Without Hat or Cap

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April 18, 2016 by auntkatefirmin

While hats are coming back in style, where I live most folks don’t wear hats much. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that not wearing a hat in public spaces was considered overly casual – or at least the story in my family is that my grandmother censured a family member for going downtown without a hat. Back in 1787 hats were even more universal. People even wore hats in bed – which isn’t surprising when you consider that there was no central heating.

The following is a description from a newspaper in 1787 intended to identify a person who had escaped from the workhouse:

“about 70 years of age, goes stooping, without hat or cap, had on a foul-weather waistcoast, and drab breeches.”

I almost get the feeling that “without hat or cap” was rather scandalous and was nearly enough to identify someone without other details. The missing person was Henry Blackford of Lydiard Millicent, probably a relative, and hopefully with more details about his life to be recounted in a future post.

Somehow just those few lines put a quite a picture in my head and I searched for some visuals to fill out the details. Based on earlier evidence, Henry was ill-tempered, and given the circumstances, his clothing was probably not of the best quality, in the best repair, or worn with a stylish air, so a bit of imagination needs to be added to the contemporary paintings which are not as grubby as reality.

I imagine Henry wearing a waistcoat in an old-fashioned style, perhaps thickly quilted for colder weather, that came to about mid-thigh, like the one in the illustration below. Other than heavy weight, I don’t know what “foul-weather” implies about the construction of a waistcoat (which would be under several other layers in wet or cold weather so I wouldn’t expect it to be water-repellent).


Detail of Henri Fane with His Guardians by Sir Joshua Reynolds, via Wikipedia.

The young man in the painting above is wearing a style that dates to closer to 1762 than 1787. Still, a man like Henry might wear a style from his younger days, especially since he was not in a position to be buying new or fashionable clothing. That is where the resemblance to the man in the painting ends. Henry’s clothing would have been of coarser materials, though his breeches were “drab,” the same color as in the painting. Henry was lacking the hat and jacket, probably had shoes and stockings rather than boots, and would have had some kind of neck-cloth, perhaps a printed kerchief like the young man at the ale house door in Singleton’s painting. None of his clothing would have been fancy, rather the aim would have been for serviceable, warm, sturdy clothes.


Singleton’s The Ale House Door. 1790. This is more the fashion of 1787.

It was August, so hopefully Henry wasn’t cold without a jacket or coat. If Henry did have a hat, it might have been like the red cap of the fishmonger in the illustration below. A simple cloth cap, similar in shape to a knitted cap, was worn for daily wear and didn’t change greatly in style for much of the 18th century. Again, any of his apparel would be selected for comfort rather than style.

Fishmonger wearing a red cloth cap.

A fishmonger from Sandby’s London Cries, about 1759. Note the red cloth cap.

Just a quick glimpse, as there’s much more of Henry’s story to tell.

PS: I’m very grateful for the work available on the 18th Century Notebook: check out the links to every kind of 18th century men’s cap or hat imaginable.

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