THE CIVILIANS - OFFICERS LADIES, SERGEANTS WIVES & SOLDIERS WOMEN & MEN IN THE CAMP
The women in the 68th Society portray the ordinary soldiers' wives or 'Baggage' as the army referred to them. This means the costume is of the lower class, which of course at the time meant comfortable clothes that could be worn to work in 12 to 14 hours a day. They were not the height of London and Paris fashion.
The number of women with a Regiment was limited on active service by an order of 6 women to every hundred men. At home the number recognised as married on a Regiment's strength limited the number. (A married woman was entitled to half a daily ration of food to supplement those of her husband. For children, a third. For this they were expected to earn their keep by doing laundry, sewing and cooking. To trade they had to become a Licensed Sutler).
When going abroad the most popular method, and perhaps the cruellest was for the women simply to draw lots at the port, for who went and who stayed. There was, however, an Order from Horse Guards of 1805, which stated that the women should be chosen by the Commanding Officer by their worth and value to the Battalion.
When travelling with the regiment abroad, women were often known to be wearing all the clothes they possessed, especially when in the colder regions of Spain and Canada. This was generally to keep warm but they could also be carrying a baby or sick child and a bag of extra clothes would make it difficult to walk for the distance an army would march every day. (This was an average of 14 to 18 miles a day. There are accounts of 24 to 30 miles).
The basic costume of a Soldier's woman would be:
- The Shift - a linen 3/4 length undergarment with long sleeves. This was worn like a man's shirt during the day, underneath all other clothes and also used as a nightdress.
- Stockings and shoes - Women's stockings came to above the knee and were tied using either woven ties or a strip of material cut on the cross (giving a slight stretch in the tie). They came in an assortment of colours, and when a hole was worn in them they would be darned.
- The shoes for the lower class were very like that worn by the soldiers; they had to be comfortable and long lasting.
- The Bodice - boned, but comfortable to wear, unlike the Victorian & Edwardian counterparts.
- The Petticoat - worn over the shift, this is the first of many layers. The petticoat was usually made of a finer material than the outer skirts.
- The Skirts - Women were known to wear as many as six skirts. The outer skirt being made of a thick cotton or wool, as this would be exposed to the elements.
- The Apron - Many women wore two aprons; a smaller best apron made of a fine linen, and over this a much more heavy-duty apron, made of strong linen.
- The Jacket - There are many different jackets that were worn by the lower classes. A few are: The Betgwyn (Welsh origin) or bed jacket. This could have long or short sleeves, and reach as low as the calf or just to the top of the thighs. It was made to fit the figure, and so followed the line of the bodice and skirts. The Betgwyn was usually made of wool. A second type of jacket stopped at the waist, and was considered to be a longer version of the Spencer Jacket worn by the higher classes.
- The Cap - There are several different designs worn in this period, but all made of a fine cotton. The Cap was a symbol of marital status. A married woman, whatever the class, would never be seen without a cap, whether inside or out. It was, in fact, only while in a close family environment or alone with her husband that she would remove it. A woman of any age, class or marital status would not be seen outdoors without some kind of head protection, whether this is a cap or a bonnet.
- The Bonnet - made of straw or stiffened material, again, there were many styles adopted. For a Sergeant's wife, travelling with the regiment was made easier as their husbands could afford to buy them a mule to ride on, or arrange for them to travel in the baggage wagons. Therefore, their costume was of a slightly finer quality than those of the soldier's wives. They would still wear the shift, stockings cap and bonnet, but instead of a bodice and skirt they wore a woollen or linen dress. Unlike the empire waistline of the higher-class costume, these dresses had a normal waistline with short or long sleeves. Contemporary prints show camp followers wearing these dresses, but if a soldier's wife is wearing one then someone of higher status has probably passed it onto her. Similar jackets to those worn by soldiers' women were worn by sergeants' wives, but again of a slightly better quality. Their shoes too, of a better quality, more shaped yet still rugged enough to walk and work in.
Sometimes visiting gentry or officers come into the camp, and if married will be accompanied by their wives. The costume of an Officer's lady could not be more different than those already described. The upper class followed the fashions of the day and this was reflected in their dress. Stockings would be of the finest silk and shoes very small and dainty but uncomfortable to wear, as they were not made to walk many miles in them. The dress was of the empire-line style. A day dress, usually with long sleeves, would be made in a linen or cotton, but so much finer than that of the sergeant's wife's dress. An evening dress would be made in fine cotton, muslin or silk, with short sleeves. For a lady to go out she would also wear a Spencer jacket (with the high waist) and an ornate bonnet, many were made in the same material as the jacket. During the summer a lady would use a parasol to shade herself from the sun, and in the winter long capes with hoods were worn, or empire-line, long coats in a thick wool. (Please note that female drawers or underpants were not generally worn by any of the classes (except in the case of the gentry, while riding) as it was considered a 'filthy and unhygienic' foreign (French) fashion.
CIVILIAN MEN IN CAMP
Our civilian men in camp take on the roles of ordinary folk that would have been seen in a military camp of this period. At present within camp the lower class male is represented by the children of soldiers and new recruits not yet in uniform. Their clothes are the typical hand-me-downs and so don't fit perfectly.
A child, whether a boy or girl up to the age of six, wore a simple shift and shapeless dress. It was not until they reached an age where they could work (the breeching age), and so classed as having 'grown up', was a male child dressed in trousers or breeches. (This was such a notable event, including also the boy's first haircut, that parties similar to those held on birthdays were held to mark a boy's breeching). It would also have not been uncommon to find civilian labourers in camp such as Waggoner's delivering supplies or hired to drive the regiment's wagons and the odd tradesman.
A working class adult's clothes were simple:
- Shirt - made of a rough linen.
- Trousers/Breeches - Trousers were most often woollen, made in a similar way to the military style. Cotton canvas and heavy linen could also be found but were more associated with particular occupations or hot climates. Breeches were still in common use and again were mostly made in wool.
- Waistcoat - woollen.
- Jacket - These can have tails, similar to the fashion and army uniform or stop at the waist. They are made of a hardwearing wool.
- Shoes - Similar to the army square toed shoes.
- Socks/Stockings - Socks were more like those worn by the soldiers. Often they were just a knitted tube without too much shape. The stockings were much hardier than the fine linen and silk of the gentry, often made of wool or heavy cotton yarn.
The middle and upper class men dressed very similarly, only the quality of the clothes was different. These were custom made, not hand-me-downs.
- Breeches - were worn which either buckled or buttoned at the knee. In the evening these would be worn with stockings and shoes, and during the day worn with boots that met the breeches at the knee.
- The Shirt - was made of fine linen with a frill down the front. A cravat was worn around the neck.
- The Waistcoat - for the middle class man was usually made of a fine wool, and that worn by the real 'gentry' was made of silk, brocade, and many were embroidered with luxurious designs.
- The Coat - made in wool and was long tailed and lined with satin, silk, lawn or such other fine material. Men of the Gentry class would not commonly be found in association with a soldier's camp. On home service such characters as Doctors, Justice of the Peace and Supply Agents from the Commissariat would be about your lot. Gentry would invariably keep away from the brutal and licentious soldiery. To be viewed from a distance, not to be associated with.