Throughout the nineteenth century, men of the rural working class continued to wear the traditional linen smock, and this costume long served to distinguish them sharply from factory workers. As Margaret Hale of Gaskell's North and South (1854-55) observes when she arrives at a small town near the great maufacturing city of Milton-Northern (Manchester): "There were no smock-frocks, even among the country folk; they retarded motion, and were apt to catch on machinery, so the habit of wearing them had died out" (ch. 7). The figure in the middle and the peat-cutter at right wear smocks as the only garments covering the upper half of their bodies, but the man stretching in the the leftmost picture wears his his under an open jacket, and the man next to him doesn't seem to have a one at all. In Peacock's Chronicle of Western Fashion, his example of a farmworker's dress c. 1868 features a "knee-length coarse linen smock" with a "large flat collar," a neck scarf, wide-brimmed straw hat, and long boots that laced up the front; it does not, however, include trousers, and the fact that all the farm workers here ilustrated wear them may indicate the beginings of a gradual disappearance of traditional dress under the influence of industrial workers of the north.
This garment, which the middle and upper classes adopted during the Victorian period, eventually became the single-breasted lounging jacket and then later evolved into the lounge suit (or simply suit, as it is known in North America).
Two men at the right wear side-fastening leather books in which thery have tucked their trousers. The two at the right may either have their trousers drawn down over such boots, or they might be wearing an inexpensive, country version of the short ankle-length boots worn by members of the middle and upper classes.
Earlier in the century many countrymen retained the traditional wide-brimmed, high-crown straw hat, but here each has a common late-Victorian kind of hat. The wide-brimmed hat worn by the man with waist-length smock is a not a wide-awake, "a broad-brimmed hat felt hat with a lowish crown" originally worn by farmers and other countrymen and later popular with muddle and upper classes in the city (Nunn, 143) but a trilby. Whereas the man at far left seems to be wearing a narrow-brimmed straw hat, the peat cutter at the far right has on either a small-brimmed bowler or a hat known as a helmet.
Source of Images
Left and Middle: Details from illustrations for Hardy's Tess of the Durbervilles (1886) -- Hubert Von Herkomer's "This here stooping" [full plate] and Joseph Sydall's "He jumped up" [full plate]. Right: Detail from "Didst ever know a man that no woman would marry?" by Arthur Hopkins, an illustration for Hardy's The Return of the Native in the January 1878 Belgravia [full plate].
Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
Peacock, John. The Chronicle of Western Fashion from Ancient Times to the Present Day. New York: Abrams, 1991. [Published in U. K. as The Chronicle of Western Costume. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.]
Last modified 23 September 2006