Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England

Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England

In this pioneering study Vivienne Richmond reveals the importance of dress to the nineteenth-century English poor, who valued clothing not only for its practical utility, but also as a central element in the creation and assertion of collective and individual identities. During this period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation formal dress codes, corporate and institutional uniforms and the spread of urban fashions replaced the informal dress of agricultural England. This laid the foundations of modern popular dress and generated fears about the visual blurring of social boundaries as new modes of manufacturing and retailing expanded the wardrobes of the majority. But a significant impoverished minority remained outside this process. Clothed by diminishing parish assistance, expanding paternalistic charity and the second-hand trade, they formed a 'sartorial underclass' whose material deprivation and visual distinction was a cause of physical discomfort and psychological trauma.


"Vivienne Richmond demonstrates the power of clothing in the lives of the working and indigent poor of 19th century England: children, women and men. This is an innovative exploration of clothing cultures, both those crafted by individuals and those imposed by state and institutional authorities. Subtle and insightful, Richmond brings new perspectives to this important topic." -Beverly Lemire, University of Alberta

"Vivienne Richmond tells a very sad historical story, about the bodily and psychological misery of a large proportion of the population in nineteenth-century Britain; but she is not afraid to be wry, or ironic, or outraged and sometimes very funny, when appropriate." -Carolyn Steedman, University of Warwick