Friday, July 2, 2010

'Plain Silk Stocking, with Laced Clocks'

Most of us will never wear that ultimate luxury in hosiery, silk stockings. But in the Regency period, silk stockings were a requisite for the wardrobe of the aristocracy and the well-to-do, both ladies and gentlemen. Then, as now, they were expensive. In Georgette Heyer's Arabella, the eponymous heroine vows to save a little of the money she has for finery for her London season for at least one pair of fine silk stockings.

The title of this blog comes from the fashion notes of Ackernmann's Repository of the Arts for April 1815. The stockings mentioned were part of an evening dress ensemble, largely composed of white, particularly white satin. Though clocks had fallen somewhat out of fashion they were obviously still being worn.

This illustration is from the eighteenth century but shows the clocks that decorated the gusset heel turning of the stocking.

The following advertisement appears in many of the 1815 Ackermann's Repository journals:

The cheapest and by far the largest Stock ever produced by any one House now, on Sale at the Manufacturer's Warehouse, 51, Cheapside. The patterns are of the richest and most elegant description, beginning at the extraordinary low price of 8s. usually sold 10s. 6d. to the very best and finest quality at 12s.6d. usually sold 16s. Economical Silk Stockings, both plain and ribbed, are selling off from 5s to the very best quality cheap in proportion. Children's Dress Silks of every size, an article few houses can produce. JOHNSON and Co. who are the sole manufacturers, wish particularly to recommend their … Black Silk Stockings so much in demand by professional gentlemen, and which, for strength of fabric and brightness of colour, stand unrivalled. To be had exclusively at Johnson & Co.'s 51, Cheapside, near Bow Church
In June of that same year, a competitor clearly thought he needed to advertise:

The Nobility and Gentry are most respectfully informed, by purchasing at the original and old-established Nottingham Stocking Warehouse, No. 81, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-Square, they will realize a saving of near 20 per cent in that fashionable and elegant part of dress, silk stockings.

Wm. Harris having just received from his Manufactory a superb Assortment of the newest designs in Embroidery and real Lace-Work Clocks, with the greatest variety of plain, from 5s. 9d. up to the very finest qualities, all of which are proportionally cheap;…
Author Kalen Hughes has an interesting article on stockings here. The illustration at left of 1820's silk stockings and their garters is borrowed from her article. Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion  has an interesting take on Regency underclothes including silk stockings. Reconstructing History has likewise an interesting post on silk stockings.

Gentlemen, it is reported, had often to wear a pair of cotton stockings under their silk ones, to conceal their hairy legs! Ladies accused of improper behaviour were said to have 'tied their garter in public'. The garters that held up silk stockings varied from ribbon to cord, to those with small buckles as above.

The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, that invaluable collection of slang, describes a run in a stocking as a 'louse ladder'. A revolting simile to be sure, but a reminder of the truth often behind the glamour of such articles of clothing as silk stockings.

One only hopes that the silk stockings of the past did not 'run' with the irritating frequency of their present day counterparts. Then, as now, the expense of clothing the legs could be crippling.

***Many thanks to last week's guest blogger Ann Lethbridge for her informative and enjoyable post on Regency Weddings! 
'Til next week,



Joanna Waugh said...

Loved the bit about the "louse ladder" Lesley! And isn't Kalen Hughes the best when it comes to Regency fashion? I took one of her online courses on fashion a few years back and created a folder of her everything she taught. I refer to it all the time.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Kalen Hughes' knowledge is impressive! Thank goodness we have people like her to consult. Take care, Joanna!

Linda Banche said...

I love that comment about the men having to wear cotton stockings under their silk ones to cover their hairy legs! Some things never change. *g*

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Isn't that great? I would never have thought of such a thing, but it's the kind of detail that makes research such a joy.