Confessions of a Costumier: Dressing the Tradespeople

Following our 17th-century Fashion Show last spring, I posted an article highlighting the Laborers and their clothing – next up are the Servants & Tradespeople!

These men and women did not have to break their backs in the fields or peddling wares on the streets, but they still lived a humble life.  Perhaps they performed a trade, like turning table legs in a Joyner’s shop, or worked as a housemaid on a large estate like Pennsbury Manor.  Perhaps after saving their wages, they would have enough to purchase a small farm or open their own shop.  They had enough to live on, but their modest clothing reflected their lower station in society. 

Pennsbury volunteers Valerie and Joseph Long are pictured here modeling appropriate ensembles.  Valerie is wearing the latest in 17th-century gowns: the Mantua (featured in a previous post).  Her gown is a modest cut and color, and the fine wool fabric would last a long time.   Her serviceable coif may not have been the latest style in caps, but it kept the hair off her face while she worked. 

Just like his wife, Joe’s simple linen waistcoat and justacorps (also featured previously) was fashionable yet serviceable.  Linen is a hard-wearing fabric that would last, which is important when every piece of clothing you buy is an investment.  Tradesmen like Joe would dress informally when working in their workshops – shops were for manufacturing, not selling; that would happen at a store or at least a separate room at the front of the building.  But when walking through town, he would still want to look like a man of business and stature. 

Notice this housemaid’s appearance – her clothing is made of high-quality fabrics but in a simple style, and she obviously keeps them clean and in good repair. John Roley, “Bridget Holmes, a Nonagenarian Housemaid,” 1686

A person’s outward image was a reflection of their status in society and served as a walking advertisement to others on how to treat you.  Earlier in the 17th century, English law actually restricted what people could wear based on their social class.  But as the gentry class increasingly sold their clothes to secondhand shops in order to fund their new, more fashionable wardrobes, the lower classes began to buy those high-quality garments.  In wearing these gently-used pieces, just a fraction of the price for new clothes, they started looking just as nice as their employers.  The gentry were NOT HAPPY and wrote in their letters and journals how frustrating it was when the maid looked just like the mistress!

Marcellus Laroon, “Old chairs to mend,” published late 17th-century.

 

Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator & Costumier

 

**You might be wondering why our models don’t have any shoes on in these pictures?  That’s because we haven’t been able to afford any.  We are fundraising to purchase reproduction shoes, since a costumed interpreter in sneakers ruins the whole atmosphere…  To help out, you can visit our official website www.pennsburymanor.org and click the “Donate Now” button at the bottom.**

3 comments on “Confessions of a Costumier: Dressing the Tradespeople

  1. Jim McNeill says:

    Restrictions on what ‘lower classes’ could wear was also rife in continental Europe. It was especially the case for mercenary foot soldiers who, through successful plundering, would acquire horses, livery and self-appointed titles which caused great consternation for the middling aristocracy.

  2. […] living and visiting Pennsbury Manor in the late 17th century.  After featuring the Laborers and the Servants/Tradespeople, we can highlight the Community […]

  3. e bown says:

    Bridget Holmes is in fact the ‘Necessary Woman’ to Charles I, Charles II and James II. She worked for the Stuarts her whole working life until she was in her late eighties – hence the portrait and a rather fine pension. The portrait currently hangs at Hampton Court Palace.

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