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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Three


"The fashion wears out more apparel
Than the man."

1840 - 45

THE dress of the first years of the Forties would seem strange to those, of both sexes of the twentieth century. Looking back at the pictures which memory brings up, the whole scene has an air of unpracticality, that seems almost inconceivably absurd now. Ladies submitted themselves, and caused their little girls to submit, to have their hair rolled up into small tight balls, about the size of walnuts, and to do their best to sleep comfortably resting on these hard knots, in order that their heads might be covered with curls in the daytime. The older ladies wore earrings resembling inverted marks of exclamation, hanging down as much as three inches. Old ladies often had their hair made up into two broad flat plaits with which they covered up their ears, as if they were ashamed of them, and above which they wore great turbans. Their dresses I do not remember so well, except the shoulder-of-mutton sleeves, which stuck out on both sides, and of which, though in the simplicity of childhood I accepted them as what must be right, as my elders wore them, I can now observe the hideousness from the pictures of that time. Girls were treated with what seemed little short of cruelty. Some idea of prudery ordained that their graceful little limbs should be encased in straight up-and- down white trousers, with frills at the ankles, while their little waists were drawn in, and their hair drawn up into hideous little knots, tied with ribbon. Everything was done to detract from the natural grace of the little girl—one of the very sweetest things Ľn nature.

The male sex fared no better. I saw in my extreme childhood a few old gentlemen still dressed in top boots and breeches, and wearing at all times coloured tailed coats with plain gilt buttons, and the last of the judges to wear daily, wig, black breeches, and stockings, even in the streets when he walked to and from Court, was Lord Glenlee, who still sat on the Bench when I was born. He used, before the building of George the IV Bridge, to plunge from Brown Square down into the Cowgate, and climb up one of the filthy closes to the Parliament Square, bewigged and in s^k stockings, with his court hat ;n his hand. In his declining years he was carried daily in a sedan-chair, probably the last of the male sex to use that old-time vehicle.

By the year 1840 the trouser fashion had become practically universal. As a rule the gentleman's nether limbs were encased in the tightest of pants, strapped down over boots during the day, and over shoes at night. The tailed coat was much worn in the daytime. It would have been an outrage for an advocate or a medical man to wear anything else, and in their case a white tie was de rigueur. The coat was made with the tightest of sleeves. I remember while this fashion still obtained of being taken to hear a great statesman on his receiving the freedom of our city, and when I saw him waving his arms, as he said to the assemblage in pompous tones, "Long may you cherish these glamorous memories of Old (not auld) Lang Syne," I wondered in my youthful eagerness of inquiry how that old man managed to force those great gouty knuckles through the pinched-m sleeves, which made his arm and hand resemble the upper part of the drumstick of a fowl, with the flesh taken off.

A gentleman going out in the evening always buttoned h Is coat across his chest, and with a great white stock put twice round his neck, and held in fold by a big pin and small pin attached together by a chain, or with a shirt front heavily beirilled with crimped edges, he made an excellent suggestion of a pouter pigeon. Above was long hair down to the collar of his coat, and often mutton-chop whiskers, but never a moustache or a beard.

The tailors put an end to the buttoning of evening coats. When 1 was quite a little fellow my father took me out with him one day, and we went to his tailors in George Street—Messrs. Rausch & Corpe. The make of evening coats was then changing, and. the buttoning across in the evening was going out. On the previous night my father had buttoned his coat across and found it very tight, and the flap on one side sticking out most unsymmetrically. He had sent up the coat, and suggested to Mr. Rausch that it must be altered. He put ton. "Ach," said Mr. Rausch, "it do fit beautiful." "But," was the reply, as my father forced the button-hole across to the button, "look at it when I button it." "Ach, ach, but no, cried Rausch, "de coats are not now made that they be buttoned." My father was indignant, but fashion is a hard taskmaster and he had to yield.

But though the tailed coat was modified, so as to be only in appearance double-breasted, it was still dominant. On all occasions, solemn or festive, it reigned supreme. Anticipating in time a little, and as indicating how long it continued to do so, I may mention that I witnessed the ceremony of the unveihng of Sir John Steel's statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the Register House, and on that occasion several hundred gentlemen assembled in the Music Hall, and marched to the end of Princes Street, all, according to injunctions issued, wearing tailed coats, evening tie, tall hat, and white gloves. With the exception of the gloves, such a procession would to-day suggest a Union of Waiters demonstrating on strike. Then this costume ruled all society, official and unofficial.

When I was a very few years old I was taken to see the procession of the Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland. Being put close to one of the infantry who lined the streets, and having a lengthy exposure made to my youthful brain camera, I have a memograph of a man in a red-tailed coat, with white, hard cotton epaulettes, and no end of belts and straps in pipe-clay. Above was a tall hat, spread out at the top, very much in the shape of a kitchen mortar, with a pompon sacking out of it, like a pestle knob. This was absurd enough, being as unlike a fighting dress as anything could be. But the acme of absurdity was reached when 1 saw the lie-guardsmen in London 1842 at the Horse Guards. My nursemaid stared at them with different feelings to mine, I doubt not. Out from below the steel cuirass came the usual tails of the coat, made very short, and so even more ridiculous. Indeed, the clothing of the soldier of whatever arm of the service was erninently unpractical. It is difficult for one who did not see it even to conceive a number of artillerymen serving guns in tailed coats. The ideas of that time as to the dress of the soldier may be understood when the dogma ic saying of the tailor king, George the IV, is quoted: A seam in a soldier's coat is permissable, a crease is a crime. The only idea was stuffiness and show. As is said by Guibert, the French military wear, showing that other nations were as foolish as ourselves:

rNous faisons de nos soldats des friseurs, des polisseurs, des verm'sseurs, toiUe chose Jwrmis des gens de guerre.

Even in civil life officials were compelled to wear coats with tails—the postman, the policeman, the government or municipal messenger. So far was the fashion carried that the railway signal-men, who at that time worked on foot, were seen waving their signal-flags clothed in tight-buttoned tailed coats.


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