, from the caput of Earl Grey! – (Vehement cheering.)1

Closer to home in Dublin, the Satirist of 25 May, 1845 described the visit (then in process) of a high-ranking deputation from the Dublin Corporation to London to invite the Queen to visit Ireland and to receive a loyal address.2 The Satirist had little time for the deputation, heading its article:

The "Pats" at the Palace. – Doings of the Dublin "Deputation".

According to the paper the reports widely circulated in the regular press are inadequate:

As a completely erroneous report of the Royal reception of the Lord Mayor of Dublin and corporate deputation has been given, we feel bound to lay before our readers the simple facts.

It continues to mock “the civic chief of the capital of the “jim of the say” [see The green gem of Ireland set in the silver sea], and the “lads of the village” with him, who:

began their day’s work with making a terrific breakfast, and strengthening their nerves for an interview with Majesty with potations of Kinahan.

The Town Clerk of Dublin, Mr. Ford, is said to have encouraged his fellow deputation members to smarten themselves up for their royal audience:

After that (in the expressive language of Ford, the town-clerk) it was moved that they be "cocked, powdered, and shaved"; in other words, make their appropriate toilet in corporate costume, for appearance before the throne.

In the same year the Anglo-American carried an article by “Teddy Bryan” in which the expression gets another outing in Irish dress:3

The King [of France] wint below to get cocked, powdered, and shaved, like a dacint man whin about to recave company.

The turn of phrase lasted throughout the nineteenth century, and is recorded outside the British Isles and Ireland – in Australia and America. Mary Anne Sadlier’s Elinor Preston knows it:4

Your hour has not come yet. My lady will, I hope, be the star of your fortune; so mind you be all ready, "puffed, powdered, and shaved", when I call for you on Thursday next. We dine at Harry Preston's, and so does your pole-star that is to be.

And the Advocate of Melbourne, Victoria, encloses it in a context which would have appealed to Joyce:

It was some minutes after ringing the bell that I was admitted by a fully-fledged English lackey, puffed, powdered, and shaved, who, in a half surly manner, demanded my business. I told him I wished to speak to his reverend master, if convenient.

So once again we find an expression that is to all intents and purposes forgotten today, but which Joyce’s readers will have recognised as forming part of a fading vocabulary of English foppery.

John Simpson


1 Age (1834), 3 August.

2 Satirist (1845), 25 May.

3 Anglo-American (1845), 16 November, p. 84.

4 Mary Anne Sadlier, Elinor Preston (New York, 1861), p. 26.

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