Some years ago I wrote a scholarly chapter on how clothes were used as social indicators in the fiction of P G Wodehouse and Dornford Yates. This was for Middlebrow Wodehouse (ed. Ann Rea), and was a thoroughly enjoyable chapter to research. Costume history is one of my favourite branches of history, and I’ve been studying it since I was a little girl, when I copied the illustrations in books of ‘costume through the ages’, and then coloured in these tracing-paper facsimiles with wildly inappropriate patterns and colours. You learn a lot about dress construction when you’re deciding which parts of a hooped skirt were made of the same fabric. Other important sources of historical sartorial information were Louise M Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl, and a book I never found again outside Aberdeen City Library, called something like Calico Captive, all about dress-making on the eighteenth-century Canadian frontier.
But all of this was about women’s dress: there was very little to say, it seemed, about how men dressed, other than the political importance of sumptuary laws and the cod-piece, and how Beau Brummell made restraint elegant. I had long wanted to work out the thing with Bertie’s spats, so was very pleased to have an opportunity with this chapter. Recently I was alerted to some online discussion of the book, and whether Wodehouse ought to be studied at all. To partially answer that question, download my chapter here, with my compliments. km-chapter-on-yates-and-wodehouse-2015-site-version
* The title is, of course, a daft mistake: But no-one has mentioned it, so I’m going to pretend it’s a deep metaphorical conflation of character and author.