I can remember when one could tell what a man was by his distinctive dress. How little of this remains; even the red caps of the brewers' vanmen are now but rarely seen.
The smith's leather apron remains, and always must, as it is a need of his work. My friend in the picture wears his shorter than usual; it might have a higher bib. But I can remember a regular carpenter's dress; a short jacket of thick white baize or felt, an apron and a neat paper cap.
Now, alas! all workpeople, except those who do the hardest outdoor labour, such as navvies, stone-pitmen, and farm-labourers, are clothed in a dead-level of shabbiness. The shops are full of cheap suits with a pretence of fashion, which are bought for Sunday wear. They are soon past their best, and are then taken into working use, for which they are entirely unfit. The result is that it is only the farm-labourer and his hard-working kind, who must wear the right or suitable kind of clothes, who look well dressed. For real working clothes, like all other things that are right and fit for their purpose, never look shabby. They may be soil-stained; they may be well-worn, but they never have that sordid, shameful, degraded appearance of the shoddy modern Sunday suit put to an inappropriate use.
I am not using these words in a spirit of blame, but in one of regret. Working people are tempted by the shops, that present their wares in a convenient nnd superficially attractive way. I am not even blaming the shopkeepers; they arw driven to this way of doing business by the pressure of trade competition. [261-262]
Jekyll, Gertrude Old West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1904.
Last modified 30 January 2009