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Old World Scotland
Chapter XIV. The Reformation and Raiment


IN the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries— to go no further back—the importance attached in Scotland to richness and elegance of attire is abundantly shown, not only by portraits but by allusions in the poetry of the period and by a great variety of documentary evidence. Thus, of the successful merchant in "The Priests of Peebles "-

"Rich were his gowns, with other garments gay,
For Sunday silk, for ilk day green and gray
His wife was comely clad in scarlet red,"

There is, indeed, every probability that the Scots, in the centuries preceding the Reformation, were more attentive to dress than the English. "They are," says the Spanish Ambassador, at the Court of James IV., of the Scots ladies, "very graceful and handsome women. They dress much better than here" [England], and "especially as regards the head-dress, which is, I think, the handsomest in the world." Again, of the young nobles and barons '' There is much emulation among them as to who shall be best equipped, and they are very ostentatious." Even when he did not enlist in foreign service, the young Scots gentleman usually spent some years in foreign travel— especially in France, Spain, and Italy—and his manners were, in great part, modelled after those of the gayer south. Moreover, Scotland had then a wide and good commercial intercourse, and imported large quantities of silks and other braveries. Even of the country damsels, who danced "full gay" at "Christis Kirk on the Green," you read that ''their shune were of the Straits." Nor must the French influence at the Court of Mary of Guise, and her daughter, Nary Stuart, be left out of account. "Sour John Knox" refers disdainfully to the "stinicin Pride of the women," at the opening of Mary's Parliament in 1563, and states that articles were in this "Parliament presented for order to be taken for apparel, and for reformation of other enormities," but that all was "scripped at." But from a letter to his sisters it would appear that his own private opinion in regard to female adornment was not thus Puritanical and grim. Although he ''cannot approve," he declines absolutely to condemn "sic vain apparell as inaist commonlie now is usit among women"; he thought it "difficult and dangerous to appoint any certainty." The "Monstrous Regiment of women" (female government), gave him real concern; but in respect of dress he was disposed to make allowance for natural vanity and unreasonableness; he deemed it at least better that they should feed their minds upon the trifles of the toilet than meddle with politics and public authority." He rallied the ladies of Mary's Court on their love of finery with gentle mockery ; he did not directly reprove. "O fair ladies,'' said he "how pleasing were this life of yours if it should ever abide, and then in the end we might pass to heaven with all this gay gear!" The Act of 1567 regarding ladies' apparel—"This Act is verray guid"—was somewhat mild: "Item it be lauchfull to na women to weir abone hair estait except howris." This peculiar conjunction of "let" and ''hindrance" is a curious illustration of Scots pawkiness. No penalty is prescribed. It is merely announced that to dress above their station is a privilege henceforth reserved to "unfortunate persons." It was not that the legislators loved prostitution more  it was that they wanted to impale the devotees of personal adornment on the horns of a bad dilemma.

According to "The First Book of Discipline," "excess in apparel" was one of the faults which "properly appertained to the Church of God to punish"; and although there seems to have been much liberty at first, yet gradually every kind of personal adornment came to be regarded as more or less of "a snare." In 1575 an Act was passed by the General Assembly of the Kirk anent "the apparelling of the ministers." The Reformed clergy had rejected the dress of the Catholic priesthood with the "disguised apparels" of the several religious orders. They adopted civil dress; and the regulation shows how very ornamental and elaborate it was, and what difficulty the Kirk authorities had in subduing the love of the beautiful and becoming in the "preachers of the Word." "Forasmuche," the Act proceeded "as a comelie and decent apparrell is requisite in all, namelie ministers, and such as beare function in the Kirk, first, we thinke all kinde of browdering unseemlie; all begaires (slashes) of velvet in gowne, hose, or coat, and all superfluous and vaine cutting out, stocking with silkes, all kinde of costlie sewing on pasients, or sumptuous and large steeking with silkes; all kinde of costlie sewing or variant hewes in clothing, as reid, blew, yellow, and such like, which declare the lightnesse of the minde  all wearing of rings, bracelets, buttons of silver, gold or other uettall; all kmde of superfluities of cloath in making of hose; all using of plaids in the Kirk by readers or ministers; all kinde of gowning, cutting, cloul)letting, or breekes of velvet, satiric, taffatie or such like; and costlie giltings of whingers and knives and such like all silk hatts, and hatts of diverse and light colours; but that their whole habite be of grave colour, as blacke, russet, sad gray, sad browne; or searges, woisett, chawlett, grogram, lylis worset, or such like; that the good Word of God, by them and their immoderateness, be not slandered. And the wives of the ministers to be subject to the same." Although this order primarily affected the ministers and their families alone, it necessarily influenced powerfully the whole community. "Sad gray" and "sad brown" were now authoritatively recognised to best befit the godly, and "variant hues," as red, blue, yellow, and such-like, were declared to be more or less akin to wickedness. Moreover, since the clergy avowedly adopted civil dress, they no doubt set the fashion among the middle classes, at least in the case of those who desired to be of pious repute.

In its efforts to discountenance gay apparel the Kirk was greatly aided by Parliamentary legislation. In 1581 an Act was passed against "the great abuse among the common people, even of the meanest rank, in their presuming to counterfeit the King and the nobility by their habit of wearing costly clothing of silk." This was renewed in 1584, and subsequent enactments indicate the difficulty of breaking down the natural instinct. Sir Richard Maitland's "Satire on the Toun Ladies" supplies evidence to the same effect :-

It was one of the special foibles of James VI. to prescribe appropriate dresses for the different classes and functionaries. The dresses now worn by Scottish officials—including judges, advocates, and magistrates —date from an Act passed in 1610, and were personally determined by the King and this enactment was supplemented by one of 1621 for the regulation of civil attire. None but nobles were permitted to wear gold or silver lacing, nor any velvet, satin, or silks. Lords of session, barons, magistrates, professors at Universities and others were permitted to indulge in a style of adornment something less gaudy; but all other persons were prohibited from having pearls or lacings upon their ruffles, shirts, napkins, or socks; as also from wearing "bushings of feathers," pearls or precious stones. "Austere and Puritan self-denial in dress" was thus rendered compulsory as regards the most. It was lauded by the Kirk as a special token of grace, and the attitude of the Kirk was supported by legislation reserving ornament to them that were favoured of the King, if not of Heaven. And by this general prohibition of ornamentation the standard of taste was lowered, until the nobles themselves lapsed into the adoption of the sad and sombre style of the middle classes. No doubt other influences—as the decay of feudalism and chivalry—were working towards the same end. Nor did the case of Scotland essentially differ from that of other countries; only the authority of Puritanism was there more rampant, and to some extent antedated the period of change.


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