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Dressing up

20 December 2010 by stepheng

funny illustrations of a man falling over as he puts on his formal dinner suit

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo   

I’ve always been conscious about the way I dress and admire the way our ancestors took such care over their appearance.

Over the Christmas and New Year periods passengers on the stylish liners would have packed extra clothing to make an impression.

This would have certainly been the case in First Class but all passengers would have dressed up for festive occasions. It might be a new gown or suit to mark the occasion. Poorer people made their own.

It was, and maybe still is in some families, a tradition to have a complete new set of clothes when travelling or on holiday.

This was the age of elegance – beautiful ships moving gracefully through sparkling seas, passengers and crew equally immaculately turned out.

This is one of the most enduring images of Victorian and Edwardian times, a period of huge confidence matching the growth of Britain’s power and prestige.

All sections of society wore hand-made clothes and most people took great trouble with their appearance. The Victorian idea of casual dress was very different from our own.

By the standards of the time people tended to dress more casually when they were at sea. Among the wealthy, top hats and other formal titfers were abandoned for more practical flat caps which stayed on in the wind.

Ladies made sure they had extra scarves and hat pins to secure their headgear. Even on board ship it was unthinkable for people of all ages, rich and poor, to be seen without their hats.

Only the very poorest could not afford hats or bonnets – in Liverpool bareheaded women were called Hairy Marys. It was only after the First World War that people began to be seen out of doors without hats.

Exhibits in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Life at Sea gallery indicate what life was like for passengers on British ships from the 1850s.

A contemporary colour illustration shows a lady being dressed for dinner by her maid.

I love the hilarious colour comic strip (pictured) showing a gent struggling to dress as the ship rolls and heaves. He falls over as he attempts to get his detachable collar from his suitcase but makes it in the end.

Crews also had to be smartly dressed to match the style of the passengers. Photographs from 1889 to 1960 show the many different types of uniforms worn on passenger liners. A uniform worn by a chief engineer in 1930 is among those on display.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.

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