Women in Bygone Days
Scottish Dress in Bygone Days
THROUGHOUT the ages men and women
have vied with one another in extravagance in dress.
Chaucer puts into the mouth of a
parson a lament concerning " the sinful costly array of clothing."
Firstly, he deplores the price of the clothes, the waste of cloth and time
and money, and, secondly, he laments their uglinessthe ladies trailing
trains through the mire the men dressed in ugly, parti-coloured clothes
which, he declares, "make the wearer seem as though the fire of St.
Anthony or other such mischance had cankered and consumed one half of
Fashions change with astonishing
rapidity. An anonymous author of the thirteenth century says
"The commoners were besotted in excess of apparel, some
in wide surcoats reaching to their loins, some in a garment reaching to
the heels, close before, and strutting out on the sides, so that at the
back men seem like women.
Their shoes are snouted and piked,
more than a finger long, crooking upwards, which they call crakows,
resembling devils claws, and fastened to the knees with chains of gold
The "crakows" were named after the
town of Crakow; the fashion of the pointed-toed shoes was imported from
Poland by John of Bohemia, grandfather to Queen Anne, the wife of Richard
An old writer says: "The men wore
shoes with a point before, half a foot long; the richer and more eminent
personages wore them a foot, and princes two feet long, which was the most
ridiculous thing that ever was seen; and when men became tired of these
pointed shoes which were called poulaines, they adopted others in their
place which were named duck-bills, having a bill or beak before, of four
or five fingers in length. Afterwards assuming a contrary fashion, they
wore shoes so very broad in front as to exceed the measure of a good
The fashions of the upper classes
were much the same in all civilized countries. The Scottish gentry copied
the richer apparel of the South, and all spent far more than they could
afford upon their clothes. The middle class tried to copy the extravagance
of the upper class, and sumptuary laws were introduced dealing with this
evil. Laws were useless, so also were the denunciations of the clergy
whose aid was evoked by the Scottish Kings and Parliament to help to
arouse the public conscience upon the subject of waste; the denunciations
hurled from the pulpit were as ineffectual as the laws passed in
Parliament. Little wonder that the words of the ecclesiastics received but
scant attention, for they rivalled the laity in their love of finery,
their rebukes must have sounded hollow, and the sinners would not be
greatly impressed, rather they would turn a deaf ear to the gaily dressed
divine. The splendour of the sacerdotal garments of ceremony was at its
height in the thirteenth century.
Chaucer deals faithfully with the
worldly vanity of the monks. His monk had,
"His sleves purfiled at the hond
With gris, and that the finest of the lond.
And for to fasten his hood under his chinne,
He hadde of gold y-wrought a curious pinne:
A love-knotte in the greter end ther was,
His botes souple; his hors in gret
Now certainly he was a fayre prelat."
Ecclesiastical dress underwent great
changes after the Reformation, the Reformed ministers were clad in sober
garments, they were not expected to wear colours or rich materials. After
the Reformation, the General Assembly in Scotland declared its mind
regarding the kind of dress fit for clergymen and their wives. "We think
all kind of broidering unseemly, all begaries (coloured stripes) of
velvet, in gown, hose, or coat, and all superfluous and vain cutting out,
steeking with silks, all kind of costly sewing in passements (trimmings)
all kind of costly sewing or variant hues in sarks; all kind of light and
variant hues in clothing, as red, blue, yellow, and such like, which
declare the lightness of the mind; all wearing of rings, bracelets,
buttons of silver, gold or other metal; all kinds of superfluity of cloth
in the making of hose; all using of plaids in the kirk by readers or
ministers, namely (especially) in the time of their ministry or using of
their office; all kind of gowning, cutting, doubleting, or breeks of
velvet, satin, taffeta, or such like; all silk hats, and hats of divers
and light colours."
It was recommended to the clergy
that "their whole habit be of grave colour, as black, russet, sad gray, or
sad brown; or serges, worsted, camlet, grogram, lytes worsted or such like
. . . And their wives to be subject to the same order."
It was curious that any such
sumptuary regulations were required for Presbyterian ministers and their
wives, as, according to all accounts, their incomes for the first forty
years after the Reformation, were wretchedly small and very irregularly
paid. By an Act of Queen Marys they were allotted a third of all existing
benefices, but these were frequently not paid. In the pathetic words of a
memorial they presented to Queen Mary in 1562 they say that most of them
led a beggar life. They were as ill off under the grasping Morton as they
had been under the Queen. The proceedings of the General Assembly in 1576
reveal that some were compelled to eke out their miserable stipends by
selling ale to their flocks. The question then formally put was:
"Whether a minister or reader ma tap
ale, beer or wine and keep an open tavern?" To which it was answered:
"Ane minister or reader that taps
ale or beer or wine, and keeps an open tavern, should be exhorted by
commissioners to keep decorum." So even had they the desire to wear velvet
and embroidery, poverty would have hindered them gratifying their desire.
But to return to pre-Reformation
days. Extravagance was limitless. A writer in England declares that the
costly fashions there were the primary cause of the misfortunes that
dogged Richard II.s reign. Of the great people, he writes:
"They keep no coin that cometh to their hands, But
change it for chains that in Cheap (market) hangeth, And set all their
silver in seimtes (?
girdles) and horns."
Another writer says: "The devil
fareth with men and women; first he stirred them to pap and pamper their
flesh, desiring delicious meats and drinks, and so to hop on the pillar
(of the devils temptation) with their horns,
locks, garlands of gold and of rich pearls, cauls, fillets
and wimples, and rideled (pleated)
gowns, and rockets, collars, laces, jacks, paltocks, with their
long crakows, and thus the devil beareth them up upon the pillar,
to teach them to fly above other simple folk, and saith that they shall
not hurt themselves, but he lieth falsely, for unless they are as sorry
therefor as ever they were glad, they shall leap down from the pillar into
the pit of hell."
The same extravagance was to be
found in Scotland; a years income was given for a coat. This extravagance
In The Monastery, Sir Piercie
Shafton, the dandy, is an example of the coxcomb who appears ridiculous by
his love of dress. Scott tells the following story, to shew that men of
this period were distinguished by every species of folly in their dress
"In the Memorie of the Somerville
family," he says, "a curious instance occurs of this fashionable species
of extravagance. In the year 1537, when James V. brought over his
short-lived bride from France, the Lord Somerville of the day was so
profuse in the expense of his apparel, that the money which he borrowed on
the occasion was compensated by a perpetual annuity of threescore pounds
Scottish, payable out of the barony of Carnwath till doomsday, which was
assigned by the creditor to Saint Magdalens Chapel. By this deep expense
the Lord Somerville had rendered himself so glorious in apparel, that the
King, who saw so brave a gallant enter the gate of Holyrood, followed by
only two pages, called upon several of the courtiers to ascertain who it
could be who was so richly dressed and so slightly attended, and he was
not recognised until he entered the presence-chamber. You are very brave,
my lord, said the King as he received his homage; but where are all your
men and attendants? The Lord Somerville readily answered, If it please
your Majesty, here they are, pointing to the lace that was on his own and
his pages clothes; whereat the King laughed heartily, and having surveyed
the finery more nearly, bade him have away with it all, and let him have
his stout band of spears again."
Neither laws, warnings, satires or
preaching killed the love of finery. All ranks vied with each other to be
as fine as possible. Scottish chroniclers dwell with complacency and pride
upon the gorgeous apparel worn by King James IV. at his marriage with the
fourteen-year-old Margaret of Tudor in 1503. He was, as befitted his rank,
and much to the gratification of his people, resplendent in a robe of
white satin figured with gold, a black velvet doublet slashed with
crimson, and crimson trunk hose. Upon his head he wore a cap of black
velvet caught up at the side with a ruby, and at his belt he wore a
magnificent sword. His bride, a mere child, was richly drest in a gown of
white and gold damask, bordered with crimson velvet, set off by her crown
and a collar of pearls and precious stones.
All was festive and bright; Holyrood
and the Kings Park resounded with cries of mirth. James played cards
every evening with his bride, and sang songs to the accompaniment of his
lute. William Dunbar, the poet, wrote some verses on the wedding of "The
Thistle and the Rose ". Everyone combined to bring cheer to Margaret.
Minstrels were brought from Aberdeen to amuse her, and all was joy and
happiness. No shadow of Flodden or coming disasters darkened the horizon.
Not only the gentry and their wives,
"but every merchant or artificers wife indulged in extravagant fashions.
Men in trunk hose, breeches with doublets, varied and handsome, walked
abroad." The doublets fitted the body very closely, the waist gradually
lengthening. These long quilted doublets "were quilted and stuffed with
four, five or six pounds of bombast, the exterior being of satin, silk,
taffeta, . . . trimmed with all kinds of costly lace, of divers and sundry
colours." Over the doublet was worn a coat or jerkin, some with collars,
some without; some of them were tight fitting, others loose, covering the
whole body like sacks. Some men who prided themselves upon their wardrobe,
we read, "had as many sorts of apparel as there are days of the year."
Amongst these happy beings King
James VI. of Scotland was not included. When about to marry Anne of
Denmark, he was anxious "to cut a decent appearance upon the occasion,"
but found that as his clothing was shabby and his purse empty, he would be
but a sorry figure; accordingly he wrote to the Provost of Edinburgh,
entreating him to do his best to make suitable preparations for his bride,
adding, "For Gods sake, see a things are right at our homecoming."
Scotland was a poor country, and at
that date it was specially impoverished by the troubles of his mothers
reign, the Queen of Scots; money was hard to come by, and the monarch
neither liked the poverty of his wardrobe nor his lack of money. He wrote
to the Earl of Mar, entreating the loan of a pair of silk stockings,
saying, "Ye wudna wish that your King suld appear a scrub on sic an
occasion." He also borrowed from John Boswell of Balmuto 1,000 merks to
prepare for Annes home-coming. Poor Anne, she later suffered a cruel
mortification, when Elizabeth of England died and James succeeded to the
throne! He feared that Annes apparel was not equal to her future state;
and, having no money to spare for his wifes dresses, he frugally sent for
Elizabeths wardrobe and commanded his spouse to array herself in
Elizabeths old and worn dresses. These garments were handsome but were
the clothes of an old and not too well-favoured woman. History tells us
Elizabeth was "no dainty eater." Poor Anne, aged twenty-six and pretty,
burst into tears when she was shewn the clothes and told to wear them.
If King Jamess wardrobe at this
time was but indifferently stocked, the same could not be said of his
favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, at a slightly later period. His
wardrobe represented a fortune. In a
MS. in the Bodleian library we get the following
"It was common with him at any
ordinary dancing to have his clothes fastened with great diamond buttons,
and to have diamond hat-bands, cockades and earrings, to be yoked with
great and manifold knots of pearls, in short, to be manacled, tethered and
imprisoned in jewels: insomuch that at his going over to Paris in 1625 he
had twenty-seven suits of clothes made, the richest that embroidery, lace,
silk, velvet, gold and gems could contribute, one of which was of white
uncut velvet, set all over, both suit and cloak with diamonds, valued at
fourteen thousand pounds, besides a great feather stuck all over with
diamonds as were also his girdle, hat band and spurs."
When Charles I. arrived in Edinburgh
attended with about 500 followers, he came in great state. His furniture
and plate were carried with him in princely form.[Chamberss
Domestic Annals of Scotland.]
He was received at the West Port, where there was a kind of theatre under
an arch, where a nymph representing Edinburgh appeared on a mountain,
which was so arranged as to move at the approach of Majesty. This nymph
was attired in a sea green velvet mantle, with sleeves and under robe of
blue tissue, and blue buskins on her feet; about her neck she wore a chain
of diamonds; her head-dress represented a castle with turrets, and her
locks dangled about her shoulder.
The Provost and Baillies in grand
red coats, with almost three-score councillors and others, in black velvet
gowns, were there to greet him.
The Provost, mounted on his own
horse, which was sumptuously attired, and followed by the councillors and
others on foot, attended his Majesty along the Grassmarket. Here appeared
a brave company of towns soldiers all clad in white satin doublets, black
velvet breeches and silk stockings, with hat feathers, scarfs, bands and
the rest corresponding.
Another description is given of
Charles attending the Riding of Parliament. " First went the commissioners
for burghs, ilk ane in their own places, weel clad in cloaks, having on
their horses black velvet foot mantels."
"All the nobles rode in scarlett
furred robes with footmantels. Then kam his Majesty riding upon ane
gallant chesnut coloured horse having in his head ane fair bunch of
feathers, with ane foot mantle of purpour velvet. His Majesty made choice
to ride in King James IV.s robe royal, which was of purpour velvet,
richly furrit and lacit with gold, hanging over his horse-tail ane great
deal and borne by five grooms in a line. The King had upon his head ane
hat and ane rod in his hand."
The second day of the Parliament the
King went in his coach, and walked back to the Palace, "moving so swiftly
as to throw his foot guards into a perspiration, being ane able footman as
was within the town." [Chamberss Domestic Annals of Scotland.] The
whole reception was magnificent to a degree.
Charles Edward, his grandson,
inherited this power of quick walking. When with his troops in the
southern march he wore them out with the speed with which he covered the
ground. On one occasion the heel of one of his shoes came off as he was
marching; the men panting after him barely able to keep up with the
Prince, heard the news with relief, one of them saying that they would
have a chance to keep up now that His Royal Highness was handicapped "with
having but yin sound foot."
In Charles I.s reign we see two
those of the Royalists and the
Roundheads. The former dress is known as the Van Dyke; the painter gave
his name to the dress he immortalized on canvas. This dress was elegant
and picturesque; it consisted of doublet of silk, satin or velvet, with
large loose sleeves, slashed up the front, the collar of real point lace.
A short cloak was thrown over the shoulder. The long breeches, fringed or
pointed, met on the top of the wide boots, which were also ruffled with
lace or lawn. A broad Flemish beaver hat, with a rich hat band and plume
of feathers, was set on one side of the head, and a Spanish rapier hung
from a magnificent sword-belt, worn sashwise over the right shoulder.
The Roundheads, or Republicans, on
the other hand, were distinguished by the plainness and sobriety of
colouring in their dress, and earned the nickname Round-heads, from their
closely cropped heads.
The next reign, that of Charles II.,
introduced square coats and cocked hats, wigs and jack-boots. The wig
became fashionable out of compliment to Charles II., who, as a small boy,
had beautiful hair, which fell in long waving curls over his shoulders.
The courtiers, to emulate and compliment him, had heads of false hair made
to resemble his natural locks; these were known as perukes. In later life,
Charles himself wore a peruke.
The wig was worn by men of fashion
in all countries. Louis XIII. of France adopted it as a protection against
A famous English perruquier
inscribed beneath his sign these words: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son
Each class of person had its own
particular wig. A "tie-peruke " for a barrister, a " brigadier " for a
military man, a "full bottom" for a merchant, a "bob" for a tradesman, a
"fly-peruke" for a country gentleman, a tightly curled one like the head
of a spaniel for a coachman. A London paper thus enumerates some of them:
"The pigeons wing, the comet, the
cauliflower, the Royal bird, the staircase, the ladder, the bush, the wild
boars back, the temple, the rhinoceros, the corded wolfs paw, Aunt
Saxes mode, the she-dragon, the rose, the crutch, the negligent, the
chancellor, the cut bob, the long bob, the half natural, the chain buckle,
the snail back, etc., etc." The cost of a wig was at least a guinea, and
they had to be drest constantly.
Many changes took place in mens
attire, but perukes or wigs lingered long. In the reign of George II. the
wig had become the pigtail, known as the Ramillie tail, after the battle
of Rarnillies. Gradually the wig and tail became unpopular, though as a
fashion it died hard. Dean Ramsay tells a story of Lord Dunmore, who still
wore a pigtail though the fashion had passed. His lordship was staying at
an inn in the north, where the landlord, Mr. Cream, also had one. The host
came to receive his lordships orders for his entertainment, and while he
gave them he eyed the landlord: when he had retired, he turned to his
valet and said, "Johnstone, do I look as like a fool in my pigtail as
Billy Cream does?
"Much about it, my lord," was the
valets imperturbable answer. "Then," said his lordship, "cut off mine
when I dress."
are familiar with the picture of Monkbarns
advancing to meet his guests "in his complete brown suit, grey silk
stockings, and wig powdered with all the skill of the veteran Caxon." that
worthy assiduously attended to the heads of his few remaining patrons, and
mourned the fact that wigs were dying out. On the night after Lovel had
passed his uneasy night in the green chamber, Caxon enters his room with
offers of help. He says, " I have brushed your coat, sir . . . and I hae
cleaned your shoon. I doubt yell no be wanting me to tie your hair, for"
(with a gentle sigh) "a the young gentlemen wear crops now; but I hae the
curling tangs here to gie it a bit turn ower the brow, if ye like, before
ye gae down to the leddies." Lovel smilingly refuses and, later, in the
kitchen, Caxon complains to Jenny, the servant, upon the changed days.
"Its a pity," he laments, "he disna get his hair tied and pouthered . . .
its a great pity, for hes a comely young gentleman." The unsympathetic
Jenny replies, " Hout awa, ye auld gowk, would ye creesh his bonny brown
hair wi your nasty ulyie, and then moust it like the auld ministers wig?
A strange item to modern eyes is the
entry in the Sheriff of Galloways accounts, in 1744, on behalf of his
son, a midshipman: "For two Bob-wigs and dressing, two pound one." An
expensive head-covering, and, we should think, a peculiar fashion for a
Pigtails were shortened in 1804 to
seven inches in length, and in 1808 they had disappeared. Pantaloons and
Hessian boots became fashionable about 1799, and these were followed by
short boots and loose trousers, the latter a legacy of a visit paid by the
Cossacks to London.
Mens dress gradually became as dull
as it is to-day. In the old days they spent thought and money upon their
appearance and they cut a dash when they walked abroad, admired by all.
Imagine the impression the Virginian
traders, known as the tobacco lords, made when they walked about the
streets of Glasgow. They were very great men indeed, and looked what they
felt, important and grand in their scarlet cloaks, cocked hats and
powdered wigs, as they strutted about the streets, twirling in their hands
gold-headed canes. If a shopkeeper wanted to address one of them he dared
not directly approach the magnate, but had to stand humbly at the side of
the street in the gutter, meekly hoping to catch the great mans eye, and,
having done so, deferentially indicate his wish to speak to him.
The newspapers are constantly
promising us a gayer fashion in mens clothing and a return to brighter
colours, but seeing is believing, and we shall listen to the prophets and
"wait and see."
In the meantime (1927) we read with
amusement the correspondence in the French Press, and the storm that M.
Maurice de Waleffe has raised by his advocacy of a return to knee-breeches
for men. The Press has been unanimous in ridiculing and opposing the
proposal as opposed as the Press of a former day was to the abolition of
the knee-breech and the introduction of the long trouser.
A writer a few years ago recalled
how his father, a gentleman of the Early and Mid-Victorian era, refused
resolutely and determinedly to the last to follow Dame Fashion and wear
"the new-fangled garments," declaring that nothing could reconcile him to
the idea of "trousers sluthering round his legs." He stoutly maintained
that not only were knee-breeches more elegant than long trousers but that
they were also more comfortable.
He declared that Sir Joseph Pease in
his knee-breeches was the best-dressed man in the House of Commons. Pease
did not wear the knee-breech, however, because of its superior elegancy,
but he, in common with the other Quakers, regarded long garments as
something un-Christian and unbecoming to the man of piety.
If the knee-breech once more
supersedes the long-legged trouser and comes into fashion, doubtless the
die-hard will advance some as absurd reason for clinging to the
long-legged garment as his predecessor did for renouncing and discarding
the knee-breech, and principles will be called in to support the fads of
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