Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/60

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

Boots.—One of the most perfect rudiments is presented by top-boots. These boots were originally meant to come above the knee; and, as may be observed in old pictures, it became customary to turn the upper part down, so that the lining was visible all round the top. The lining being of unblacked leather, formed the brown top which is now worn. The original boot-tag may be observed in the form of a mere wisp of leather sewn fast to the top, while the real acting tag is sewn to the inside of the boot. The back of the top is also fastened up, so that it could not by any ingenuity be turned up again into its original position.

Again, why do we black and polish our boots? The key is found in the French cirage, or blacking. We black our boots because brown leather would, with wet and use, naturally get discolored with dark patches, and thus boots to look well should be colored black. Now, shooting-boots are usually greased, and that it was formerly customary to treat ordinary boots in the same manner is shown by the following verse in the ballad of "Argentile and Curan:"

"He borrowed on the working daies

His holy russets oft,
And of the bacon's fat to make
His startops black and soft."

Startops were a kind of rustic high shoes. Fairholt in his work states that "the oldest kind of blacking for boots and shoes appears to have been a thick, viscid, oily substance." But for neat boots a cleaner substance than grease would be required, and thus wax would be thought of; and that this was the case is shown by the French word cirer, which means indifferently to "wax" or to "polish boots." Boots are of course polished because wax takes so good a polish. Lastly, patent-leather is an imitation of common blacking.

I have now gone through the principal articles of men's clothing, and have shown how numerous and curious are the rudiments or "survivals," as Mr. Tylor calls them; a more thorough search proves the existence of many more. For instance, the various gowns worn at the universities and elsewhere, afford examples. These gowns were, as late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, simply upper garments,[1] but have survived into this age as mere badges. Their chief peculiarities consist in the sleeves, and it is curious that nearly all of such peculiarities point to various devices by which the wearing of the sleeves has been eluded or rendered less burdensome. Thus the plaits and buttons in a barrister's gown, and the slit in front of the sleeve of the B.A.'s gown, are for this purpose. In an M.A.'s gown the sleeves extend below the knees, but there is a hole in the side through which the arm is passed; the end of the sleeve is sewed up, but there is a kind of scallop at the lower part, which represents the narrowing for the

  1. See figures, pp. 254, 311, Fairholt.