Marie Antoinette Online Forum

Peasant clothes
Page 1 of 1

Author:  Liza [ Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:13 am ]
Post subject:  Peasant clothes

Hi everyone,
I realise that even young children wore stays in the 18th century, but was this also the case for young peasant girls?
Also, if said young peasant girl was to go swimming in a river, what clothes would she swim in? Would she simply leave all her day clothes on and get them wet, or perhaps strip down a layer??
Thanks very much, all comments appreciated.

Author:  Christophe [ Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Bonjour, Liza.

I'm no expert on 18th Century costume, but it seems to me that the price of stays would have been out of reach for a peasant girl, possibly costing more than said girl would earn or have in a year. Considering that French peasants wove and made their own clothes, and often their own shoes (usually from wood), it seems unlikely they would have the money to buy such luxuries as corsets. Then too, stays would only have slowed down the movement of a very hard-working peasant girl, who undoubtedly spent all of her waking hours doing heavy physical labor.

The swimming question is a bit easier, if no less happy. 18th Century people did not go in for swimming. Particularly the women. While the aristocracy did bathe from time to time in elegant tubs, the lower classes were notorious for rarely, if ever, immersing themselves in water. A peasant girl at a stream might go as far as wading up to her ankles in pleasantly cool water, but it's unlikely she would swim in it, harboring a terror of drowning or being washed away. A peasant girl who enjoyed swimming back then would have been as odd as a teenage girl today who never bathes.

Author:  Liza [ Wed Mar 24, 2010 7:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Hi Christophe,
Thanks a lot for the info...
That's given me a lot to think about.

Author:  Marija Vera [ Wed Mar 24, 2010 11:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Very interesting questions. Here you can find some excellent information on 18th century clothing. I didn't have time to read everything but I quickly found something that will interest you. There are many good books on costumes and you can easily find what 18th century peasant clothes consisted of. I tend to think that stays were part of it (unless in the case of huge poverty).

The lower-classes, both in town and country, notwithstanding the daily changes of fashion which they saw going on around them, had not changed, in regard to dress, for the last century or two. They were poorly clad, in winter as in summer, but poorly provided with linen, and often going about with naked feet, but never without a covering to the head. Their garments often consisted of pieces of cloth of different colours sewn together, forming a coat which sometimes fell below the knee. They did not seem to feel this penury of raiment at all keenly, for the Marquis de Paulmy, in his "Précis de la Vie privée des Français" (1779), says: "Stout leather shoes are looked upon as a luxury by the poorer classes, who think themselves fortunate when they have shoes with thick soles. In some parts of the country, the peasants wear nothing but sandals, clogs, or pieces of rope wound round the feet, and in others men and women alike wear the sabot" (wooden shoe). Such contrasts, such striking anomalies between the dress of the lower orders and the middle-classes, were not to be seen in Paris and the large cities, where the poor dressed in the left-off clothes of the rich. The result, of course, was that the same clothes were worn in course of time, first when they were new and afterwards as they were old, by the two extremities of the social body. This was one of the most remarkable peculiarities in Parisian life "Everybody is well clad there, and seems as if he could afford to change his linen and coat twice a day." Most Of the artizans dressed in imitation of their betters when they were not at work, and it was no uncommon thing to meet in the streets a lot of dandies, fashionably dressed and girt with a sword, who turned out to be barbers, printers, tailors, or shopmen. The females of the lower classes were always neatly dressed, sometimes with remarkably good taste, and the Paris grisette was renowned throughout the whole of the 18th century for her neatness of attire. Gorgy, in his "Nouveau Voyage Sentimental" (1785), says: "The girls employed in shops of various kinds aspire to be classed above the lower ranks of the people; their dress is plain and yet comely, and amongst them may be studied that sort of coquetry which Rousseau declares to be inherent in the female nature. It does not consist of a lot of gew-gaws which are but advertisements of the wealth of their wearers and the skill of their makers. These women wear only inexpensive dresses, with a little gauze and a few bits of ribbon, but they make the most of them, and produce considerable effect out of very little. Their coiffure is very simple, but it suits them so well that it seems perfect." This corresponded very closely wi th J.-J. Rousseau's opinions, for, in "Emile," he writes : "Give a young girl who has good taste and sets little store on the fashion of the hour, some ribbon, gauze, muslin, and flowers, and she will make, without the aid of diamonds, lace and trinkets, a head-dress which will suit her a hundred times better than all the jewellery of Duchapt could do." But a young girl who was capable of doing this would not have run counter to fashion. ... shion.html

and ... woman.html

I think that peasants used to swim in the lakes when they had the opportunity, as for some that was the only way of keeping some hygiene, although it would be tough for a peasant girl to expose herself because all those rules of modesty. I think I read something about that in the book The history of private life but I don't have that book right now to check. I've ordered a new book about the every day life in 18th century England and it will surely provide more information. I can post when I get it, if your questions remain unanswered.

Author:  Christophe [ Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Marija Vera wrote: I tend to think that stays were part of it (unless in the case of huge poverty).

I think you must be mistaken, Marija.

Wikipedia says on the subject:

The corsets of the 16th through 18th century (called "stays", "bodies", or "corps") were intended to mold the upper torso into a rigid cone like shape. The earliest corsets had a wooden busk placed down the center fronts of the corsets. (These early busks were different from the newer, steel busks which have clasps to open and close.) Corsets of the 17th and 18th century were most often heavily boned with little or no space between the bone channels. This was necessary to force the body to conform to the desired shape of the era. At the time the most popular materials used for the boning were Giant reeds or whalebone.

From the topic heading Peasant clothes, I infer that we are discussing the costume of a country girl of common means. Such a person could not afford the expensive materials used in a corset (whale bone was exceedingly costly), let alone the cost of having one made. Even if she were able to lay her hands on a used one by some means, she could not have tolerated the restrictions of movement wearing such a garment would have imposed on her. It would have prevented her from doing the heavy work required by her station.

As for swimming, I must also disagree. A peasant's idea of a bath was to wash their hands and face; perhaps their hair once or twice a year. Very few people, even among the aristocracy learned how to actually swim; one of the reasons the mortality rate among sailors was so high; they couldn't swim. It just wasn't a common activity. I once read an account from Louisbourg, French Canada, of a young lady who was disembarking from an arriving ship and accidently fell of the gangway into the harbor. She was immediately fished out, but died of a seizure from the fright: and this was after crossing the Atlantic all the way from France. It was the first (and last) time of her life that she had been completely immersed in water.

Author:  Liza [ Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Marija Vera,
Thanks so much for taking the time to post this information.... I will check out those sites.
Thanks also for your information. It seems the question of the stays is not yet solved! I would have to agree though, that a peasant girl could not afford the expensive whalebone, and the chances of getting her hands on a second hand one, would be low (as opposed to if she were a Parisian, for example).
For the swimming, I know that, in general, people did yet swim for pleasure, and washing their bodies, clothes and hair was not high on the priority list. Have you had a look at Catherine Delor's post on her blog: Versailles and more, about the Seine River water? She cites people swimming in the river, naked. Now, maybe this was only in Paris, and not in rural areas...??

Author:  Marija Vera [ Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

I will try to find the answer as I am not a costume expert either. The reason I think yes is because that seems the only proper way to dress. I am not
sure without stays what a girl would do well... with her breasts and how she would look only dressed in some light fabric. That doesn't seem the right way to go out on the street. Still, if we talk about rural peasants (not working women) and cases of huge poverty you are maybe right. In general I think they wore stays from cheaper materials or handmade, maybe only one, without changing it. I was disappointed that I couldn't find a more concrete answer on the Internet as costuming is quite popular these days.

Author:  baron de batz [ Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Marija Vera wrote:

I am not
sure without stays what a girl would do well... with her breasts and how she would look only dressed in some light fabric

Very comely no doubt! :lol:

Author:  Rosalie [ Fri Apr 02, 2010 5:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Marija Vera wrote:
The reason I think yes is because that seems the only proper way to dress. I am not
sure without stays what a girl would do well... with her breasts and how she would look only dressed in some light fabric. That doesn't seem the right way to go out on the street.

I'm not a clothes expert either, but I was thinking: peasant girls probably wore clothes made of quite rough fabric, so not so light in ther end...I'm thinking of rural people, working in the countryside. I also imagine it should have been hard to work all day with a stay, so I'm inclined to think they didn't wear any. But, as I said, these are just myt thoughts: I have never read anything specififc.

Author:  jimcheval [ Fri Apr 02, 2010 8:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

One general note on clothes: they were not semi-disposable in the way they are today. Often they were left in wills along with furniture. In other words, they were substantial, semi-permanent possessions. And so peasants probably had very few options in terms of dress. It wasn't like you just went 'oh today I'll wear some stays'.

For swimming, Fournier in his wide-ranging book on the Pont-Neuf says:
During the same time, on the warmest days, the parapets of the bridge served as a balcony for another show. All the bathers, in fact, were not then in the waters of the quai Saint-Bernard, where, as you know, their presence each evening drew a crowd, indecently curious, upon which La Bruyère thought it necessary to remark all the more sharply given that women of all sorts, above all from the best classes, were not lacking there

Many of these tritons of the Seine did not go so far to cavort . They came right by the Pont-Neuf to undress on the sand of the banks, or under the not very thick willows which shadow the tip of the open land, with as much ease as if they were on a desert island; irritating with their nudity and even cruder remarks the not very sensitive but nonetheless disgusted modesty of the washerwomen who twisted linen on the neighboring boats.

Charles IX and later the police tried to restrain this behavior, as for instance in a decree of June 1742 which forbade people, at the least, from doing all this naked.


Author:  Liza [ Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

Thanks for that info, Jim.. the swimming bit is particularly interesting.
In Catherine Delors' blog: Versailles and more, in the post: The Seine River in the 18th century , she talks about the people swimming in summer too... very interesting. We imagine they were such prudes, but no, in fact.

Author:  baron de batz [ Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

We're far more prude now than they were in the 18th century!! :lol:

Author:  Marija Vera [ Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Peasant clothes

I think this proves my point :wink: -

"All levels of society wore stays but the stays of the lower classes might be made more flexible or more easily fastened, particularly if the wearer had to dress herself. The cheapest stays were made of leather that was scored with a knife to give it more flexibility. In the later 18th century shoulder straps were often made of unstiffend fabric or not attached at all.

Even if you worked in the fields or were so poor that you had to live in a workhouse you still would wear stays. There are records of money being given to the homeless so that they could buy stays and be decently dressed."

Page 1 of 1 All times are UTC
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group