London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Uses of Second-Hand Garments.
I HAVE now to describe the uses to which the several kinds of garments which constitute the commerce of the Old Clothes Exchange are devoted, whether it be merely in the re-sale of the apparel, to be worn in its original form or in a repaired or renovated form; or whether it be "worked up" into other habiliments, or be useful for the making of other descriptions of woollen fabrics; or else whether it be fit merely for its last stages—the rag-bag for the paper-maker, or the manure heap for the hop-grower.
Each "left-off" garment has its peculiar after , according to its material and condition. The practised eye of the old clothes man at once embraces every capability of the apparel, and the amount which these capabilities will realize; whether they be woollen, linen, cotton, leathern, or silken goods; or whether they be articles which cannot be classed under any of those designations, such as macintoshes and furs.
A coat is the most serviceable of any -hand clothing, originally good. It can be re-cuffed, re-collared, or the skirts re-lined with new or old silk, or with a substitute for silk. It can be "restored" if the seams be white and the general appearance what is best understood by the expressive word "seedy." This restoration is a sort of re-dyeing, or rather re-colouring, by the application of gall and logwood with a small portion of copperas. If the under sleeve be worn, as it often is by those whose avocations are sedentary, it is renewed, and frequently with a -hand piece of cloth "to match," so that there is no perceptible difference between the renewal and the other parts. Many an honest artisan in this way becomes possessed of his Sunday frock-coat, as does many a smarter clerk or shopman, impressed with a regard to his personal appearance.
In the last century, I may here observe, and perhaps in the early part of the present, when woollen cloth was much dearer, much more substantial, and therefore much more durable, it was common for economists to have a good coat "turned." It was taken to pieces by the tailor and re-made, the inner part becoming the outer. This mode prevailed alike in France and England; for Moliere makes his miser, , magnanimously resolve to incur the cost of his many-years'--old coat being "turned," for the celebration of his expected marriage with a young and wealthy bride. This way of dealing with a -hand garment is not so general now as it was fermerly in London, nor is it in the country.
If the surtout be incapable of restoration to the appearance of a "respectable" garment, the skirts are sold for the making of cloth caps; or for the material of boys' or "youths'" waistcoats; or for "poor country curates' gaiters; but not so much now as they once were. The poor journeymen parsons," I was told, "now goes for the new slops; they're often green, and is had by 'vertisements, and bills, and them books about fashions which is all over both country and town. Do you know, sir, why them there books is always made so small? The leaves is about inches square. That's to prevent their being any use as waste paper. I'll back a coat such as is sometimes sold by a gentleman's servant to wear out new slops."
are things of as ready sale as any kind of old garments. If good, or even reparable, they are in demand both for the home and foreign trades, as cloaks; if too far gone, which is but rarely the case, they are especially available for the same purposes as the surtout. The same may be said of the great-coat.
are far less useful, as if cleaned up and repaired they are not in demand among the working classes, and the clerks and shopmen on small salaries are often tempted by the price, I was told, to buy some wretched new slop thing rather than a superior coat -hand. The dress-coats, however, are used for caps. Sometimes a coat, for which the collector may have given , is cut up for the repairs of better garments.
are re-seated and repaired where the material is strong enough; and they are, I am informed, now about the only habiliment which is ever "turned," and that but exceptionally. The repairs to trousers are more readily effected than those to coats, and trousers are freely bought by the collectors, and as freely re-bought by the public.
—I still speak of woollen fabrics— are sometimes used in cap-making, and were used in gaiter-making. But generally, at the present time, the worn edges are cut away, the buttons renewed or replaced by a new set, sometimes of glittering glass, the button-holes repaired or their jaggedness gummed down, and so the waistcoat is reproduced as a waistcoat, a size smaller. Sometimes a "vest," as waistcoats are occasionally called, is used by the cheap boot-makers for the "legs" of a woman's cloth boots, either laced or buttoned, but not a quarter as much as they would be, I was told, if the buttons and button-holes of the waistcoat would "do again" in the boot.
Nor is the woollen garment, if too thin, too worn, or too rotten to be devoted to any of the uses I have specified, flung away as worthless. To
|the traders in -hand apparel, or in the remains of -hand apparel, a dust-hole is an unknown receptacle. The woollen rag, for so it is then considered, when unravelled can be made available for the manufacture of cheap yarns, being mixed with new wool. It is more probable, however, that the piece of woollen fabric which has been rejected by those who make or mend, and who must make or mend so cheaply that the veriest vagrant may be their customer, is formed not only into a new material, but into a material which sometimes is made into a new garment. These garments are inferior to those woven of new wool, both in look and wear; but in some articles the re-manufacture is beautiful. The fabric thus snatched, as it were, from the ruins of cloth, is known as shoddy, the chief seat of manufacture being in Dewsbury, a small town in Yorkshire. The old material, when duly prepared, is torn into wool again by means of fine machinery, but the recovered wool is shorter in its fibre and more brittle in its nature; it is, indeed, more a woollen pulp than a wool.|
Touching this peculiar branch of manufacture, I will here cite from the a brief description of a Shoddy Mill, so that the reader may have as comprehensive a knowledge as possible of the several uses to which his leftoff clothes may be put.
"The small town of Dewsbury holds, in the woollen district, very much the same position which Oldham does in the cotton country—the spinning and preparing of waste and refuse materials. To this stuff the name of "shoddy" is given, but the real and orthodox "shoddy" is a production of the woollen districts, and consists of the -hand wool manufactured by the tearing up, or rather the grinding, of woollen rags by means of coarse willows, called devils; the operation of which sends forth choking clouds of dry pungent dirt and floating fibres—the real and original "devil's dust." Having been, by the agency of the machinery in question, reduced to something like the original raw material, fresh wool is added to the pulp in different proportions, according to the quality of the stuff to be manufactured, and the mingled material is at length reworked in the usual way into a little serviceable cloth.
There are some shoddy mills in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, but the mean little town of Dewsbury may be taken as the metropolis of the manufacture. Some mills are devoted solely to the sorting, preparing, and grinding of rags, which are worked up in the neighbouring factories. Here great bales, choke full of filthy tatters, lie scattered about the yard, while the continual arrival of loaded waggons keeps adding to the heap. A glance at the exterior of these mills shows their character. The walls and part of the roof are covered with the thick clinging dust and fibre, which ascends in choky volumes from the open doors and glassless windows of the ground floor, and which also pours forth from a chimney, constructed for the purpose, exactly like smoke. The mill is covered as with a mildewy fungus, and upon the gray slates of the roof the frowzy deposit is often not less than inches in depth.
In the upper story of these mills the rags are stored. A great ware-room is piled in many places from the floor to the ceiling with bales of woollen rags, torn strips and tatters of every colour peeping out from the bursting depositories. There is hardly a country in Europe which does not contribute its quota of material to the shoddy manufacturer. Rags are brought from France, Germany, and in great quantities from Belgium. Denmark, I understand, is favourably looked upon by the tatter merchants, being fertile in morsels of clothing, of fair quality. Of domestic rags, the Scotch bear off the palm; and possibly no will be surprised to hear, that of all rags Irish rags are the most worn, the filthiest, and generally the most unprofitable. The gradations of value in the world of rags are indeed remarkable. I was shown rags worth per ton, and rags worth only The best class is formed of the remains of fine cloth, the produce of which, eked out with a few bundles of fresh wool, is destined to go forth to the world again as broad cloth, or at all events as pilot cloth. Fragments of damask and skirts of merino dresses form the staple of middle-class rags; and even the very worst bales —they appear unmitigated mashes of frowzy filth—afford here and there some fragments of calico, which are wrought up into brown paper. The refuse of all, mixed with the stuff which even the shoddy-making devil rejects, is packed off to the agricultural districts for use as manure, to fertilize the hop-gardens of Kent.
Dr. Hemingway, a gentleman who has a large practice in the shoddy district, has given the following information touching the "shoddy fever":—
"Shoddy fever" is, in fact, a modification of the very fatal disease induced by what is called "dry grinding" at Sheffield; but of course the particles of woollen filament are less fatal in their influence than the floating steel dust produced by the operation in question.
At time shoddy cloth was not good and firm enough to be used for other purposes than such as padding by tailors, and in the inner linings of carriages, by coach-builders. It was not used for purposes which would expose it to stress, but only to a moderate wear or friction. Now shoddy, which modern improvements have made susceptible of receiving a fine dye (it always looked a dead colour at period), is made into cloth for soldiers' and sailors' uniforms and for pilot-coats; into blanketing, drugget, stair and other carpeting, and into those beautiful table-covers, with their rich woollen look, on which elegantly drawn and elaborately coloured designs are printed through the application of aquafortis. Thus the rags which the beggar could no longer hang about him to cover his nakedness, may be a component of the soldier's or sailor's uniform, the carpet of a palace, or the library table-cover of a prime-minister.
There is yet another use for old woollen clothes.
|What is not good for shoddy is good for manure, and more especially for the manure prepared by the agriculturists in Kent, Sussex, and Herefordshire, for the culture of a difficult plant—hops. It is good also for corn land (judiciously used), so that we again have the remains of the old garment in our beer or our bread.|
I have hitherto spoken of fabrics. The garments of other materials are seldom diverted from their original use, for as long as they will hold together they can be sold for exportation to Ireland, though of course for very trifling amounts.
The black and —the latter now so commonly worn—are almost always resold as waistcoats, and oft enough, when rebound and rebuttoned, make a very respectable looking garment. Nothing sells better to the working-classes than a -hand vest of the materials of satin or velvet. If the satin, however, be so worn and frayed that mending is impossible, the back, if not in the same plight, is removed for rebacking of any waistcoat, and the satin thrown away, of the few things which in its last stage is utterly valueless. It is the same with silk waistcoats, and for the most part with velvet, but a velvet waistcoat may be thrown in the refuse heap with the woollen rags for manure. The coloured waistcoats of silk or velvet are dealt with in the same way. At time, when under-waistcoats were worn, the edges being just discernible, quantities were made out of the full waistcoats where a sufficiency of the stuff was unworn. This fashion is now becoming less and less followed, and is principally in vogue in the matter of white under-waistcoats. For the jean and other vests—even if a mixture of materials— there is the same use as what I have described of the black satin, and failing that, they are generally transferable to the rag-bag.
have become in greater demand than ever among the street-buyers since the introduction into the London trade, and to so great an extent, of the silk, velvet, French, or Parisian hats. The construction of these hats is the same, and the easy way in which the hat-bodies are made, has caused a number of poor persons, with no previous knowledge of hat-making, to enter into the trade. "There's hundreds starving at it," said a hatmanufacturer to me, "in , Lock'sfields, and the Borough; ay, hundreds." This facility in the making of the bodies of the new silk hats is quite as available in the restoration of the bodies of the old hats, as I shall show from the information of a highly-intelligent artisan, who told me that of all people he disliked rich slop-sellers; but there was another class which he disliked more, and that was rich slop-buyers.
The bodies of the stuff or beaver hats of the best quality are made of a firm felt, wrought up of fine wool, rabbits' hair, &c., and at once elastic, firm, and light. Over this is placed the nap, prepared from the hair of the beaver. The bodies of the silk hats are made of calico, which is blocked (as indeed is the felt) and stiffened and pasted up until "only a hat-maker can tell," as it was ex- pressed to me, "good sound bodies from bad; and the slop-masters go for the cheap and bad." The covering is not a nap of any hair, but is of silk or velvet (the words are used indifferently in the trade) manufactured for the purpose. Thus if an old hat be broken, or rather crushed out of all shape, the body can be glazed and sized up again so as to suit the slop hatter, if sold to him as a body, and that whether it be of felt or calico. If, however, the silk cover of the hat be not worn utterly away, the body, without stripping off the cover, can be re-blocked and re-set, and the silkvelvet trimmed up and "set," or re-dyed, and a decent hat is sometimes produced by these means. More frequently, however, a steeping shower of rain destroys the whole fabric.
are rarely brought into this trade.
Such things as , and what is sometimes called "inner wear," sell very well when washed up, patched—for patches do not matter in a garment hidden from the eye when worn—or mended in any manner. Flannel waistcoats and drawers are often in demand by the street-sellers and the street-labourers, as they are considered "good against the rheumatics." These habiliments are often sold unrepaired, having been merely washed, as the poor men's wives may be competent to execute an easy bit of tailoring; or perhaps the men themselves, if they have been reared as mechanics; and they believe (perhaps erroneously) that so they obtain a better bargain. are repaired and sold as shirts, or for old linen; the trade is not large.
are darned up, but only when there is little to be done in darning, as they are retailed at the pair. The sale is not very great, for the supply is not. "Lots might be sold," I was informed, "if they was to be had, for them flash coves never cares what they wears under their Wellingtons."
is sold to be re-worn in its original form quite as frequently, or more frequently, than it is mended up by the sellers; the purchasers often preferring to make the alterations themselves. A gown of stuff, cotton, or any material, if full-sized, is frequently bought and altered to fit a smaller person or a child, and so the worn parts may be cut away. It is very rarely also that the apparel of the middle-classes is made into any other article, with the sole exception, perhaps, of If a silk gown be not too much frayed, it is easily cleaned and polished up, so as to present a new gloss, and is sold readily enough; but if it be too far gone for this process, the old clothes renovator is often puzzled as to what uses to put it. A portion of a black silk dress may be serviceable to re-line the cuffs of the better kind of coats. There is seldom enough, I was told, to re-line the skirts of a surtout, and it is difficult to match old silk; a man used to buying a good -hand surtout, I was assured, would soon detect a difference in the shade of the silk, if the skirts were re-lined from the remains of different gowns, and say, "I'll not give any such money for that piebald thing."
|Skirts may be sometimes re-lined this way on the getting up of frock coats, but very rarely. There is the same difficulty in using a coloured silk gown for the re-covering of a parasol. The quantity may not be enough for the gores, and cannot be matched to satisfy the eye, for the buyer of a silk parasol even in may be expected to be critical. When there is enough of good silk for the purposes I have mentioned, then, it must be borne in mind, the gown may be more valuable, because saleable to be re-worn as a gown. It is the same with satin dresses, but only a few of them, in comparison with the silk, are to be seen at the Old Clothes' Exchange.|
Among the purposes to which portions of worn silk gowns are put are the making of spencers for little girls (usually by the purchasers, or by the dress-maker, who goes out to work for a day), of children's bonnets, for the lining of women's bonnets, the re-lining of muffs and furtippets, the patching of quilts (once a rather fashionable thing), the inner lining or curtains to a book-case, and other household appliances of a like kind. This kind of silk, too, no matter in how minute pieces, is bought by the fancy cabinetmakers (the small masters) for the lining of their dressing-cases and work-boxes supplied to the warehouses, but these poor artisans have neither means nor leisure to buy such articles of those connected with the traffic of the Old Clothes' Exchange, but must purchase it, of course at an enhanced price, of a broker who has bought it at the Exchange, or in some establishment connected with it. The -hand silk is bought also for the dressing of dolls for the toy-shops, and for the lining of some toys. The hat-manufacturers of the cheaper sort, at time, used -hand silk for the padded lining of hats, but such is rarely the practice now. It was once used in the same manner by the bookbinders for lining the inner part of the back of a book. If there be any part of silk in a dress not suitable for any of these purposes it is wasted, or what is accounted wasted, although it may have been in wear for years. It is somewhat remarkable, that while woollen and even cotton goods can be "shoddied"— and if they are too rotten for that, they are made available for manure, or in the manufacture of paper —no use is made of the refuse of silk. Though of the most beautiful and costly of textile fabrics, its "remains" are thrown aside, when a beggar's rags are preserved and made profitable. There can be little doubt that silk, like cotton, could be shoddied, but whether such a speculation would be remunerative or not is no part of my present inquiry.
There is not, as I shall subsequently show, so great an exportation of female attire as might be expected in comparison with male apparel; the poorer classes of the metropolis being too anxious to get any decent gown when within their slender means.
, unless of superior make and in good condition, are little bought by the classes who are the chief customers of the old-clothes' men in London. I did not hear any reason for this from any of the old-clothes' people. man thought, if there was a family of daughters, the stays which had became too small for the elder girl were altered for the younger, and that poor women liked to mend their old stays as long as they would stick together. Perhaps, there may be some repugnance —especially among the class of servant-maids who have not had "to rough it"—to wear streetcollected stays; a repugnance not, perhaps, felt in the wearing of a gown which probably can be washed, and is not worn so near the person. The stays that are collected are for the most part exported, a great portion being sent to Ireland. If they are "worn to rags," the bones are taken out; but in the slop-made stays, it is not whalebone, but wood that is used to give, or preserve the due shape of the corset, and then the stays are valueless.
are of great sale both for home wear and foreign trade. In the trade of women's stockings there has been in the last or years a considerable change. Before that period black stockings were worn by servant girls, and the families of working people and small tradesmen; they "saved washing." Now, even in , women's stockings are white, or "mottled," or some light-coloured, very rarely black. I have heard this change attributed to what is rather vaguely called "pride." May it not be owing to a more cultivated sense of cleanliness? The women's stockings are sold darned and undarned, and at (retail) prices from to ; or being the most frequent prices.
The and other under clothing are not much bought -hand by the poor women of London, and are exported.
used to be sold -hand, I was told, both in the streets and the shops, but long ago, and before muslin and needlework were so cheap.
I heard of article which formerly supplied considerable "stuff" (the word used) for secondhand purposes, and was a part, but never a considerable part, of the trade at Rag-fair. These were the "," or large, firm, solid cushions which were attached to a saddle, so that a horse "carried double." years ago the farmer and his wife, of the more prosperous order, went regularly to church and market on horse, a pillion sustaining the good dame. To the best sort of these pillions was appended what was called the "pillion cloth," often of a fine, but thin quality, which being really a sort of housing to the horse, cut straight and with few if any seams, was an excellent material for what I am informed was formerly called "making and mending." The colour was almost exclusively drab or blue. The pillion on which the squire's lady rode—and Sheridan makes his deny "the pillion and the coach-horse," the butler being her cavalier—was a perfect piece of upholstery, set off with lace and fringes, which again were excellent for -hand sale. Such a means of conveyance may still linger in some secluded country parts, but it is generally speaking obsolete.
and are not to be had, I am told, in sufficient quantity for the demand from the
|slop-shops, the "translators," and the -hand dealers. Great quantities of -hand boots and shoes are sent to Ireland to be "translated" there. Of all the wares in this traffic, the clothing for the feet is what is most easily prepared to cheat the eye of the inexperienced, the imposition having the aids of heel-ball, &c., to fill up crevices, and of blacking to hide defects. Even when the boots or shoes are so worn out that no will put a pair on his feet, though purchaseable for about , the insoles are ripped out; the soles, if there be a sufficiency of leather, are shaped into insoles for children's shoes, and these insoles are sold in bundles of dozen pairs at the bundle. So long as the boot or shoe be not in many holes, it can be cobblered up in or elsewhere. Of the "translating" business transacted in those localities I had the following interesting account from a man who was lately engaged in it.|
In connection with the translation of old boots and shoes, I have obtained the following statistics. There are—
, now the great old shoe district, has been "sketched" by Mr. Dickens, not as regards its connection with the subject of streetsale or of any particular trade, but as to its general character and appearance. I cite Mr. Dickens' description of the Dials, of which is a :—
Of the same author says:—