Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"The minutiae of calico and camblet and kersey, of cherryderry and linsey-woolsey"

At the TLS, Ferdinand Mount has a great piece about John Styles' The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England:
The most heart-rending of the illustrations are of the little swatches, mainly printed cottons, which were cut from the clothes that infants were wearing when they were brought into the Foundling Hospital. These tiny pieces of cloth were then pinned to the child’s documents as a means of identification. They are often beautiful, the sprigged and flowered patterns as beguiling as the early Laura Ashley prints, the stripes and checks very much like those you find today in Ian Mankin’s pattern book. Looking at all the finery on the mercer’s shelves, one feels a twitch of sympathy with Elizabeth Wild, who stole three pairs of silk gloves worth 13s 6d from a London shop in 1716. All she could say in her defence was that “she long’d for them, and that she knew not why else she did it, not having any occasion as she knew of for them”. Female overspending led to the kind of fibs and concealments that two centuries later provided the leitmotif for the newspaper cartoon The Gambols. A late eighteenth-century shop ledger from Penmorfa in North Wales includes several marginal notes on purchases of clothes on men’s credit by wives or maidservants such as “handkerchief . . . wife, not to tell” and “hat 11s 6d, to tell 8s”.

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