Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Old Clo!

OLD CLO!

The secondhand clothes trade was of considerable fascination to many of the 'social investigators' who documented London low-life. There were the secondhand clothes-sellers who padded the streets, with the cry of 'old clo!' and the shops and streets devoted to clothing of differing degrees of secondhanded-ness. One reason for this writerly fascination was the social significance of secondhand clothing. In the gradual decline of a piece of clothing from bran new to second-hand, to decrepit, there was a nice parallel for social decline - what clothes you wore marked your position in Society - and writers could summon forth images of the former owners of the clothes, in their different conditions in life, and their increasing social degradation. Dickens covers Monmouth Street in Sketches by Boz and others followed suit (as it were). One of these was James Grant in Lights and Shadows of London Life, who, amongst other things, documents the decline in fortune of 'a very intelligent surtout' in, ahem, its own words. More of Mr. Grant's book will follow in the next week or two.

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