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Sophia has posted one annotation/comment since 17 January 2024.


Third Reading

About Wednesday 16 January 1660/61

Sophia  •  Link

Thank you Michaela and SanDiegoSarah for bringing up Ruth Goodman's research into this forum. I think that in recent dress history discourse there has been a lot of mythbusting about the idea that in the past everyone just went around in dirty clothes stinking to high heaven, but I'm not sure if it's filtered into the general knowledge yet.

There are simple explanations as to why Pepys doesn't mention luggage or changing his body linens, and it's not just 'He didn't ever change his clothes'. Travel preparations such as packing and carrying luggage were the responsibility of a servant. And I certainly wouldn't think to write in my dairy that I had changed my underwear, even though I do it every day. The diary is known for Pepys' extreme honesty--since he will discuss his bathroom habits, etc, we think that we are getting every detail. But he doesn't actually mention every time he goes to the toilet, only those occasions when it's noteworthy.

Even though he hasn't directly mentioned his dress hygiene habits yet, there have been several other indications in the diary of the importance of care and hygiene in clothing. Consider the enormous sums he spends and the pride with which he describes the clothing in fine materials he has bought since coming up in the world.

Consider the great trouble and time spent on the grueling wash day. If they didn't care about bodily hygiene as many here have suggested, what are they washing if not bed linens and body linens (underwear)? Textiles and doing laundry were both time consuming and expensive, but household accounts indicate that people would invest in making it possible to change their linen base layer as often as they could, ideally every day.

Consider Pepys' dismay at his wife's perceived slovenliness, which to me is a clear indication of both personal and cultural sensibilities which place a high moral value on cleanliness and neatness. These people had noses just like ours. They believed that bad smells caused disease. The means by which they pursued hygiene may be different from our modern habits, but they absolutely did not wear the same underwear continually until it fell apart!

And no, they did not take baths. Just you try filling a person-sized tub full of hot water, one kettleful at a time. However, it is entirely possible to thoroughly bathe out of a basin and pitcher. It's a sad indictment of the modern person's imagination when we assume that our ancestors didn't clean themselves at all just because they didn't have the technology to clean themselves exactly as we do.