September 7

As a historian specializing in the late-medieval and early-modern periods, and particularly the celebration of Christmas, I run across a myriad of superstitions collected by folklorists for centuries. Today I offer a selection of clothing-related beliefs from England:

It is lucky to put on any article of dress, particularly stockings, inside out: but if you wish the omen to hold good, you must continue to wear the reversed portion of your attire in that condition, till the regular time comes for putting it off—that is, either bedtime or ‘cleaning yourself.’ If you set it right, you will ‘change the luck.’ It will be of no use to put on anything with the wrong side out on purpose.

It is worthy of remark, in connection with this superstition, that when William the Conqueror, in arming himself for the battle of Hastings, happened to put on his shirt of mail with the hind-side before, the bystanders seem to have been shocked by it, as by an ill omen, till William claimed it as a good one, betokening that he was to be changed from a duke to a king. The phenomenon of the  hind-side before’ is so closely related to that of ‘inside out,’ that one can hardly understand their being taken for contrary omens.

The clothes of the dead will never wear long – When a person dies, and his or her clothes are given away to the poor, it is frequently remarked: Ah, they may look very well, but they won’t wear; they belong to the dead.’

If a mother gives away all the baby’s clothes she has (or the cradle), she will be sure to have another baby, though she may have thought herself above such vanities.

If a girl’s petticoats are longer than her frock, that is a sign that her father loves her better than her mother does—perhaps because it is plain that her mother does not attend so much to her dress as she ought to do, whereas her father may love her as much as you please, and at the same time be very ignorant or unobservant of the rights and wrongs of female attire.

While upon the subject of clothes, I may mention a ludicrous Suffolk phrase descriptive of a person not quite so sharp as he might be: he is spoken of as ‘short of buttons,’ being, I suppose, considered an unfinished article.

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