The clothing worn by sailors throughout Western Europe in the late eighteenth century reflected the transnational links and divisions of the maritime world they inhabited. As boats crossed between nations, the men aboard both military and commercial vessels dressed in a particular way, reflecting the fashion of their subculture, and the practicalities of their day-to-day lives. My presentation at our MO3351 Conference will attempt to summarize my research on late eighteenth century sailors’ clothing; I look forward to hearing your opinions on this passion of mine.

-universal work garments shared by most mariners; but also regionally and nationally specific ones (eg. seamen of all nations increasingly wearing trousers; but only French sailors wearing sashes, besides specific regional costumes within both nations [eg. Provencal v. Breton v. lowland Scottish)

-general decennial trends in fashion; but also regional particularities (eg. shortening cuts of jackets and waistcoats over century, the changing shape of hats (cocked to round))

-and as always, the variances of individual means and personal taste (more or less clothing, and in better or worse states of repair, as reflected in visual sources and estate inventories)


Why is this relevant?

-clothing is what we wear everyday; it matters deeply to how we engage with people and the world (it is a reflection of “the personal, the professional, and the local”, no matter the era)

-exploring historical fashion is a meaningful way to understand larger themes in the study of history (if we understand how and why garments change, we often can draw larger points too)

-mariners’ dress reflects the work and connections of their milieu, making it both an ideal (and unexplored) case-study that no-one has yet seriously attempted to research on its own!

-sailors clothing can be reproduced and used in an education setting, or in actual Tall Ships sailing on historic replicas (why study something if you don’t attempt to get hands-on with it?)



-knowing how to charismatically communicate an in-depth specialist topic to an audience from diverse backgrounds

-knitting together a wealth of widely dispersed documentation; sorting out folklore and anachronism

-defining what transnational perspective can bring in a period without ‘nationalism’ as we understand it (eg. Ancien Regime ‘France’ c. 1770 is not n a 19th century ‘nation’or today’s 5th Republic)

-carefully interpreting limited evidence (not confusing causation with correlation); balancing practical with social considerations (eg. why cocked hats are worn backwards by seamen)

-using ‘problematic’ sources; (eg. stock images or caricatures of mariners in commercial engravings); balancing the ‘ideal to real’ of government ordinances with actual conditions

-balancing the charisma of theatrical presentation with the rigour of academic research (in 15 minutes or less, often to an audience standing in the sun)

Introducing “European Sailors Clothing in Transnational Perspective, 1750-1790”

One thought on “Introducing “European Sailors Clothing in Transnational Perspective, 1750-1790”

  • March 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Great – you have done some serious thinking about your project. I hope that you will engage well with material historians and the theories of material historians. I think you have chosen one of the most theoretically rich and complex areas to work with so I hope you are prepared to dive into some heavy reading that takes you away from the concrete materials you are looking at to the challenging ways of how to theorise its use and deployment in historical arguments! I look forward to it!

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