Mobilising Clothes at Sea: Naval Dress Culture and Economy during the French Wars, 1793-1815

  • Author / Creator
    Walker, Meaghan
  • During the British involvement in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815, the Royal Navy contracted for, inspected, and distributed clothing to naval warships in British ports and abroad. This dissertation examines the Admiralty in-letters stored at the British National Archives, Kew, and the Caird Library, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, to understand how this system worked both practically as a system of production and distribution, but also rhetorically, as an important aspect of the power between administrators, commanders and crew. The Royal Navy concurrently provided clothing on three different models. Officers wore loosely regulated uniforms that they personally paid for and sourced. Sailors wore slop clothes, mass-produced clothing purchased from private contractors in bulk. Finally, the marines were dressed in a combination of the two. They wore slops when they performed seafaring labour and during leisure time but wore more strictly regulated uniforms that were reminiscent of those from the army when policing sailors. Naval commanders both interfered with the uniforms of the marines, whose red coats visually challenged naval authority, and advocated for sailors’ slop clothing to solidify their own paternal mastery of their vessels. The navy was a large bureaucratic and technological body beyond its primary military function, and clothing reveals how much time commanders spent on tedious paperwork and supply issues between moments of heightened military action. Further, the proximity of naval ships to British ports diminished the authority of commanders, exposing confrontations between military personnel and civilians. The period of conflict between 1793 and 1815 marks the decline of early modern forms of individual commander care and clothing provision in many respects but the true break was yet to come with the adoption of steam technology.

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  • Graduation date
    Fall 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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