The diary extracts referring to clothes are quite numerous. Clothes being throughout time a matter of interest and concern to people. Both men and women, rich and less well off witness to this interest.
We should keep in mind that the second half of the twentieth century is the first period when the care of clothes became very easy. It has brought us the advantages of dry cleaning, automatic washing machines, easy care fabrics, central heating which enable us to wear light fabrics indoors.
Mending clothes and especially holes in stockings was a regular work for women in former times.
We see Margaret Holland mending shirts. Even men did mending as Dudley Rider records At this time he was a young and fairly poor student.. This work has been virtually eliminated by nylon, cheap strong man made materials and greater prosperity which allows us to throw away and buy new rather than mend.
In the 18th Century heavy outdoor clothes were brushed and sponged. They were also subject to far greater stress than ours. Men even professional men such as Dr. Claver Morris spent many hours riding on horse back to do their work. Country roads were often muddy and coats were regularly spattered with dirt. Today gloves are worn for protection from injury or cold. Many people rarely wear them. In the 18lh
Century they were wore nearly all the time. Ladies wore them to protest their hands from the sun. Their culture did not appreciate sun bronzing which was an indication of the work and outdoor life of peasants. They were even worn indoors as is shown by references to taking them off to dine for example in Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” when Mr. B. says
“Let us go in to dinner, come my young lady, shall I help you off with your white gloves?”
Some people must have acquired many more pairs of gloves than they could have worn. This was because they were given as mourning gifts at funerals to pall bearers.
The charges incurred in funerals were often excessive. It was a point of pride that the position of the deceased should be upheld by lavish hospitality and this lead to the fashion for making presents of gloves.
The usual sort were black shammy gloves made from the skin of the chamois antelope. As today your social class dictates the sort of honour you receive in the honours list, so then not everyone received the finest gloves. The clerk received mock shammy, made from sheep’s skin and the sexton and women who had watched over the corpse were given black lamb.
Almost all clothes were not ready made, so our diarists had to buy material and take it to tailors or dressmakers. In the country travelling peddlers visited houses with materials as mentioned by Nancy Woodforde.
Miss Woodforde also gives us an example of the sort of economy then practised. She ordered a new lining for her stays.[corsets] these boned undergarments were expensive.
Walter Gale gave to Ruth Levett a pair of stays formerly his mother’s.
The references to stays are a reminder of the huge changes which have taken place in women’s underclothing within living memory. Most women still wore corsets until the Second World War. In the following decade corsets and hats became rare items in England. In the 18th Century women wore caps in the house and hats outside except for the very rich and fashionable ladies who wore headdresses so high that they had to sit on low stools in their coaches.
Many diarists refer to wigs and powder which were fashionable throughout the century.
They were in use for about 140 years. Samuel Pepys in his diary of November 1663 noted their arrival from the French court:
“I hear the Duke [of York] say that he was going to wear a periwig and they say the King also will.”
Mary Addison who spent a few months in Aix en Provence was surprised to see in a church a statue of the baby Jesus with a large white wig on his head.
Men shaved their heads or had their hair cut short. There would seem to be no necessity to powder the wig, and it seems not to have been used before 1690 but almost invariably wigs were covered with white powder in the 18lh Century.
Women did not wear wigs but powdered their own hair and sometimes added false curls but fashionable women gradually dressed their hair high sometimes using a wire structure to hold it up and incorporating ribbons flowers etc. By the 1770s the structures were covered by pomatum and covered with white powder. These structures were sometimes untouched for months and were homes for head lice. So called back scratchers were used to relieve the intolerable itching …
Between 1800 and 1828 a rapid transition took place, most gentlemen wore wigs or powder until 1800, the Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, cut off his pigtail in 1828 and sent it round to his colleagues in an official box- while Creevey was inspecting a puffing Billy in a top hat in 1829. According to TH White. In less than a generation the male population shed their finery and cosmetics for clothing which is recognisably the precursor of today’s suits. The change happened under the guidance of Beau Brummell, though Fox, according to Wraxall, had first thrown ‘a sort of discredit on dress’. The date was about 1793. His was consequently a difficult time to imagine; for half its writers were dressed in velvet and brocade- Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Lord Harvey and Walpole himself- while the other half, born well within Walpole’s lifetime-Creevey, Greville or Croker were in morning coats and pantaloons. II
During this century while Court dress was grand most men preferred to spend time on their country estates and there wore simpler and more practical clothes. They wore knee breeches, closed below the knee with three or four buttons or a buckle and stockings, long waistcoats and coats which were plain and had skirts cut away in front for ease in riding on horse back which gradually changed into the clothes used in the 19lh century.
Today the fashion of childrens’ clothes is to move from stretchable jumpsuits to small versions of adult denims. In the 18th Century boys wore skirts like girls until they were about 4 when they were breeched, that is put into trousers.
Mrs. Delaney asks her sister “Is not three years old very young to be breeched?”
John Walter in a letter to his kinsman Abraham Dent of Kirkby Stephen answered in April 1771 said:
“Do [his son John born 1765, died 1773] longs for Easter Sunday that he may be breech’d: a sett of shirts are making, and he is to appear in green on that day, but he thinks it will never come.”
During the 18th century the umbrella or parasol makes its appearance in Europe. Swords only began to go out of fashion in 1780 when umbrellas came in. But they were still so much a novelty as to be remarked upon. In 1777 Abigail Gawthern of Nottingham wrote she used a parasol for the first time. Mary Addison noted their use in Aix in 1771. They were used by officers in the Peninsular war though Wellington thought their use on the battlefield inappropriate.
“The Guards may in uniform, when on duty at St. James’s carry them if they please; but in the field it is not only ridiculous but unmilitary.”
It is odd to reflect that in the East and Africa the umbrella was regarded as a symbol of dignity in 1653 according to the O.U.D. At the end ofthe Century William Holland used an umbrella to shelter from a violent storm as he conducted a funeral but it was obvious that he regarded it as a sign of weakness justified only by extreme conditions.
Throughout the century wigs or powder were worn. The ever inventive Dr. Morris found a way to keep the powder which was sprinkled on wigs from spreading around his bedroom. Nothing was too insignificant to merit his attention and improvement.
Dr Claver Morris 10 January 1710
“Tom Parfitt began to fit a bord and supporters to the hoop I contrived for my peruke stand, to keep the hair powder from fowling the chamber.”
The next entry has less to do with clothes than the competition between husband and wife. One can imagine the sparring which preceded it. Morris complaining about the length of time it took his wife to dress culminating in this challenge.
“See how long it takes me to dress. Come on I’ll time it. Give me your watch.”
The man of all parts Dr. Morris could evidently be quite childish. But we must concede he had a point. 18th Century clothes were more elaborate and more garments were worn especially in cold months as houses were not well heated so his time of dressing must have been a record.