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Part 25. Dress

Part 25 - Dress

  I have taken the theme for this review from the catalogue Threads of Feeling, The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens, 1740-17770 byJohn Styles. This accompanied the Threads of Feeling exhibition held at the Hospital in 2011. Personally I thought the catalogue was  more interesting for textile information; however the exhibition was excellent as an adjunct to a Foundling Hospital visit.

This catalogue is only a slim volume, seventy two pages for £7.99 - albeit lavishly illustrated in full colour. It begins with the usual Preface and then an Introduction explains how the Hospital has this vast collection of textiles: pieces:which were left by the mother as she put her child into the Hospital to be a means of identification when they came to collect them . As John Styles says it is “the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving from the eighteenth century in Britain .. worn by ordinary women”.  Chapter 1(eight pages) outlines The Foundling Hospital and its Tokens, Chapter 2 (twelve pages) is Textiles with twelve large illustrations of such eighteenth century everyday fabrics as red woollen cloth, blue camblet, linsey -woolsey etc, The next twelve pages-Fashion mostly illustrate the more upmarket printed fabrics and Chapter 4 is nine pages on Ribbons- crucial accessories. Chapter 5 is four pages on Baby Clothes, Chapter 6 (five pages) is called Needlework and the final chapter 7 is Mothers and Babies. The Conclusion shows a piece of patchwork left with one of the few children reclaimed. Select Bibliography ends a short but well written little book, a good buy.

John Styles's name is familiar to all who attended the V&A Symposium in May 2010,in his fascinating lecture Quilts in History:History in Quilts . he briefly referred to his book which I would like to recommend to you now. It is The Dress of the People, Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth Century England.  This is no lightweight book, I could only read a chapter a day; they are all about fifteen pages long and scholarly-in the order of forty end notes per chapter plus Appendix 1 has thirty seven tables to be consulted.

The book begins with Notes for Readers (abbreviations used in the text) a three page Preface an Introduction: Consuming the Eighteenth Century,(seventeen pages) setting out his stall. The book is then divided into Part I, Patterns of Clothing which has seven chapters on What the People Wore, such topics as Changing Clothes, Fashion’s Favourite? Cottons, etc., Part II is Getting and Spending and includes Clothing Provincial England: Fabrics, Garments and the Metropolis.  Part III is Understanding Clothes; The View from Above and Below and Budgeting for Clothes. Part IV is People and Their Clothes, Clothes and the Lifestyle, Involuntary Consumption-Prizes, Gifts Charity, The Parish Poor, Servants. The book ends with Conclusion (six pages) Appendix I-sources (twelve pages) and Appendix 2 Tables.  Notes take forty five pages; twenty pages are for Select Bibliography (subdivided), Photograph Credits and a seven page Index.

If all this looks overwhelming, that is a fair reflection. It is a well produced book but dense, the print is on the small side and each page is filled; illustrations are good and appropriate (some duplicated in Threads of Feeling!) Not an easy read but highly recommended for John Style’s quality writing, scholarship and scope, a book to refer to over the years..

As a complete contrast in style and content I have included Jane Ashelford ‘s The Art of Dress, Clothes and Society 1500-1914 .However the clothes and society she writes about encompass the extravagant , the seriously rich, and the well off middle classes only. None of the Styles’ riff raff allowed here! Joking apart, this National Trust production shows the NT at their best: a scholarly account using their own resources to give us a lively, readable but informative account. All the text is referenced to the copious full colour illustrations; all of paintings and clothing within the N.T..

A seven page Introduction opens the book and eight chapters follow, each about forty pages long. Gorgeous Attyre, 1500-1603; Careless Romance 1603-1660, Wigs and Drapery 1660-1720, Uniformly Elegant 1720-1780, Perfect Cut and Fit 1780-1850.  I thought this first part of the book was the better half; Chapter 6, Tyranny of Fashion 1850-1914 moves into a not uninteresting discourse on shopping, Chapter 7, Swaddling to Sailor Suits: Children’s Clothes seems to run out of steam and the last chapter Dress suitable to their Station: Clothes for Servants is just rather feeble. The book ends with eight pages of text Notes,three pages for a List of Plates and one for  Select Bibliography plus finally a six page Index.

I suspect this book is not the costume historians’ choice but I enjoyed learning what a lot of textile information there is in these portraits and how perhaps to interpret it.


Like so many catalogues, Threads of Feeling  by John Styles(The Foundling Museum, 2010, ISBN 978 0 955180 85 90 ) is difficult to track down once the exhibition is over. At the moment  Amazon offer it at £7.55 instead of the cover price of £7.95 but say it is temporarily out of stock and list one used for £35.00.

As the Museum has a web site :, I suggest you go through visitor info to shop and try there.

The Dress of the People, Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth Century England by John Styles, ( Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2007, ISBN 978 0 3000 12119 3) is available from Amazon at £25.49 new (£29.99 full price) and if you want used, either from them or on ABE at prices between £20-40.00.

Jane Ashelford's The Dress of the People, Clothes and Society 1500-1914 (The National Trust, London, 1996, ISBN 0 7078 01850-hardback, 0 708 03365 5- paperback) is on Amazon at £12.50 for the paperback instead of £19.99. There are plenty of used copies on ABE at £12.-60.00.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2011

PLEASE NOTE - An indication is given of the availability and market price of the book at the time of writing and may not reflect today's availability and price.