chapter  12
31 Pages

THE l.\'IIRROR OF FASHION

To attempt in a little book dealing with many aspects of social life to give an account of all the different garments worn by English men and women during the long period under our consideration would be impossible, but to choose from among changing fashions features which could be pronounced typical of the age as a whole would be almost as difficult, and we find ourselves on the horns of a very awkward dilemma. The most we can hope to do is to give a few examples of the most striking modes of dress in use at the time, and some slight indication of the trend of its development. We are, however, comforted by the knowledge that costume in England has been 80 admirably described by other writers that our deficiencies can be easily made good by reference to their works, and that after all it is not so much the actual cut of the clothes worn by our ancestors which is of interest to us, but their significance. Even at the present day when there is comparatively little variety in clothing, and comparatively little importance is attached to it, a discerning eye can gain from a man's dress some idea of his character. But in the Middle Ages there was so much more choice both of material and of colour, so much more scope for fancy and in-

genuity, and so much more attention was devoted to dress, that we are able to form from it a far more accurate estimate of the taste and temperament of the wearer. Our judges and barristers and the heads of our universities are arrayed in robes of office, some of our publio servants have distinctive uniforms, and court-dress is worn on state occasions, because we cannot entirely rid ourselves of the idea that a man's status may be typified, and his authority increased, by his clothes. But in those days no one doubted that this was the case, and consequently fashion was a mirror which reflected the life and manners of the age. Kingly dignity was enhanced by long sweeping robes of gorgeous colour and rich texture; civic pride delighted in the brilliant attire of the mayor and sheriffs; the livery worn by their numerous retainers was an outward and visible sign of the power of the nobles, and the" clothing" of the craftgilds a tacit recognition of the part played by them in the organization of industry.