Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cries of London: Ballad Seller and Clothing Breakdown

I enjoyed picking apart the clothing of the Strawberry Seller so much that I found another fun Wheatly Cries of London print to talk about--the Ballad Seller.

In review--the Cries of London were a painting seriesturned series of prints (much of art in the 18th century had multiple lives as paintings, print runs, slightly adjusted and re-run print runs, etc) that depicted ordinary people of the London streets, plying their trades.

The Ballad Seller was one of these street vendors. Before the days of albums, CDs, and mp3s, new music was disseminated on broadsides--large-format fliers that printed the lyrics to new songs and sometimes included slips of sheet music. Ballad sellers were often among the poorest of street vendors, and some contemporary prints and writings depict ballad-selling as little better than begging. However, their trade required a skill that other street vendors did not need to possess--to sell their broadside sheet music, they sang the song printed on it. More on broadsides and ballad selling can be found here; the study of this historical "pop culture" is fascinating!

In the print above, the ballad seller seems to be doing a rather good job drawing a crowd--she must be good at what she does!
Though she looks quite sweet, she's also a bit raggedy (check the rather floppety hat and the shoes, which don't appear to have buckles), lending credence to the idea that ballad sellers earned only a meager living. I can't tell if she's wearing a gown rucked off to the side or if that's a large apron; either way, she likely has her wares tucked safely inside.

The bottom of her petticoat has what looks like a crease along the hem. This may be a growth pleat--or one that has been let out, leaving a long crease. Growth pleats were included in clothing for growing girls--this seller could be a teenager. I've also (having very little good data) sewn horizontal pleats into petticoats to help them stand out a bit more. I've seen this on one extant garment made for an adult. So--my guess-either our ballad seller is a girl young enough to have had her most recent clothing made with a growth pleat, or she's wearing something secondhand. (Secondhand clothing was very common in the 18th century--"rag fairs" sold used goods at discount.)

Unlike our strawberry seller, who would have been peddling her wares in the early summer, the ballad seller seems to be on a chilly, wintery street. To combat the cold, her audience is wearing great coats and cloaks. The ballad seller is wearing a mantelet or a short cloak--I'm guessing at mantelet because it appears to be shaped in the front. Either way, note the hood on the back. She could pull this on over her cap (she'd probably ditch the straw hat) for extra warmth. More on mantelets and short cloaks here; hers is probably a wool broadcloth.

Anything else you notice about the ballad seller's clothing? Questions about her clothing or the clothing of her audience on these rainy London streets?


anachronist said...

What does the ballad seller wear under her floppy hat? A cap or a bonnet or a simple piece of cloth? And what about her feet? She seems to wear a pair of clean, white stockings - is it really in accordance with her making a meager living?

Rowenna said...

Hi Anachronist! She's wearing a cap under her hat--nearly all women in the 18th century would have worn a simple white cap pretty mcuh all the time. White stockings would have been less expensive than colored stockings, and even colored stockings show up often in servant runaway ads--so in short, wearing stockings would have been normal even for the poor. Their cleanliness? Well, I'm sure she could wash them...but it might be a bit of artist's license there.

Connie Keller said...

Wow. I knew nothing about ballad singers. Thanks.

anachronist said...

Thanks for your insightful explanations, Rowena. Of course an artist wouldn't like to gross his prospecitve customers out showing a girl with dirty stockings, even if it was a very poor, working girl ;). Great job with the clothing breakdown, I hope you will continue. Perhaps some men's clothes for a change?