Dressing Up, Dressing Down

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livery 1962.42/3
coat 1962.40
uniform 1986.223/4
I21.jpg
I14.jpg

Men working in domestic service throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often wore a distinctive clothing, unlike their female counterparts. Uniforms were especially popular in the wealthier households and for public duties such as attending the carriage or serving at a very formal dinner. Families were able to invent their own style of uniform, sometimes very extravert indeed. This blue green and scarlet outfit, heavily braided and decorated, was designed in 1829 for the footman of the 3rd Lord Ashburnham on the occasion of his being appointed a Knight of the Garter. Such an honorific and public occasion required the height of formality and this flamboyant uniform was intended to reflect the wealth and prestige of the Earl himself.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, such extravagant liveries became less popular, increasingly seen as vulgar and old fashioned. Much more sober colours and styling became the norm, as in menswear generally, and families that insisted on retaining their dramatic liveries were then lampooned in magazines like 'Punch' for their pomposity. There was also ridicule for the propensity for male staff in larger aristocratic households to become "high flown" and grandiose, preening themselves before appearing for their public duties (see below).

Full item descriptions:

"footman's livery uniform" [1962.42/3]
"livery coat" [1962.40]
"footman's uniform" [1986.223/4], British Armfield

Related Themes:

Women's Servant Dress
Victorian Photographs: Occupational