'The people in general are well cloathed,' wrote de Muralt of the English, 'which is a certain proof of their living at ease; for in England the Belly always takes place of the Back.' The latter point was necessarily true of the mass of the people, who needed to devote half or more of their income to their bellies, but for middling people the back ran the belly fairly close, contemporary experts suggesting that about a quarter of their income went on apparel. This section will try to determine how this money was spent.
The first two decades of our period were ones of experimentation, which resulted in an almost revolutionary change in the type of clothes worn by both sexes. For men, the new clothing was the three-piece suit of coat, waistcoat and knee-breeches, worn with a shirt and drawers, stockings to the knee and
usually buckled shoes rather than boots. Both coat and waist-coat were usually so long that they almost concealed the breeches, with a long line of narrowly spaced buttons right down to the hem. Further embellishment was provided by trimmings and embroidery to the main garments, lace ruffles at the wrist, bands and later cravats or neckcloths round the neck and on the head a wig topped by a beaver or a felt hat. Men doing dirty work and many shopkeepers wore an apron to protect themselves or as a mark of status, while the cloak was increasingly challenged as protective outerwear by the campaign coat, derived from the military greatcoat.
Most middling women wore smocks and sometimes drawers next to the skin, but their shape was determined by their laced and boned stays, usually called 'a pair of bodies'. These were worn from under the armpits to below the waist and were often laced very tightly. However, from the 1670s and 1680s, women were to lead a rather more relaxed existence with the development of looser fitting outer garments in the form of the mantua and the gown. These were both one-piece garments, fastened at the waist with a sash or girdle, normally trailing to the ground at the back and open below the waist to reveal the petticoat. Long-sleeved waistcoats, buttoning up the front and often padded for warmth, were sometimes worn over the gown or directly over the petticoat. The rest of the ensemble would consist of shoes and stockings, perhaps an under-petticoat, gloves, various items to cover a low décolletage such as pinners, an ever-changing variety of hair-styles, caps and hats, and, for the women of our class, an apron or safeguard to protect their clothes. Decoration and embellishment were even more important than in men's dress and even quite poor women did not like to be seen without a considerable amount of ribbons, braid and cheap lace to brighten up their clothes.
Most fashion was derived from Paris and rapidly adopted in London by the fashionable of the West End. New fashions would then be taken up by middling people, but how quickly is difficult to say. One can find references to deliberate rejection of West End fashion and the loose behaviour that went with it by citizen's wives who laced themselves even tighter and disdained the bare-breasted fashions of Charles II's reign. Such
women might continue to wear the high-crowned and broad-rimmed hats of the Puritan 1640s and 1650s 'as a conscious statement of middle class virtues against the whims of the fashionable world', while their shopkeeper husbands wore their own hair short à la Roundhead and sneered at the courtly foolishness of the wig. However, such bourgeois rectitude seems to have withered as fashion changes speeded up and, by the reign of Queen Anne, middling people are regularly criticized for their reckless pursuit of the trivia determined each Easter by the haut monde of the West End. Mandeville noted that ladies of fashion were constantly sending for their mantuamakers, 'so that they may have always some new modes ready to take up, as soon as those sawcy cits shall begin to imitate those in being', and other comment on social competition in dress is rife in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Such competition was made easy in England by the fact that there were no fundamental distinctions in types of dress by class or between town and country. Anne Buck has shown that, as early as the 1640s, class distinctions in dress were matters of detail, no form of dress being so different from those of lower classes 'that it shows a completely unrelated, independent style'. An indication of the depth of fashion can be found in the 1675 inventory of a Limehouse pawnbroker, whose customers were hardly likely to have been upper-class. The goods pawned included three very dressy bundles; the first contained 'two petticoats, a piece of gimp lace, a pair of silk stockings, a silver laced waistcoat and a pair of bodies', the next a 'lutestring [silk] gowne and pettycoat laced, a satin petticoat, a red pettycoat laced with gold and silver lace', and the third 'a red cloth mantle, a tabby [silk] petticoat, a black silk mohaire petticoat and a pair of laced slippers'. Not only are these the same sorts of clothing as were being worn by the fashionable in 1675; they are also made of expensive materials such as silk, 'cloth', which meant good woollen cloth, and gold and silver lace.
Social distinctions were even less in the eighteenth century when differences were ones of fashion, fabric and the quality of the embellishments, rather than of type, so that it was well worth paying for the skills of high-class tailors, staymakers and mantua-makers in order to rise above the tolerable imitations
made for the ready-made market. The initiated always knew, of course, and many a laugh and a sneer could be had at the expense of those aping their betters, but, for all that, the homogeneity of English dress provided wonderful opportunities for both the makers of clothes and their wearers and was a major factor in ushering in that mass market for cheap textiles whose demand fuelled the Industrial Revolution.
How many clothes did middling people own? A preliminary answer can be found in an unlikely source, the evidence given in disputes between master and apprentice. It was normal practice for parents or friends to supply the apprentice with a satisfactory wardrobe 'at his entrance' and for the master to maintain and replace these clothes at his own charge as became necessary. Since the quality or quantity of the clothes originally supplied was often in dispute, it is quite common to find them listed by witnesses in the Mayor's Court. Such wardrobes obviously varied in value and quantity, but one can still see what were the basic requirements of a young man starting service and these can reasonably be taken as the minimum wardrobe of middling men.
A typical wardrobe would be valued between £10 and £20, and would consist of three complete outfits and accessories. John Hicks, for instance, a gentleman's son apprenticed in the early 1650s, brought into service two new suits and a new cloak, a good large cloth coat and a good old suit, a frieze short coat, two felt hats, two pairs of new worsted stockings, a pair of new waxed boots, two pairs of shoes, four shirts (two new), six new bands and eight old bands, four handkerchiefs and six caps, all of which were said to be worth at least £15. Thirty years later, John Parker, apprentice to an upholsterer, had two new cloth suits and a new serge suit, together with a campaign coat, one new caster and a felt, three pairs each of new hose and new stockings, eight shirts, a dozen and a half of bands, six handkerchiefs and other necessaries, valued at £13 'or rather more'.
Not many inventories list clothing but, when they do, one can see that the basic male wardrobe of three suits and accessories was maintained into adult life, though many people accumulated much more, such as the merchant William Kersteman, who had seventeen shirts, nineteen neckclothes and five complete suits when he died in 1711. The clothing of men in
this class was normally woollen or worsted for the outer garments and linen for shirts, bands, drawers and sometimes waistcoats, but most men also had some silk in their wardrobe, some silk stockings perhaps, several silk handkerchiefs, one best silk suit and very often a silk 'nightgown', a loose dressing gown worn as much in the day as at night. Many men wore a turban to cover their shaved heads when wearing their nightgowns, a piece of oriental exoticism which was reflected in the furnishing tastes of the middle classes.
There is less information on the clothing of middle-class women, but what there is suggests that they, too, maintained a minimum of three complete outfits and accessories (and often much more) and that a high proportion of their outer clothing was made of silk or silk mixtures. One can take as an example Frances Gardner, the widow of a grocer, whose clothing was listed in 1665. Frances was only twenty-seven and her husband worth only £642, but her wardrobe shows why the Spitalfields silk industry was to flourish. She had one suit of mixed tabby and one of black lustring, seven petticoats, two unspecified and the others made of sky colour tabby, white dimity, crimson silk mohair, turkey mohair and cloth with gold lace, the most expensive item. She also had a riding suit, a damask cloak with silver hooks, a satin mantle with bonelace, three tufted and three smocked waistcoats, an old black gown and a grogram gown, two fans, two pairs of gloves, an old apron and a parcel of small linen, the whole lot being valued at £17 10s. Susanna Hardy, the widow of an apothecary who died in 1676 worth £652, had a similar wardrobe—'a sute of mourning, two gowns, eight petty coats, one pair of bodyes, a silke petty coat laced with silver and gold lace, a red mantle laced with silver lace, three women's mantles and two pairs of silk stockings', valued at £16. 7s.
It is difficult to generalize about the cost of clothes because so much depended on the fabric and embellishments. Table 10.6 overleaf gives some idea of the range of prices for a few common types of textile. These are drawn from stock-lists in inventories and would be wholesale prices. One could argue for ever about just what a 'yard' was or what exactly mohair, camlet or drugget were, but it can at least be seen that there was a very wide variation in price for textiles bearing the same
name. It can also be noted that woollen broadcloth was more expensive than all but the most expensive silks and that there was a wide range of cheap silks which overlaps all but the cheapest woollens, worsteds and mixtures. These prices make it clear why the wearing of silk could go so far down the social hierarchy.
In Table 10.7 opposite, these fabrics are turned in to ready-
made clothes and valuations of some types of men's and women's clothes are listed, again from stock-lists. On the righthand side of the table are Gregory King's valuations for these articles from his table of 'Annual Consumption of Apparell, 1688'. Once again, there was a wide range of prices, depending on the textile used and the quality of the finish. These prices are, of course, the absolute minimum for new clothes, since the stock-list prices are wholesale and King's estimates were supposed to be an average for all classes. In any case, it is unlikely that many middle-class men and women bought their outer garments ready-made, though they would quite often buy shirts, smocks, bands, handkerchiefs, drawers etc. from haberdashers and milliners. Such things might also of course be made up at home by the women of the household.
Drawing on the prices in Tables 10.6 and 10.7 and other prices, it seems probable that it would cost a minimum of £6 or £7 to provide a complete ready-made outfit for a man of any quality at all. Such a price would soon shoot up if one bespoke the clothes from a tailor or bought anything of even moderately high quality. Pepys , for instance, who was a snappy and ambitious dresser, laid out £17 in 1664 on 'my fine coloured cloth suit, with my cloak lined with plush' and £24 in the following year on 'my new silk camelott sute, the best that ever I wore in my life'. Pepys did rather tend to overdo the luxury of his dress and was told in 1669 that his gold-lace sleeves were inappropriate to his position, but many merchants and wealthy shopkeepers would probably have spent this sort of money on their clothes, mercers in particular being renowned for their luxurious dress. However, the average man of the middle station would have been much more modest, though he would probably have paid more than the prices listed in Table 10.7 since he would have had many of his clothes made by a tailor.
One can get some idea of making prices from a tailor's account-book of the late 1690s and early 1700s. Most of his customers provided their own fabrics and his bills are for making up the material and the cost of the accessories. Coats cost between 7s. and 9s. to make up, waistcoats and breeches about 5s. or 6s., giving some idea of the labour involved since journeymen tailors got about 10s. a week wages. Accessories, such as buttons, shalloon for lining and pockets, silk thread and
twist, might well cost as much again and all this takes no account of the cost of the cloth. Tailors also did maintenance and repair work on clothes: 2s. for scouring a suit, 1s. for taking spots out of a coat, similar prices for pressing, spongeing, napping and other services. Dressmakers got lower pay than journeymen tailors and costs were normally so modest that few middle-class women would have bothered to make their own clothes at home. And even a mantua-maker was paid better then the sempstress who made up shirts and smocks. Stephen Monteage, for instance, paid £3 6s.6d. for Holland linen to make six shirts in October 1733 and, in November, he paid Mrs Tomlins gs. for making them.
In order to estimate the total demand for clothes, one also needs to know something about annual turnover. How much did people need to buy each year to keep up with fashion and to replace worn articles? This would obviously vary considerably with the individual and is also something on which there is no real evidence. However, a very rough approximation can be provided by looking at Gregory King's estimates of'annual consumption of apparell'. For instance, he thought that a million 'coats for men' would be consumed every year or rather less than one coat per man per year, assuming that men were a quarter of the population. Since he also put down a million men's waistcoats and breeches and a million each of women's 'petticoats and wastcoats' and 'bodyes and stays', he seems to have believed that most adults would buy on average a complete outfit every year, and presumably middling people would buy rather more than the average. King also allows for roughly two pairs of stockings, shoes and gloves and two shirts per head of the population every year, not to mention a huge range of other items only likely to be purchased by the middling and upper classes, such as perukes, swords, muffs, masks, fans etc.
If these figures are even roughly right, one can begin to see how Jacob Vanderlint could estimate in 1734 that a middling man would spend £16 a year on his own clothes, £7 each on his four children and £16 for his wife, 'who can't wear much', a total of £60 or just over a quarter of his expenditure. By coincidence, the attorney William Moses, whose personal accounts have survived for the year 1679–80, spent exactly £60 on clothes in the year, of which just over £40 was in seven
separate tailors' bills. Miss Goreing, a young lady living on her own with two servants, spent £31 on clothes in 1697–8, including tailors' bills, fabrics and accessories such as hoods, gloves and shoes, and she spent over £52 in 1703–4. So, although one cannot really tell if Vanderlint's estimate was accurate, it was certainly not outrageous. People did spend a lot on clothes and it is no wonder that such a high proportion of the population was engaged in making them.
The clothes that were replaced each year still had a long life in them. Some provided the raw materials with which the tailor produced a 'new' suit; others were cut down for children, refashioned for apprentices or given to maid-servants, the fashionable embellishments being carefully removed. Others would end up in the huge second-hand market, to be worn by the poor and then to be cut down to be worn by the children of the poor. Such recycling was much greater in our period than it is today but nevertheless the regularly recurring demand for new clothes, especially by the men and women of the middle station, was one of the major factors keeping the economy going. So was the recurrent demand for furniture and furnishing materials, which is now considered.