Thursday, April 26, 2018

What Ordinary People Wore in the Early 1800s

Thursday, April 26, 2018
1808 Woman Churning Butter
Country Fair 1808
Loretta reports:

Given comments on my last blog, it seemed like a good time to look at resources for what working people wore. Susan and I have written about tradespeople and servants here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere.

They are rarely the subjects of portraits, although they might be included in scenes of, say, a great estate. Also, a few employers actually had at least some of their servants’ portraits painted. Later in  the 1800s, Victorian servants appear in quite a few photographs. But for those of us who are looking at English dress before photography, there are other ways to get an understanding of what ordinary people wore.

William Henry Pyne is one of my go-to illustrators. I have two reprints of his work dealing with this subject: Picturesque Views of Rural Occupations in Early Nineteenth-Century England and Pyne's British Costumes.

Online, there’s also his Etchings of rustic figures, for the embellishment of landscape.

Rustic figures
Rustic figures
Other sources include satirical prints. Though we need to be aware of exaggerations, they generally seem to get the clothing details right. Images in Ackermann’s Microcosm of London show ordinary people as well as those of the upper orders.

In some cases, we see a distinctive uniform for a trade or profession. The watermen or firemen, for instance. Others might wear a certain type of vest. Many professions and trades required badges. Whether one’s clothes were in fashion or not would depend on one’s business. A dressmaker, for instance, would need to look up-to-date. For haymakers, it was another case entirely.

14. A woman churning butter with a cloth apron tied about her waist and a mob-cap on her head, another woman milking a cow beyond. Title page lettered "The Costume of Great Britain. Designed, Engraved , and Written by W. H. Pyne." "London: Published by William Miller, Albermarle-Street. 1808." Courtesy the British Museum
Couple at fair looking at a clown and a bell ringer, W.H. Pyne, [1808], courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Rustic figures from Pyne, Etchings of rustic figures, for the embellishment of landscape.

Rowlandson, Thames Watermen from Miseries of London 1807I courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


History Underfoot said...

Great finds! This comes in handy for me. Thank you!

Lucy said...

I'm embarrassed that I can't remember whether I read this on your blog, or another, or as part of some other research, but I do recall someone's comment that at any given time, at any given period of history, people would be wearing a variety of styles from various years--some quite forward-looking and others quite out of date--depending on taste, pocketbook, etc. So in researching fashions for, say, 1810, it's a good idea to look at what people were wearing a decade or two earlier, or even what they might have worn as fashion in their youth and not given up.

Again, they might also choose to dress in a way that represented their class, or defied it. At times, it was a sort of contra-fashion for young men to dress like servants and coachmen; or someone (as today) might make a social statement through a style of dress or wig, or boycotting a particular fabric.

I love the flexibility, frankly, because it allows me to give my characters style quirks that aren't fashionable--but more appealing to my modern tastes. For instance, my very unfashionable hero, in 1746, wears his OWN hair on his head. :-)

Christine Guest said...

This is off topic, but yesterday my family visited the Breakers in Newport. I noticed a lot of chaise lounges in the bedroom and asked the docent how you sat in them. He asked a friend, and they said that napping in bed was considered feeble, or improper so they invented the lounges, but they were only briefly popular.

Do either of you know how you sat in one of those things, or why there were two chair backs in some models?

Lucy said...

Christine, I'm not sure how polite it was to receive company with one's feet up, but I've found a few portraits of women reclining on them, as well as a couple of women sitting. I didn't find anything on the double-backed models.

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