Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Cost of Fashion

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Loretta reports:

In response to a recent fashion post, a reader asked, “What class of women could afford this cape? What was the cost of fashion and what fabrics were used to create the cape?”

High fashion was expensive then and it’s expensive today. La Belle Assemblée, where those plates came from, was aimed at upper class women. A very rough analogy would be today’s Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. The fashions are mainly for wealthy women.

The Regency History site provides some LBA prices in the Regency era here. And Mike Rendell has info here. On my own, I found that LBA in 1826 cost 3 shillings. Ackermann’s Repository cost 4s. In 1833 The Royal Lady’s Magazine sold for 2s 6d.

Compare this to the Ladies Cabinet of Fashion which sold for 6d. The Lady's Pocket Magazine, the source of the fashion plates on this page, was another low-priced magazine. These were smaller, and the plates weren’t cruder. But the low price indicates readers at a lower economic level, who still wanted fashionable clothing. Basically, this would mean using less expensive material, since labor costs were negligible.

In Nicholas Nickleby,* a seamstress’s terms of employment are as follows: “Our hours are from nine to nine**with extra work when we’re very full of business, for which I allow payment as overtime ... I should think your wages would average from five to seven shillings a week; but I can’t give you any certain information on that point until I see what you can do.”

But a seamstress is a lowly position. How about this ad from The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser for February 1835?
A widow and her daughter, Members of the Church of England, to undertake the Management of the GIRLS’ CHARITY SCHOOL, in this Town, and the Instruction of the Children. Piety, Ability, and Activity are necessary qualifications; and references as to these must be given, as well as to general Respectability of Character ... Salary. £ 52. 10s. a year.

I also happened on this:
“Ladies fashionable Side-laced Boots, Black and Coloured, 4s 6d to 5s6d per pair.”—Brighton Patriot and Lewes Free Press etc. Tuesday, August 18, 1835

A pair of those shoes would take a sizable chunk of Kate’s weekly wages.

I couldn’t track down Luxmore. What I did find was:
"Luxor—A soft, ribbed silk satin: used as dress fabric: also an obsolete French woolen dress goods."— Louis Harmuth, Dictionary of Textiles.

Since this post is already too long, I'll continue with fabric costs and wages at another time.
*Dickens, who was a journalist at heart, tends to be pretty reliable in terms of living and working conditions.
**Six days a week.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.


Lauren Stowell said...

I look forward to more posts about this. Fascinating subject. I'm always intrigued by what things cost "back when" in comparison to what they cost now.

Susan G. said...

Aside from information in London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew (4 volumes, 1861, reprinted by Dover,) the diaries of Arthur Munby (quoted at length in Munby, Man of Two Worlds, by Derek Hudson,) are filled with Munby's conversations with mid-Victorian working women, from the desperate (2 shillings a week in a glue factory) to the new office workers (one pound per week or better.) He interviewed several milliners, some of whom went "on the streets" as prostitutes because they couldn't live on their wages as dressmakers. Victorian Working Women, by Michael Hiley, is another eye-opener. There are posts about those books, and also about women's clothing budgets from the 1920's and 30's at witness2fashion.wordpress.com

Karen Anne said...

I can't imagine walking in ensembles like those pictured. They really did weigh a ton, I imagine.

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