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Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England


  • Date Published: November 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107645349

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About the Authors
  • In this pioneering study Vivienne Richmond reveals the importance of dress to the nineteenth-century English poor, who valued clothing not only for its practical utility, but also as a central element in the creation and assertion of collective and individual identities. During this period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation formal dress codes, corporate and institutional uniforms, and the spread of urban fashions replaced the informal dress of agricultural England. This laid the foundations of modern popular dress and generated fears about the visual blurring of social boundaries as new modes of manufacturing and retailing expanded the wardrobes of the majority. However, a significant impoverished minority remained outside this process. Clothed by diminishing parish assistance, expanding paternalistic charity and the second-hand trade, they formed a 'sartorial underclass' whose material deprivation and visual distinction was a cause of physical discomfort and psychological trauma.

    • The first book of its kind on the dress of the poor in nineteenth-century England
    • Explores what clothing meant to the poor, emotionally and socially, as well as the ways in which it was obtained
    • Situates clothing in its wider social and cultural historical context
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Vivienne Richmond demonstrates the power of clothing in the lives of the working and indigent poor of nineteenth-century England: children, women and men. This is an innovative exploration of clothing cultures, both those crafted by individuals and those imposed by state and institutional authorities. Subtle and insightful, Richmond brings new perspectives to this important topic.' Beverly Lemire, University of Alberta

    'Vivienne Richmond tells a very sad historical story, about the bodily and psychological misery of a large proportion of the population in nineteenth-century Britain; but she is not afraid to be wry, or ironic, or outraged and sometimes very funny, when appropriate.' Carolyn Steedman, University of Warwick

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107645349
    • length: 360 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.53kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus. 2 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: identifying the poor, locating their clothes
    1. Setting the standard: working-class dress
    2. 'Frankly a mystery': budgeting for clothes
    3. 'Poverty busied itself': buying clothes
    4. 'Woman's best weapon': needlework and home-made clothing
    5. 'The struggle for respectability'
    6. The sense of self
    7. 'The bowels of compassion': clothing and the Poor Law
    8. 'An urgent desire to clothe them': ladies' clothing charities
    9. 'We have nothing but our clothes': charity schools and servants
    10. 'The greatest stigma and disgrace': lunatic asylums, workhouses and prisons
    Conclusion: no finery

  • Author

    Vivienne Richmond, Goldsmiths, University of London
    Vivienne Richmond is a Lecturer in Modern British History at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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