This morning I had to wait in for A Man. So, to pass the time, I looked up the words “knitted jacket” in the 18thC newspapers. As you do.
By the time the Man’s long-awaited plumbing visit happened, it was more a ‘Person From Porlock’ * incident, as I was so engrossed in the knitted wardrobe of the 18thC dandy, that I didn’t want to be interrupted about something so mundane as my hot water not coming out hot.
(I’m assuming ‘Mr. Woodfall’ was the newspaper’s Editor). And this is not from a real list of the King’s fancy wardrobe, but was a fictional, silly one).
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Thursday, April 24, 1777
“MUCH debate has been had in both Houses of Parliament on the subject of the Civil List expences, and many severe sarcasms have been thrown out on the want of oeconomy observable in the management of the King’s revenue. Good God, Mr. Woodfall, do these demagogues recollect the vast differences in the times? … Why, Sir, in the days of George the First, few men had more coats than backs, more w_____ s ** than wives, or more houses than heads; but now there is not a younger brother of a family tolerably rich, but in order to maintain the honour and dignity of his situation… he thinks it right to have a wardrobe full of cloaths as the best-furnish’d shop in Monmouth-street… Your Readers… may think I am jesting; I beg, Sir, you assure them that I’m perfectly serious, and lay before them the following papers… as vouchers of the Civil List expenditure – My vouchers contain a real catalogue of articles possessed by a young man of fashion, who left the world in a pet, because his income was incompetent to his expences…
…A silk knit frock suit
… A black silk knit frock suit…
…A cashmere waistcoat, a pair of silk knit breeches, and a pair of silk lustring ditto…
…A green silk shag knit frock lined with silk, and green and orange striped shag waistcoat, with green and gold binding…
…A green silk knit coat, bordered with green and gold, striped lace and silk lining…”
The list is obviously satirical. The section entitled ‘Ruffles’ (frilly collars) alone, is massive – and the suits in ‘Wearing Apparel’ goes on and on… I just extracted the knitted items, here, for our delectation. “A green shag knit frock” would have been thrummed (waste fibre knitted in for a ‘fur’ effect).
One definition of ‘shag’ in this context:
“2. A cloth having a velvet nap on one side, usu. of worsted, but sometimes of silk. Also, a kind or variety of this. 1592.” [Shorter OED].
Presumably the nap was on the right side of the fabric. This kind of knit fabric generally only survives in a cruder form – things like the General Carleton hat, and Maine Mittens as well as references to 17thC English sailors’ caps. (N.B: See a gansey in this woodcut? Thought not). It’s interesting to think about this high end shagging (if you’ll pardon the expression). With many stitches per inch, and mill ends of presumably silk being worked into many stitches, it must have taken an age to knit such items. And even if none are extant (?) then we know they existed, from references like these.
From the number of knitted silk items in the dandy’s list, it’s probably a reflection of their high status. As we’ve seen with Charles I’s knitted shirt, knitted silk was the real bespoke stuff. Although by the 1770s, it’s come down in the world enough to be worn by showy second sons.
I really should call this post ” The ‘Shag’ and ‘Whores’ One”, but I’d get a less better class of visitor to the blog…