Ready Made Clothes

Ready-made clothes and their availability in England throughout the 18th century is, of course, Anne Buck’s masterly tome, Dress in Eighteenth Century England (first published in 1979).

On page 146, in her chapter on the clothes of The Common People, she quotes Sir Frederick Eden writing of dress in Cumberland in the 1790s:

In the midland and southern counties of England the labourer, in general, purchases a very considerable proportion, if not the whole, of his clothes from a shopkeeper…..In the vicinity of the metropolis working people seldom buy new clothes; they content themselves with a cast -off coat, which may be purchased for about 5s ,and second–hand waistcoats and breeches…In the north, on the contrary, almost every article of dress worn by farmers, mechanics and labourers, is manufactured at home, shoes and hats excepted…..

She also writes about London warehouses where ready-mades were to be found, in her chapter Buying and Making Clothes:

There were in the City and Covent Garden a number of shops called warehouses which often carried on both wholesale and retail trade. They sold fabrics and trimmings and the things sold by haberdashers. They also sold a number of ready-made items such as greatcoats, cloaks, riding hoods, wrappers, bedgowns, hats( chip and silk covered) mourning gowns and masquerade habits. One warehouse, in Gracechurch Street , advertised itself as “Packer’s Cheap Warehouse for Gentlemen, Readymade Clothes” selling greatcoats, coats, waistcoats, breeches for men as well as greatcoats, cloaks and the ubiquitous quilted petticoats for women.

James Lackington brought his first greatcoat ready-made in 1773: “My landlord showed me one made of a coarse kind of Bath coating which he purchased in Rosemary lane for ten shillings and sixpence”. Rosemary Lane was also a centre for second hand clothes. The shopkeeper tried unsuccessfully to charge James Lackington a higher price for a similar coat. Some of the warehouses specialised in a particular type of garment.

Samuel Curwen went to “Rogers shop in Fleet Street, the great silk waistcoat store to exchange a black mohair shag for a black moleskin or long-piled velvet”. This shop seems to have made up the waistcoats to order, as he goes on to say that the tailor “is about to make me one of the same colour and fashion for 16/- in lieu of that returned stuff 1¾ of which the same quality cost me without making 14/-. The reason of which is this, the wholesale salesman procuring the various stuffs they make up at so much easier rate than a common buyer, can afford a garment at very near the price that their stuff alone would cost.”

M. Russell had a ready-made shirt warehouse in the Strand in 1790.

Page 166.

See this for reference to provincial ready-made clothes:

Cities and country towns like Chester and Norwich , which were social and commercial centers, had not only a wide range of shops to supply different kinds of fashionable goods, but also a range of quality which extended from the fashionable establishments supplying local gentry and merchants to the shops which supplied the common people of the city or town or surrounding countryside……Elizabeth Browne at Norwich in the 1780s appears to have traded, though not successfully , in a cheaper range of goods.When she went bankrupt in 1785 an inventory of her stock was made, which has survived and has been published in full…….Most of the goods were low priced….In this shop scarlet cloaks could be brought ready made. There were ten scarlet cardinals left in stock, priced for children at 4s and 5s, for girls at 5s; for women there was a range of prices 10s,12s,15s. There were also white cardinals…and two drab cardinals at 4s and 5s. Six scarlet hoods for cardinals and two white ones were listed separately all at 15s each. 
page 173.

In her chapter on Travelling Salesman she has this to say about the ready-made clothes available from them:

Many pedlars or “petty chapmen” sold a wide range of goods. Pamela in Richardson’s novel “ bought of a pedlar two pretty round-eared caps, a little straw hat, a pair of mittens, turned up with white calico and two pair of worsted hose with white clocks 
page 177.

On the same page Anne Buck notes that a careful reading of JA’s letters indicates that she did not by ready-made items form a pedlar. Instead she brought:

Six shifts, that is the linen for them, at 3s 6d a yard and four pairs of stockings from “the Overton Scotchman”.

There is more evidence of ready-made clothing being sold in the 18th century in this magnificent book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough, though sadly it is now out of print and second hand copies are rather expensive.