Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England

RICHMOND, Vivienne (2013). Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 978-1-107-04227-8, hardback, 344 pp., footnotes, bibliography, index. Price: £82 (ex. postage).

This book is an intriguing social history of clothing that is basically divided into two sections. Firstly there are six chapters that look at how clothes were made, worn and used by people. There are numerous quotes and analyses from contemporary accounts and biographies. In addition there is a section on how people presented themselves in that 19th century invention, namely photography and photographs. In particular, how photographs of street scenes reflect a very different world from the presentation of the poor in paintings and prints.

The second section looks at the same subject, namely clothing, but how this concept was (mis)used by religious, medical and political groups. There are poignant chapters about clothing and the various Poor Laws dating from the seventeenth century onwards. This is followed by ladies and their handing out clothing via charities.

The final chapter is perhaps the hardest and looks at the use of clothing within lunatic asylums, workhouses and prisons.

Recommendation: An essential book for anyone interested in the social history of clothing, rather than ‘simply’ a fashion history. It puts many items into context and explains why clothing was and remains an essential part of human culture.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

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