Many beliefs focus on new clothes, and there are several times when it was good to wear them for the first time. One was *New Year, on the principle that whatever you did on that day would affect the rest of the year, while others swore by *Easter. If you could not manage new garments, you could at least spruce up the old ones, as Samuel Pepys recorded in his Diary for 30 March 1662: 'Easterday: Having my old black suit new-furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes today - and my boy, his old suit new-trimmed, very handsome.' The third important time for new clothes was *Whitsun: '(Cleveland, Yorkshire) ... on "Whitsunday, if you don't put on at least one brand-new article of dress the birds will be sure to come and "drop" on you ...' (N&Q5s:10 (1878), 287). It was also believed that to wear new clothes first on a Sunday was very good, as they would last twice as long if you did, but it was unlucky to wear them first on a Friday. When someone you knew was wearing new clothes for the first time you should pinch them, for luck, or else greet them with the formula 'Health to wear it, Strength to tear it, And money to buy another' (Wright, 1913: 224).
   The second area of focus was on untoward or unusual things happening: 'I lately heard that apron-strings unfastened mean either "He loves you very much", or as a variation, "Someone is thinking about you" '. So wrote a correspondent to N&Q in 1940 (179: 302). These two related meanings have been given to apron strings suddenly coming untied since at least the mid-19th century, although in the first mention of the phenomenon quoted by Opie and Tatem (from Scotland) it was clearly a bad omen. Other sources mention the garter as the recalcitrant item, but do not agree on its meaning. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was considered unlucky, while in several 19th-century sources it is a sign of the thoughtful sweetheart. But S. O. Addy reports from Yorkshire that 'if a woman loses her garter in the street her lover will be unfaithful to her' (Addy, 1895: 98).
   It is still said to be unwise to mend clothes while wearing them, an idea which has been reported regularly since 1850, often in rhyme (Lean, 1902: ii. 158; Igglesden, c.1932: 174), and how you dress yourself in the morning can be significant: 'If you put a button or hook into the wrong hole while dressing in the morning, some misfortune will occur during the day' (Henderson, 1879: 113). Putting something on inside out has been considered ominous at least since 1340, but opinions have again varied on what it means. In earlier times it was a token of bad luck (Scot, 1584: book 11, chapter 15), but for most the opposite was true as long as you let it be and did not turn the offending article the right way round (Connoisseur, 13 Mar. 1755). In certain circumstances, however, it was definitely advisable to turn some item of clothing inside out. This was a sure way of breaking the spell if you had been *pixy-led or beguiled by the *fairies in some way, and in many calendar customs, such as *guising or *mumming by children, it was standard practice to turn your jacket inside-out in lieu of other costume to wear.
   Another belief, reported from the mid-19th century onwards from various parts of the country (e.g. Leather, 1912: 89; Wright, 1928: 21) was that dead people's clothes, if given away, wore badly and soon deteriorated. Many beliefs focused on particular items of clothing. A notion reported twice early in the 20th century (Hertfordshire in 1914, and Gloucestershire in 1915), maintains that if the hem of a woman's skirt accidentally becomes turned up, she will receive a present or some other form of good luck (Folk-Lore 25 (1914), 372; 26 (1915), 210). On the other hand, if a girl's petticoat or slip is seen to be showing beneath her dress it was a sure sign that her father loved her more than her mother, 'perhaps because it is plain that her mother does not attend so much to her dress as she ought to' (Chambers, 1878: ii. 322). In post-Second World War Britain, there were a number of traditional remarks said about women whose slip was showing, either as a coded message said by a female friend, or shouted derisively by boys: 'S.O.S. (Slip on show)', 'It's snowing in Paris', 'Your washing is hanging out', or the incomprehensible but very widely reported 'Charley's Dead' (see Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (2nd edn., 1985, 47, 175, 383). A woman in Surrey in 1959, however, commented, 'If any of the staff are showing a petticoat they are accused of husband hunting' (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 303).
   See also *shoes; *shoelaces; *dressmaking; *weddings; *washing.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 4-5; Lean, 1903: ii. 28, 158, 220, 226, 236, 328, 452; N&Q 11s:8 (1913), 288-9, 336-7, 377; 11s:9 (1914), 136, 157.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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