One socio-cultural factor which says a lot about a society or era as a whole is fashion. After visiting the archive at the national maritime museum, I learnt a few things about the Navy’s first uniforms, whilst seeing actual clothing saved from the 1700’s.
Trade was a huge activity within the 18th century, with the navy interceding between Britain and the rest of the world to (usually) import goods from their colonies and other countries.
The Navy was a popular job, with many ranks, making job positions available for all abilities and social hierarchy positions. Despite the slave trade being at it’s peak, and the negative sentiments attached to Africans and all blacks, blacks were allowed to work in the navy, of course they were allocated to the lowest positions, a common job included attendant to sea captains and ex-colonial officials.
Back to the fashion, whilst today we have stores to serve the rich (Gucci or Armani) and the working class (Primark and pound stores), in the 1700s, 2nd trade was very popular, with many who could not afford to have brand new clothing made from a tailor (a large portion), going to 2nd hand clothing markets, which had clothing donated from those who were on the richer side of society. All clothing were made by tailors who created the chosen design from scratch and would adapt the outfit to the individuals shape and size; maybe add in advice on the current fashion trend.
All Tailor Made
The tailors clearly were specialised and had immaculate skills, as observed from the costumes I viewed, there was never a stitch out of place the garments were very closely stitched. Clothing was greatly expensive to buy brand new, one garment showed that a sailor potentially gained weight and had he’s uniform put out to adjust he’s new shape. Implying that it was perhaps cheaper to have an outfit adjusted rather than buying (well getting one made) a completely new one. Today when gaining or losing weight, the reward is a brand new wardrobe, I guess in the 1700s it’s an appointment with the tailor.
The Sailors Frock
Picture: A Sailors frock,indigo died with bronze buttons
A blue indigo died coat with brass buttons (called a frock) became the design of the uniforms for those in the Navy, which was created in the 1700’s, before this time, the Navy did not have a set uniform and it was impossible to distinguish who was and wasn’t in the navy and their title. Indigo was one of the many items which travelled across the seas to England and other parts of Europe, which explains why it became popular, eventually, the frock became a fashion statement across the country, with every man wearing one.
Fashion was greatly important to men (maybe even more than women) in those days. When taking a picture today, we emphasise our best features, or enhance the features which are most valued, with women a bigger bust is adored, with men having huge shoulders is important. In the late 1700’s the calve muscles were the most admired, with special poses available to emphasise the calve muscles during a portrait, and the availability of calve pads being available to enrich them (similar to the concept of a padded bra). For those who wished to show off naturally ripped calves, a piece of equipment called a chamber horse was used to exercise the calves, which looked like a footstool with a leather centre (a little like a trampoline), to work out, the individual had to jump up and down on it.
Later on, having a barrel chest was seen as a sign of wealth, and the clothing of that era showed that tailors would curve the chest area of the garment to create such an effect, The reason for this was because it was a symptom of rickets, a disease caused by having too much meat and a lack of vegetables and sunlight, which would be the lifestyle of the rich, therefore the rich were more likely to develop this disease.
Below are four frocks over the 1700’s to early 1800’s in the order of release