Sweet and Clean?: Bodies and Clothes in Early Modern England

ISBN : 9780198856139

Susan North
336 ページ
156 x 234 mm

Sweet and Clean? challenges the widely held beliefs on bathing and cleanliness in the past. For over thirty years, the work of the French historian, George Vigarello, has been hugely influential on early modern European social history, describing an aversion to water and bathing, and the use of linen underwear as the sole cleaning agent for the body. However, these concepts do not apply to early modern England. Sweet and Clean? analyses etiquette and medical literature, revealing repeated recommendations to wash or bathe in order to clean the skin. Clean linen was essential for propriety but advice from medical experts was contradictory. Many doctors were convinced that it prevented the spread of contagious diseases, but others recommended flannel for undergarments, and a few thought changing a fever patient's linens was dangerous. The methodology of material culture helps determine if and how this advice was practiced. Evidence from inventories, household accounts and manuals, and surviving linen garments tracks underwear through its life-cycle of production, making, wearing, laundering, and final recycling. Although the material culture of washing bodies is much sparser, other sources, such as the Old Bailey records, paint a more accurate picture of cleanliness in early modern England than has been previously described. The contrasting analyses of linen and bodies reveal what histories material culture best serves. Finally, what of the diseases-plague, smallpox, and typhus-that cleanliness of body and clothes were thought to prevent? Did following early modern medical advice protect people from these illnesses?


1 Digging the dirt in the pursuit of cleanliness

PART I - Advice

2 Manners and health

3 Clothing and Disease

4 Clean Bodies

PART II - Practice

5 Wearing linens

6 Owning linens

7 Manufacturing linens

8 Sewing linens

9 Washing linen

10 More washing

11 Washing Bodies

12 Conclusion: Sweet and clean



Susan North is the Curator of Fashion, 1550-1800 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has a BA in Art History from Carleton University, Ottawa, an MA in Dress History from the Courtauld Institute, London, and a PhD from Queen Mary, University of London. North worked for the National Gallery of Canada and the National Archives of Canada, before joining the V&A Museum in 1995. She has published articles and book chapters, co-authored several V&A publications relating to early modern dress, as well as co-curating Style and Splendour: Queen Maud of Norway's Wardrobe in 2005 and Splendour of the Tsars in 2008. As a museum curator, North in particularly interested in the material culture of surviving historical clothing, the stories revealed in its materials, methods of construction, and alterations, and how these contribute to broader narratives of early modern history.