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Scottish 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 ugliness—the 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 their bodies."

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 and silver."

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 of England.

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 foot."

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 estat,
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 Mary’s 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 devil’s 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 year’s income was given for a coat. This extravagance was universal.

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 and bearing.

"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 Magdalen’s 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 King’s 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 artificer’s 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 God’s 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 mother’s 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 Anne’s home-coming. Poor Anne, she later suffered a cruel mortification, when Elizabeth of England died and James succeeded to the throne! He feared that Anne’s apparel was not equal to her future state; and, having no money to spare for his wife’s dresses, he frugally sent for Elizabeth’s wardrobe and commanded his spouse to array herself in Elizabeth’s 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 James’s 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 description:

"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.[Chambers’s 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 town’s 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." [Chambers’s 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 contending fashions:

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 draughts.

A famous English perruquier inscribed beneath his sign these words: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!"

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 pigeon’s wing, the comet, the cauliflower, the Royal bird, the staircase, the ladder, the bush, the wild boar’s back, the temple, the rhinoceros, the corded wolf’s paw, Aunt Saxe’s 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 men’s 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 lordship’s 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 valet’s imperturbable answer. "Then," said his lordship, "cut off mine when I dress."

Readers of The Antiquary 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 ye’ll 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. "It’s a pity," he laments, "he disna get his hair tied and pouthered . . . it’s a great pity, for he’s 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 minister’s wig?

A strange item to modern eyes is the entry in the Sheriff of Galloway’s 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 boy.

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.

Men’s 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 man’s eye, and, having done so, deferentially indicate his wish to speak to him.

The newspapers are constantly promising us a gayer fashion in men’s 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 men.


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