Friday, January 27, 2017

Rating's Trousers, c. 1810

Today I'm tackling my first artifact, a pair of striped linen trousers dated to c. 1810 in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK. I had the pleasure of seeing this garment in person when I visited Greenwich in 2016 and oohed and ahhed over it for some time, taking many indifferent photos with my camera phone. Unfortunately, the exhibit label and "Nelson, Navy, Nation" exhibit catalog didn't offer much more information about the provenance of this garment, or what the back looks like. Perhaps an email to the curator and a follow-up post is in order!
"Rating's trousers". English, c. 1810. National Maritime Museum.

Striped red or blue trousers are closely linked with the portrayals of sailors in art, from the early 18th century to the end of the period I study and beyond. An early example of sailors with striped trousers comes in a detail the 1746 painting "The Royal Family" - screencap courtesy of British Tars: 1740-1790.
Detail from "The Royal Family", c. 1746. Richard Green Fine Art.

Artists from caricaturists to serious painters continue to depict sailors with striped trousers throughout the 18th century, and into the 19th. For more examples, I recommend looking at the "striped trousers" tags for both my blog and British Tars.
Detail from "The Embarkation", c.1760's. NMM.
 The exact nature of the stripe varies depending on the artist, from the broad stripes of a cheap colored caricature to the narrow stripes of a serious painting or more expensive mezzotint. Stripe patterns can even change from different copies of the same print, as in the 1807 caricature "Sailors in a Calm".

Detail from "A story of a little parson and the sailor, 1797"

However, this particular pair of trousers is made of linen with a blue stripe in two different, very narrow narrow widths. Like many other surviving striped linens of the 18th century the fabric is largely white instead of evenly-sized stripes.
Trouser detail. Visit the NMM page to see the high-resolution original photo.

The buttons are horn; the fall relatively shallow and narrow and bound at the edges, closed by two corner buttons and a central button, and the waistband by three buttons, including the center one that goes through the fall. These trousers also have buttons for holding up braces - an extremely useful detail, as sailors are usually depicted wearing jackets and waistcoats in artwork, and when in their shirtsleeves are inconsistently shown wearing braces. The waistband closes at the back with gusset cut on the diagonal and laced shut with small lacing-holes, a detail seen recently on this blog in  John Augustus's Atkinson's 1807 print "Sailors".

The garment looks like it's pieced at the top of the leg and fly - perhaps the fabric was not long enough, or it's a construction detail I'm unfamiliar with. The legs are cut narrow and straight. It is difficult to tell where they might have fallen on the leg without knowing the inseam of the man who wore them, though artwork of the c. 1810 time period shows trouser hems around the ankle.

As always, though it's possible to make informed generalizations about sailor clothing from how artists depicted them, their prejudices and conventions can make it difficult to determine the details what sailors were actually wearing. The rareness of extant artifacts creates its own survival bias, but having a garment like this to compare to artwork is a great treasure.

1 comment:

  1. The interesting items are the four buttons for braces and braces are never an item portrayed being used by seamen. Also as to the fit, I have never been sure where the waist is to fit, above the hip at the natural waist or lower on the hip bone.