Curator's Choice: Pauline Rushton on Costume Drama: Fashion 1790-1850 at Sudley House

Pauline Rushton interviewed by Ben Miller | 11 July 2011
A photo of a woman looking at a brown suit on a male mannequin
Curator's Choice: In her own words... Pauline Rushton, of Sudley House in Liverpool, on the distinctive suit at the heart of the Liverpool venue's current Costume Drama: Fashion 1790-1850 show...

"Clothes such as this suit are extremely rare and quite exciting for costume curators because we don’t come across them very often.

The clothes of 19th century working people very rarely survive, usually because they were worn until they fell apart or until they were sold or bartered for other garments.

It comes from Lincolnshire, where we believe it was worn by a gamekeeper or a land agent on a country estate.

We can tell much about its date from the way it has been made, and its cut and construction are obviously influenced to some degree by fashionable menswear of the period.

The fabrics it is made from also tell us something about the social status of the original wearer. Fustian is a mixture of cotton and linen, made with a short, cropped nap or surface finish.

Similarly, cotton corduroy, used for the breeches, was a fabric worn only by working people in the 19th century and certainly not by a gentleman.

The suit is cut quite narrowly across the shoulders, making it difficult for the wearer to move easily or to carry out heavy manual work.

It is resistant to water, which made it ideal for working outdoors, and so it was very commonly worn by working men.

The fact that this is still a whole suit and that it has not been split up over time makes it even more significant."

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