Thursday 5 February 2015

“Ordinary” women’s wardrobes 1620-1646

Figure 1 - Hollar's Countrywoman
This is an examination of eighteen probate inventory accounts from the town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, covering the period 1620-1646. (Williams & Thomson, 2007) Of these thirteen only give a general amount for the value of the deceased’s clothing, but five have extensive descriptions, enough to try and reconstruct their wardrobes. The five women are four widows: Agnes Weeb (1620), Alice Wyatt (1623), Elizabeth Reynes (1633), Joane Furnell (1633), and a servant, Phillip Ingerom (1623). As we will see below Phillip and Elizabeth have the most comprehensive listings of their clothing.

Of the 18 women the richest, Alice Wilkes(1646) a widow, was worth £114 19s 4d, and her clothing was worth £5. The poorest was Johane Titcombe(1637), also a widow, she was worth £5 3s 4d and her clothing was 10 shillings. By comparison the richest man, there were 70 men in the probate inventories, was worth £297 16s 9d and the poorest £2. I have placed a table listing all eighteen women, their status and total and clothing values at the end. In some cases the value of the clothing has a plus, this is because some clothing has been accounted with non clothing items and they cannot be separated.

The proportion of the women’s wealth that was tied up in their clothing varies considerably. Two women of similar wealth, respectively £12 10s and £12 12s 8d, have clothing worth 20.5% and 41.6% of their estate. The lowest percentage in the group 4.3% belongs to both a mid range woman, worth £33-1s-8d and the richest worth £114 19s 4d. The 41.5% mentioned above is the highest, however if you take away the £10 in debts owed to the servant Phillip Ingerom, her percentage rises to 51.6%, of her estate. None of the five women with lists was worth a lot of money, the richest these probates was for £34 3s 6d and the poorest £6 18s 2d.

Social status
As some have queried the "ordinariness" of these women I am adding this paragraph on their social standing as far as can be ascertained. Many who know me know that my favourite quote on the subject of probates is Margaret Spufford’s “it cannot be sufficiently stressed that their apparent tidiness and suitability for the historian ... in fact conceals quicksands of very considerable magnitude.” Regarding a comment about how few make a will may I point out that at least some of these probates are either nuncupative (verbal) or intestate. For those who want to know, and to put these women in more of a perspective. The probates, as I stated are from the market town of Marlborough, and the families, husbands, sons, etc., are for the most part tradespeople. Both Agnes Weeb’s and Alice Wilkes’s probates went to unmarried daughters. We know little about Elizabeth Lane though her appraisers were a brewer and a joiner. Phillip Ingerom was servant to Thomas Snowe of Derrington,  a very small village in Staffordshire. Alice Wyatt’s husband was a buttonmaker. Ann Biggs probate was undertaken by her father or uncle (it is a little unclear) he was a miller. Maud Patie again had a executrix, her niece Katherine Smart. Joane Furnell had two executrices and the husband of one, a wheeler (wheelwright) took the administration. Christian Hitchcocke, spinster, was the daughter Thomas Hitchcock a yeoman. Johane Titcombe was the widow of Gregory, whose intestacy inventory is worth less that his widow’s ten years later. The singlewoman Katherine Peirse is listed as the daughter of---and then a very unhelpful blank, but may be related to John Prater, alias Peirse, yeoman, who also acts as an administrator for Elizabeth Newman’s probate. Jone Jones’s husband was a glover. We know little about Alice Wyatt, Alice Pagett, Elizabeth Winsor, Elizabeth Reynes, Joane Powell, Elianor Browne.

Adam Martindale
One of the few, and best descriptions of women’s clothes below the gentry level, was given by Adam Martindale in his autobiography written around 1685. At the beginning of the book he is looking back to when is sister left home to go up to London, probably around 1626-7. She died of a “pestilence” shortly after her arrival. I quote it in full because it emphasises both the social mores involved in clothing, and the changes in outlook over time.

“Freeholders’ daughters were then confined to their felts, pettiecoates and wastcoates, crosse handkerchiefs around their neckes, and white cross-clothes upon their heads, with coifes under them wrought with black silk or worsted. ‘Tis true the finest sort of them wore gold or silver lace upon their wastcoats, good silk laces (and store of them) about their pettiecoats, and bone laces or workes about their linnens. But the proudest of them (below the gentry) durst not have offered to wear an hood or a scarfe  (which now every beggar’s brat that can get them thinks not above her) noe, nor so much as a gowne till her wedding day. And if any of them had transgressed these bounds, she would have been accounted an ambitious foole. These limitations I suppose she did not very well approve, but having her father’s spirit and her mother’s beauty, no persuasion would serve but up she would to serve a ladie, as she hoped to doe, being ingenious with her needle.” (Martindale, 1845, pp. 6-7)

The clothes in the accounts
Most of the women have just – “her wearing apparel” – and a value. In some cases it specifies “both woollen and linen”, or accounts for woollen and linen separately, as in Anne Biggs who has both “her wearing aparell £15 10s”, and “her childbed linene and her wearing linen £5.” This is also the case with Joane Furnell for whom we have “Her wearing apparel £2 10s”, but later we a separate list of linen that is not all clothes; “8 table clothes, one dossen and a halffe of napkins, five smockes, halffe a dosson of bands, fower coynes and fower neckcloths and one old waistcoat and eight apperns and fower pillowberes £2 4s”, again separately she also has “one payer of silke garters and two old hats 5s.” This may be why shoes, and to a lesser extent hats, don’t appear as often in inventories as one would expect them to, they cannot be classified as either woollen or linen clothing. 

Here is a caveat. One of the problems with identifying items in the accounts with particular garments, is that we don’t have original garments with original labels saying this is a ..... Two different clothing terms may be used for the same garment, depending on who is writing about it, think sweater-jumper-pullover. Garments change their names over the years, smock – shift – chemise is a good example, and terms can change their meaning, for example scarlet starts off as a colour, but can end up meaning a type of cloth.

What did they own
The linen smock was the main item of underwear and all of the women own between three (Agnes) and seven (Phillip) smocks. It is interesting that the servant has the greatest number of smocks.

Figure 2 - Hollar's Wife of a Citizen of London
Over the smock they would have worn one or two petticoats, or more, depending on the weather, and whether they were wearing a gown over the top. All of the women whose woollen clothing is listed own petticoats. Agnes has two worth together 14s and one old one. Phillip has four wearing petticoats worth 6s 8d, Alice two petticoats and four old petticoats. Elizabeth has one old red petticoat and two old petticoats. Red was the traditional colour for petticoats so it is unsurprising that the only case in which colour is mentioned is red.

Bodies and waistcoats
On the top half they might have worn a pair of bodies, these are boned and today might be referred to as a corset, though they are not the same. Only one woman, Elizabeth, owned what are referred to in her inventory as “a payre of bodice.” They may have been similar in style to the ones that were found in the Sittingbourne Cache and have been described on the Goodwyfe Blog. Probably more common for lower class women are waistcoats, as Randle Holme says “It is an habit or garment generally worn by the middle and lower sort of women, having goared skirts, and some wear them with stomachers.” (Holme, 1688) Elizabeth, the woman who owned the payre of bodice, is also the only woman to own “two stomager.” An example of a 1610-20 embroidered stomacher is described in detail in North & Tiramani (2012, pp. 128-135). Agnes does not own a waistcoat, Joane has one, Phillip has two, Alice has three, and Elizabeth has four. Joane’s waistcoat is listed with her linen and may therefore be made of linen, though not as elaborate as this surviving linen waistcoat in the V&A. It is most probably this waistcoat and petticoat combination that can be seen in Hollar’s Countrywoman (Figure 1), where the goared skirts of the waistcoat can easily be seen.

All of the women whose woollen clothing is listed own gowns. Agnes has four, one of which is described as old. Phillip has one gown, which at a value of 13. 4d is worth nearly as much as the 16s for three of Agnes’s gowns.  Alice has two best gowns and two old gowns, while Elizabeth only has one “old medley gown of the best 13s 4d.” A comment on who might and might not wear a gown was made by Adam Martindale who I quote above. Gowns were usually worn over a petticoat and sometimes over a waistcoat, though this is difficult to determine from the images we have. In this Hollar image of the wife of a citizen of London (Figure 2) this layering can clearly be seen. The skirt of the gown, which is open at the front, has been turned back and two petticoats can be seen underneath. Gowns add an extra layer of clothing and warmth at a time when houses did not have central heating, and coats for women were uncommon. The term medley, used to describe Elizabeth’s gown,  is used for a mixture of colours, as John Withals  A shorte dictionarie for yonge begynners, 1553 has it “Medley, color mixtus,” So you can get references to medley russet, and medley broadcloth.

There is little in the way of outerwear, though both Agnes and Alice own cloaks, and Agnes also has a safeguard. A safeguard is defined by the OED as “An outer skirt or petticoat worn by women to protect their clothing, esp. when riding.”

The women own a mixture of kerchiefs, bands, gorgets, partlets and pinners, requiring some definitions. These items can be worn in layers and it is often difficult to decide what is meant. Most of these are articles of clothing covering the neck and breast.
The kerchief is usually a square of material that can then be used folded as a neckerchief (Figure 2), or a headkerchief, or just square as a handkerchief. A plain square linen kerchief in the Victoria and Albert Museum is described in North & Tiramani (2011, pp. 142-143). Phillip has eight “kerchers” worth 4s. Agnes has “five singel kerchfes 1s 3d”, I’m not sure what the single means. Elizabeth has “one kerchieffe and one handkerchieffe 4s.” Joane has “half a dossen of kercheiffes, and fower neckcloths”, not to mention half a dozen of crosscloths and half a dozen of bands. Bands are again worn around the neck; the term is often used to refer to men’s collars, but is also used for women’s collars. The difference may be that bands are tied with band strings, rather than being pinned, and are also more likely to be shaped. Gorgets are another term which may indicate a shaped neckcloth, Agnes has two old gorgets worth 3s.  A pattern for a very elaborate lace trimmed band in the Victoria and Albert Museum is given in North & Tiramani (2011, pp. 128-135)

The term partlet was described in a 1658 dictionary (Phillips, 1658) as “a word used in some old Statutes, signifying the loose collar of a dublet to be set on or taken off by it self without the bodies, also a womans neckerchief”, which doesn’t really help. Costume historians have tended to take it as a fill in for the neckline. Agnes and Alice both have six partlets, while Phillip has seven. There is a pattern for a plain linen partlet of this period, now in the Gallery of Costume, Manchester. (Arnold, 2008, pp. 43, 100-101)

The more old-fashioned Elizabeth has 21 old pinners and ruffs, by 1633 ruffs were going out of fashion at all levels of society. Agnes has five pinners worth 1s. Pinners, are another term that is difficult, it can refer to anything that is pinned on, and by the late seventeenth century if had become identified with a type of cap with long lappets, but here it is also certainly neckwear. Arnold (2008, pp. 40, 96) has an example of what she describes as a pinner, now in the Gallery of Costume, Manchester.
Figure 3 - Detail of a Hollar woman from Ornatus

In this detail of a woman from Ornatus (Figure 3) you can see she is wearing something closed high at the neck, which maybe a partlet, she has what maybe pinners around the neckline of her gown, and over these she is wearing a kerchief.

Surpringly only one of the women Joane has what might be coifs, she has among the list of linen “fower coines.” One would expect all the women to have some form of linen headwear.
All five of the women have hats. Only Phillip’s one wearing hat worth 1s has a value while the others are mixed with other items. Joane, Alice and Agnes all have two hats, while Elizabeth has a hat with a hat band. 

All the women own aprons. Joane has eight aprons, Phillip seven worth in total 4s, Elizabeth five followed by one old woollen cloth, which may also have been used as an apron. Alice has 3 holland aprons, holland is a type of linen, while Agnes has one black apron.

Stockings and hose
Only two of the women list these; Phillip has “hosen” listed with her shoes and Elizabeth has “a payre of stockings” Although Joane has no stockings listed, she does own “one payer of silke garters”

The same two women Phillip and Elizabeth have shoes. In both cases the shoes are worth 1s, and additional Phillip has “one peece of shooe leather”, and Elizabeth owns “one shooing horn.” Information on early shoehorns is in this blog post. I think the other women must have had shoes and stockings, but they are not listed.

Girdles and purses
Both Phillip and Elizabeth own girdles. Phillip has three girdles and one purse, and Elizabeth has one girdle and a pouch. 

Only Phillip owns jewellery, she has “one ring silver and guilt” worth 1s 6d.

Arnold, J., 2008. Patterns of Fashion 4 : the cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women. London: Macmillan.
Holme, R., 1688. Academie of Armourie. s.l.:s.n.
Martindale, A., 1845. The life of Adam Martindale written by himself. edited by Richard Parkinson.. s.l.:Chetham Society.
North, S. & Tiramani, J., 2011. Seventeenth century women's dress patterns, book 1. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.
North, S. & Tiramani, J., 2012. Seventeenth century women's dress patterns, book 2. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.
Phillips, E., 1658. The new world of English words: or A general dictionary. London: Brooks.
Williams, L. & Thomson, S., 2007. Marlborough probate inventories 1591-1775. Chippenham: Wiltshire Record Society.

The women
Total value
Clothing value
Clothing as a % of total worth
Agnes Weeb
Elizabeth Lane
Phillip Ingerom
Alice Wyatt
Alice Pagett       
Anne Bigges       
£20-10s-0d *
Maud Patie
Elisebeth Winsor
Elizabeth Reynes
£1-8s-9d plus
Joane Furnell     
£2-15s-0d plus
Joane Powell     
Christian Hitchcocke
Johane Titcombe
Katherine Peirse

Elianor Browne 
Elizabeth Newman 

 Jone Jones        
Alice Wilkes
£114 19s 4d
The value is added incorrectly, this is the true amount
* Her wearing aparell £15 10s, her childbed linene and her wearing linen £5

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