CLOTHES - Part Four

Although Westmorland lay quite a distance from the great centres of sophistication, fashion still influenced the way local people dressed, as we have already seen in this series about clothes.

But an even greater influence on dress came from factors like weather and work conditions, and often employers insisted on a certain uniform for their workers, or the job itself dictated what it was practical to wear. This week, the last of the series on dress, elderly people remember about ordinary, everyday clothes that they wore to school or to work, and the less comfortable clothes kept as Sunday best.

Anyone wearing clogs today can expect a mild degree of curiosity from onlookers; but once upon a time, less than a century ago, most working Northerners wore clogs at some time in their lives. This very old lady remembered the clogs she wore as a little girl in the 1880s:

"I wore clogs - we all did, and there was somebody who lived opposite the school who always saw that my feet were dry. I have seen her many times get red hot cinders, you know the clogs were wooden inside, and she put a few of these hot cinders in to dry them, and there was always a pair of dry stockings for me so that I was alright.

"Clogs were wonderful things. They mostly had clasps, the ones that we used to wear, not like the ones they wore in towns to the mills - they were generally laced ones, you know. Well, I know I had to learn how to clean my own clogs. They had a brass toe cap across here and I wasn't to get any blacking on that part."

But clogs were only worn on weekdays - for Sundays, it was best boots:

"I wore a pair of boots, I once had a pair of elastic sided ones, but I didn't like them - Grandma wore elastic sided boots."

Church on Sunday also meant wearing the best hat:

"I had a hat with a ribbon down the back, and we had our own seats in church. There was Ings Mills in front, and ours was the next one and you know, like a kid, I would sit back like this, with my ribbon fast behind my back. I knew what I was doing all the time, and I'd pull my hat off, but I was big enough to put it on again. I knew what I was doing!"

Nobody ever bought childrens' clothes - they were made by mothers, aunts and grannies, or by the tailor or dressmaker. Providing the best outfit for occasions like plays or tableaux often ended in unpleasant rivalry:

"It got spoiled, it got to who could outdo the other in their dressing... but they made them all,they didn't know what it was to go and buy a frock."

Few children enjoyed the unaccustomed starchiness of Sunday best:

"There used to be an old lady lived over there, and she used, of a Sunday morning, she'd be waiting for these children of mine to go past and to go to church, because they were all so beautifully dressed, with panama hats on. Oh, but I've been told since by them, 'When we got round the corner, we'd take the panama hats off, we didn't like them!"

Most large houses insisted that staff wore uniforms, which were provided for them. Some parlour maids even had one dress and pinafore for mornings, and a different one for afternoon; but the wearing of the uniform indicated class status both to the maid and to her employers who were proud to show the world they could afford servants. One young employee found her uniform landing her up in various embarrassing situations:

"I was with the Miss Riggs from the Windermere Hotel, and they went to school with Mother but I felt more in service there, with cap and apron and all the rest of it. The first morning I came downstairs and there was nobody else up and I was sweeping the big hall and there must have been a mirror because I sunned myself and I sat down and had a laugh and I thought, if anybody saw me dressed up like this!

"And various people used to call and one of them was an Attendance Officer and I don't know what else, but he was Father's cousin. Well, the front door bell rang, so I went and opened it. 'What the hell are you doing here?', he said, 'And what's that thing you have on your head?' And later on my employer said, What was he chuntering on about? He didn't like me hat, I said!

"The hat didn't have streamers but later on I was at Coniston and I was parlour maid there and I did have a hat with streamers then. I wore it for dinner at night, and that sort of thing. They were a damn nuisance because the cook was a married man and wouldn't leave me alone and I found myself tied to my chair back with me streamers!"

Girls in service were not expected to provide their uniforms, which usually consisted of dresses, aprons, caps, regulation woollen stockings and black shoes. But hired farm hands arriving for work with the tin trunk that usually held their few meagre possessions had to pay for their working clothes out of their pay. The best clothes they'd worn for the Hiring Fair were packed away for Sundays, and the poorer lads often relied on the skills of the farm girl who did the mending to add patch on patch until the six monthly pay day:

"They didn't provide you with clothes on a farm, but they did your laundry and mending. It was all washed and the lads' stockings were always mended, anything like that if it was a poor lad, you'd see what they were like first. The farm girl, she was amongst the lads more and she'd tell us about them and they'd put patches here and there and so on, oh, they were looked after,

A lad's working clothes were limited to boots and britches, a rough cotton or calico shirt, which sometimes doubled as a night shirt, and a rough tweed jacket or leather jerkin,with sacking worn over the shoulders in wet weather to keep out the rain. But it only took a bad-tempered ram with curly horns a second to rip a patched knee to shreds; and after just six months at a good 'meat spot', where the hands were well fed, a young lad from a large family would often have outgrown his clothes. Clothing was an expensive business for the very poorest.

Clothes had to last longer in those far-off days, and fashion was certainly slower to change.People took greater care of their clothes, and Sunday suits were never re-packed in mothballs before being brushed down, with boots goose-greased and clogs blacked. To buy clothes ready-made from a shop would have been unthinkable to most country people - about as unthinkable as ordering hand-made silk underwear, or a tailor made coat or dress would be to most of us today, excepting Royalty!