Political clothing and adornment

I've a new article coming out in the Journal of British Studies in July.

I've been asked by our PR team to write an executive summary of it, so I might as well post this here too. It's designed for the general reader rather than historians, so excuse the somewhat basic nature of it. The full-length article is much more scholarly, though just as fun!


‘“That Sash Will Hang You”: Political Clothing and Adornment in England, 1780–1840’ will be published in the major American history journal, Journal of British Studies, in July 2010.


Main findings:
  • - Rosettes are not a new way of expressing belonging to a political party: their history stretches way back to the eighteenth century, as do sashes, colours and other forms of material clothing and adornment used as forms of political expression. They enabled the illiterate and those without the vote to express their political views.
  • - Many political symbols still used today have their origins in the eighteenth century, if not before. For example, ‘true blue’ was always the colour of the Tory party: its origins are somewhat debatable, but may reflect a desire to be seen as aristocratic [blue blood]. The Liberals took orange or yellow as their colour, in honour of William of Orange, who became king of Great Britain in 1688.
  • - Women were involved in elections and other types of popular politics, even though they could not vote. Clothing was an ideal way for women to express their political preferences, and aristocratic women even made whole fashions out of party colours. For example, the infamous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, (most recently played in film by Keira Knightley), designed a dress of light blue and beige stripes, in support of the leader of the opposition.
  • - The working classes used the dress of carnival and festival as forms of political communication, which were often designed to be unintelligible to the upper classes. So the costume of morris men (white shirts, ribbons, blackened faces or masks, jack-in-the-green) was more subversive than you may think!

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