Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Second Hand Clothing in Medieval France

 From Medievalists:

Even when made of coarse fabric and unrefined, clothes were expensive in the Middle Ages. Dresses, stockings and cloaks were mended until they were too damaged to wear. People bought second-hand clothing from retailers and received clothes as bequests. This article sheds light on the circulation of second-hand clothing in the southern French city of Montpellier and its immediate surroundings in the late medieval period, by looking at the sale of used clothing and donations of second-hand clothes.

A dealer of used clothes was a “pelhier” in the local Vernacular (pelherius in vernacularized Latin), and sold pelhas, which the best English translation would probably be “rags,” without any negative connotation. The first statutes regulating the pelhiers’ labour were drafted in 1322 but yield few details about the profession, besides the fact that pelhiers sold “rags, clothes, and other things.” Their statutes were updated in 1351, in the aftermath of the Black Death, giving more information on the workers’ activities. They retailed second-hand raubas sive vestes, “vestments and clothes,” as well as rags (pelhas), house linens, and bedding (mattresses, pillows, and blankets).

At that time, the pelhiers of Montpellier were called pelhiers de Santa Cros, after the district of the Holy Cross where they resided and worked, a district populated by artisans and middle-class workers. Between c. 1410 and c. 1420, a new guild of pelhiers was created, whose workers laboured in the busy streets of St. Guilhem. The guild of St. Guilhem was short lived and was discontinued in the 1420s, maybe because it did not have enough members. In the 1450s, the pelhiers of Santa Cros merged with the guild of the hosiery makers/retailers (caussatiers). From that point onward, dealers of second-hand clothes and hose makers formed a joined guild. This merger may also suggest plummeting or stagnating headcounts in the profession of pelhier.

Indeed, it appears that few people worked in the second-hand clothes retail, or that few people were inclined to say that it was, in fact, their occupation. I only found 30 pelhiers and peliés in fiscal records spanning c. 1380–1480, among the more than 6,100 workers whose occupation was known (0.005%). Most of them lived in the 1380s and early 1400s and resided in the Holy Cross neighborhood. (Read more.)


1 comment:

julygirl said...

I remember my Mother-in-Law removing and switching a frayed collar from the frayed side to the good side on my father-in-laws shirt....and they were not poor, just not wasteful. My mother would re-purpose fabric from one garment and make it into another garment. But these days people give away clothes because they are either tired of them or too fat to fit into them.