sock of the week no.2

Welcome to sock of the week! This week’s socks, or rather stockings, are sported by Lord and Lady Clapham. But this handsome and well-dressed seventeenth-century couple are not humans, but dolls.

Lord Clapham
Lady Clapham

Lord and Lady Clapham currently reside in the V&A museum, and are thought to have once belonged to the Cockerell family, who were relatives of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepys. The pristine condition of these dolls and their elaborate outfits (which include examples of both formal and informal dress from the turn of the eighteenth century) suggests that they were not routinely played with by children, but were rather costume dolls, whose carefully-made and highly detailed attire was enjoyed by older members of the family. Their Clapham moniker is a nod to the London location of the family home.

Lady Clapham, in her shift

The dolls are of particular interest to historians because so very few intact examples of undergarments – such as stockings and shifts – are preserved in museum collections from this period. Every element and every detail of their dress remains intact – including accessories like gloves, garters, tiny shoes, and stock (a sort of neckerchief or scarf) – providing invaluable examples of how such items were once worn, and how early eighteenth-century outfits might be put together as an ensemble.

Lord Clapham wearing his stock

We, of course, are interested in Lord and Lady Clapham’s stockings

Lord Clapham’s stockings

Both pairs have been carefully fashioned from tiny (seamed) pieces of frame-knit silk.

Lady Clapham’s stockings

. . . and both pairs are decorated – just as full-sized stockings would have been – with decorative inserts (known as clocks) worked at the ankles. Clocks accommodated the stockings’ heel shaping and, as we’ll see in future posts in this series, were often very elaborate and incredibly beautiful. Lord and Lady Clapham’s stocking clocks are worked in red silk thread.

Lord Clapham’s clocks

The only real points of difference in the couple’s stockings is their length (Lord Clapham’s accommodating his longer legs, and being secured at mid-thigh well above his breeches) and fastenings (Lady Clapham wears garters of pink silk tabby ribbon, while Lord Clapham sports more workaday plain ties)

Lady Clapham’s stocking, and ribbon garter

The similarity of Lord and Lady Clapham’s tiny stockings squares with what we know about adult-sized stockings in this period: there tended not to be much difference between what women and men wore beneath their garments to clothe their legs and feet. So while museum collections might now identify a surviving pair of stockings as “men’s” or “women’s”, in reality much the same styles were worn by both genders. One might argue that the state and decoration of one’s stockings played a much more important role in masculine dress, because women’s legs were always hidden while those of men were routinely on show beneath their breeches.

Joshua Reynolds, Admiral Augustus Keppel (1752-3). National Maritime Museum. Keppel stands in the classical and commanding pose of the Apollo Belvedere before a turbulent seascape, and sports pristine white stockings of frame-knit silk (whose slight stripes result from shifts in the fabric’s knit/purl texture).

Lord and Lady Clapham possess outfits that are complete and perfect miniatures of those that would have been sported by well-dressed members of the early eighteenth-century British elite. Everything Lady Clapham wears – from her skirt and mantua of fine Chinese silk to her teeny tiny high-heeled shoes – would have been incredibly expensive.

And while we often think of socks or stockings as “ordinary” or “humble”, the costly threads, elaborate decoration, and frame-knit construction of Lord and Lady Clapham’s stockings, makes them elite accessories too.

Lord Clapham’s silk stocking

We’ll look at other, perhaps more “humble” eighteenth-century stockings – those knitted by hand rather than by frame and from wool, rather than silk – later in this series.

All images in this post ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.