Saturday, May 02, 2009

An Unusual Book about Clothing - Introduction

Cover of "Clothing in the Trier Region during the early 19th Century" by Martha Heit.

If you are going to write the history of your Trier area family, you may eventually want to address the question of dress for both men and women, including things like class distinctions in dress, types of materials, the difference between weekday and Sunday/festival attire, etc. That is my situation right now. But instead of having too little information, I am overwhelmed with information - all located in the book above.

I've been putting off this translation work because this book is the most difficult German book I own. Not only is the writing scholarly (difficult vocabulary) but it also is full of very minute details of the production of new fabrics in Europe in the years after Napoleon was defeated and Prussia took control - the 20 years between 1816 to 1836. I believe that every fact I could ever want to know is located somewhere in the 229 pages of small type. The trick is to find it.

The subtitle of the book is (I think) "Discoveries and Analysis from the Official Gazette of the Trier Government from 1816 to 1836." The paintings reproduced on the cover are of Johann Wilhelm Maret and his wife, Annette Babette Maret, born Coupette. Herr Maret was a confectioner and had a chocolate factory. In 1824 it was located at Nr. 17 Glockenstraße, Trier. Based on the couples' attire, the chocolate factory was a monetary success.

Why did I buy a book with such complicated text? Because, even though I originally thought there would be many books on the history of the clothing worn in Trier and in its surrounding villages at the time my ancestors lived there, I had miscalculated. Even the large, well-stocked bookstore in Trier had only one title that the salesclerk could sell me. It had almost no pictures and the text looked impossible, but I bought it anyway.

Ever since then I've hoped to find someone who could help me translate my book, but at this point I'm still on my own. I've decided to do the best I can, because, as the introduction to Kleidung im Trierer Land des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts says, this is a book that finally has managed to distinguish between the 'Tracht' costume worn mostly by farm people and the rapidly emerging more "European"' fashions of the city residents.

Here is an example. In about 1820, town people began to have access to calico (Kattun) prints for the first time. This kind of cotton cloth was mostly imported from England, which was a leader in producing fine cotton cloth for export. The citizens in the Trier area were not as well to do as those in surrounding areas, especially those in France, so Kattun dresses did not become available for the middle class or the prosperous farm wives immediately after it was introduced. Thus the wife of a wealthy man was the most likely owner of a calico print dress in the early 19th century.

As indicated in the subtitle, it seems that the book's author, in finding sources for a description of the clothing of the time, wisely studied the "Official Gazettes of the Trier Government, 1816 to 1836". Government clerks evidently recorded an interesting variety of details about crimes or unusual events and in the effort, produced multiple descriptions of the garments worn at that time. Here are some quotes to show you what I mean.

People on the Move - for many reasons
Some people on the move were jail escapees. One such was a man originally captured and confined in a city prison in Trier. But, as was common, he escaped wearing his prison garb. In July of 1816, the Government Gazette reported this fugitive:
He was dressed in "...jacket of gray cloth marked on front and back with the red-colored Latin letters B. G., short pants of a nondescript cloth, round hat, shoes and stockings." It was noted in the official entry that the escapee would quickly rid himself of the jacket with the red marking and try to obtain some clothing that would make him look like an ordinary citizen. With "dress coat and round hat" he could take on a new identity. It would seem from the description above that in 1816, men's pants were either long or short. If short, they reached below the knee, with stockings that covered the lower part of the leg.

Another type of "man on the move" was the draft dodger or deserter who carried falsified military discharge papers. Such a man might be clothed in a modified uniform such as this man sought in September of 1820 who, according to the Gazette, was wearing: “...Blue cap with cloth red stripes, blue jacket with gold collar, white vest with fine gold stripes, old light-gray pants with a narrow red stripe, boots with low heels…"

Fleeing thieves were often sought by the police. This well-dressed thief's clothing was described by a very conscientious and observant civil servant in 1822. "...plain shirt of red cotton, black cap coated with (a waterproofing) wax, a red and white striped neckerchief, dark green spanish-style jacket, green overcoat with gold buttons, white vest with blue stripes, long brown cloth pants tied at the bottom, Suwarow* boots with high heels, a box-shaped satchel"

The illustrative quotes I've chosen show how much information about clothing was contained in this Government Gazette, the Amtsblatt der Regeirung zu Trier. Who would expect that one of the best descriptions of the clothing of the time would be a part of official government records.

I've only begun my look at the clothing of the early 19th century and will continue stumbling through Martha Heit's amazing book in my next posts, not with speed but with singlemindedness.
*Count Suwarow of Russia led the campaign against Napoleon for Italy.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:16 AM

    I'm surprised at the bright colors that people wore. I think this will help me stop picturing my ancestors like black and white line drawings, to match my family group sheets.