Today on Project Gutenberg #10

Today on Project Gutenberg we have…

The Copeland Method by Vanness Copeland

This is a departure from the books we’ve looked at before in that it’s not fiction or a complex educational text. Instead it deals with practical skills and their application. Published in 1908, its full title is The Copeland Method: A Complete Manual for Cleaning, Repairing, Altering or Pressing all kinds of Garments for Men and Women, at home or for business. I haven’t been able to find any information on the author of this text, other than that their first name really is spelled like that. I briefly wondered if it was some sort of employee handbook for a larger company, but instead it’s a DIY manual aimed at people who are washing and tailoring their own clothes or those who are setting up their own washing/tailoring business.

The introduction states that Copeland’s aim is to give all the information needed “in a concise form,” and the book is nothing if not concise. It’s only 56 pages long, and the writing style is the sort of terse straightforwardness we expect from instruction manuals. Here, for example, is the method given for how to wash black woolen dresses:

Have the dress ripped apart, brushed, and all dust and dirt removed from the seams, also all the old stitches. Pour four gallons of water in a pail or basin, adding four ounces of ammonia. Dip each piece of the garment into the liquid, and swash up and down, and squeeze as dry as possible, then hang over a pole, and when almost dry, iron from the wrong side until dry, with an iron not too hot.

Woolen dresses, that are much soiled, may be washed in soap and water, and rinsed out before dipping in the ammonia water, which will improve the color to a great extent.

Any material, such as worsted, and wool garments should be sponged with ammonia and water.

When cleaning with gasolene, benzine or naptha, to remove the odor, the article should be placed as near a steam radiator as possible, or in a drying room heated by steam or otherwise, this removes the odor, the steam heat dries out whatever of the fluid may have remained in the material, and does so without the danger of explosion which makes it impossible to dry a garment cleaned with the above near a lighted stove, lamp, candle or gas.

pages 10-11

There’s a chapter about cleaning (along with recipes for various cleaning formulas, none of which are probably safe to use by today’s standards), as well as chapters on making repairs, altering garments and pressing them. There are also notes on the best material to use for the repairs and alterations described, as well as estimates on how much money each process will cost. That’s all well and good, especially if you work with older garments or are looking for primary sources on daily life in the Edwardian era. But where things really get interesting are the sections on how you yourself should dress well and what to wear in different situations.

“Frequently the dress of an individual is that circumstance from which you first form your opinion,” Copeland writes. Therefore it’s essential to seek out high-quality cloth for your wardrobe and be aware of proper dressing etiquette. What follows are several extensive lists for different genders and age groups on what articles of clothing are proper in which social contexts. And there are a lot of social contexts:

Evening Dress:—For all formal events after six o’clock, balls, formal dinners, opera and theater, receptions and weddings.
Overcoat—Chesterfield, Inverness, or Skirted.
Coat—Evening dress coat.
Waistcoat—White or black, single or double breasted. Ribbed silk, or flowered patterns of satin and silk.
Trousers—To match coat, outside seam trimmed with silk braid, fitting a trifle closer over the hips than for ordinary wear, medium width knees and bottoms.
Shirts and Cuffs—Plain white, ruffled or plaited bosoms, corded stripes, attached cuffs, domestic finish.
Collars—Standing, Poke or lap front.
Neckwear—White corded stripe or lawn, string with broad round ends.
Gloves—White or Pearl, Grey glace, one button, self-stitched.
Jewelry—Plain or Moonstone studs, and links.
Hat—Silk, cloth band or opera for theater.
Shoes—Varnished calfskin or patent leather button tops or patent leather ties for balls.
Style—Peaked broad lapels, rolling to waist with two buttons on each side, natural shoulders, chesty effect.
Material—Undressed worsted, English twill or shadow-stripe, in black or dark blue.

Informal:—Evening dress, for all informal occasions, club, stag, and at home dinners, theaters and informal dinners.
Coat—Evening jacket, Tuxedo.
Waist coat—To match coat, dove grey; black corded silk for winter, white for summer, single or double breasted, opening cut “V” shaped.
Trousers—To match coat.
Shirts—Plaited, or may be of soft or negligee style. Attached cuffs, domestic finish.
Collars—High band, fold or wing.
Neckwear—String, fancy figured, black or grey ground with black figures, or to match material in waist coat, knot drawn tight, and wide ends.
Gloves—Grey, Suede, or tan.
Jewelry—To match buttons of waist coat, dull chased gold stud, links, watch fob and seal.
Hat—Soft or derby.
Shoes—Patent or enamel leather, button tops, or ties.
Style—Chesty effect, shoulders trifle wider than natural, shawl collar or peaked lapels rolling low and fronts well cut away below bottom button.
Material—Plain or striped unfinished worsted, black, dark, blue or Oxford.

Seashore and Lounging Dress:—For summer wear only.
Coat—Norfolk or lounge coat.
Belt—Pig or monkey skin.
Trousers—To match coat or fancy stripe flannel.
Shirts—Colored negligee, cuffs attached, Madras or Oxford.
Collar—Fold collar.
Neckwear—Four-in-hand, or soft silk tie.
Jewelry—Scarfpin, gold links, stud buttons.
Hats—Straw, Alpine or golf cap.
Shoes—Low shoes of calfskin.
Style—Norfolk coat, skeleton lined, single or double breasted sack.
Material—Tropical worsted or Tweed, flannel Shetland or homespun. Brown, grey and mixtures.

Driving or Motoring Dress:
Overcoat—Burberry of wax waterproof cloth, or duster of linen or rubber silk.
Coat—Norfolk or double breasted sack.
Waist Coat—Matching coat, flannel or fancy knit.
Trousers—Knickerbockers or trousers of flannel, Tweed or homespun, matching coat; breeches and leggings for motoring.
Shirts—Fancy flannel. Cheviot or Madras sweater, soft.
Collar—Soft fold self-collar or stock.
Neckwear—Stock or tie.
Gloves—Tan or chamois, soft cape gauntlets, tan or black for the motor car.
Jewelry—Links, scarfpin and watch guard.
Hat—Soft felt or cap, French chauffeur cap with leather visor for motoring.
Shoes—Calfskin or russet with leggins for automobiling.
Style—Semi-Norfolk jacket of wax (waterproof) cloth.
Material—Tweed, flannel or homespun, Oxford, grey or tan.

pages 48-49, 51, 52

And here’s an excerpt from what’s appropriate for the ladies:

Formal dress, for all occasions after six o’clock—weddings, receptions, formal dinners, theater and balls, high neck, long skirt, hat, coat, and gloves, and evening slippers.
For morning and afternoon wear, the tailor made suit with short skirt; for afternoon, the long skirt, hat, high dress walking boot, patent leather, lace or button with cloth tops.
For outing wear, the coat sweater for skating, golfing, and hockey.
For misses’ and children’s dresses made of the same material, short skirts; the coats may cover the dress, or may be three-quarters or seven-eighths long, may be single or double breasted, to button high around the neck or roll low.
For house wear, the plain tailored shirt waist suit in becoming colors are good form.

page 52

As you can see, there’s a lot of detail here that would be useful for historical fiction/nonfiction research or reenactment purposes. If you’re the kind of person who designs historical outfits as a hobby or job, something like this would probably come in handy as a source for putting together an Edwardian outfit.

This is a pretty neat book! While its practical applications might not be relevant to most of us now thanks to modern technology, it still has value as a window to the past on a ground-level perspective, showing us how ordinary folks handled an important part of daily life. To be honest, I think books like this are the coolest ones you can find on PG. Classic novels are nice, but you’d be hard-pressed to find such an unusual and fascinating book anywhere else.

And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg. See you next time!

— Dana

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