Friday, 20 November 2015

Elizabethan 'Tire Makers' and Shakespeare

Apart from loving the history of fashion, I am also a great history buff generally; all the books I read are either historical fact or historical fiction.

A few months ago I read "The Lodger: Shakepseare on Silver Street" by Charles Nicholl:-

The narrative is concerned with a brief time in Shakespeare's life in the early 1600s, when he was lodging with a family, the 'Mountjoys'. He ends up becoming embroiled in a family dispute with his landlord's family, concerning non-payment of a dowry, which goes to court, and so we have a record of him and his time with the family. But it is with the family, and their occupation as 'tire maker's' or 'attyre-makers' which is really interesting to me as a lover of historical dress. What were these headdresses that the fashionable women of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were clamouring for?

Lucy Harrington in masque costume designed by Inigo Jones 1606, sporting fabulous 'head-tire'.

Christopher Mountjoy (the head of the family) was a French immigrant or refugee. He is a
'tiremaker' - a maker of the decorative headwear for ladies known generically as 'head-tires' or 'attires.'

He most likely hailed from the region of Picardie, known for its textile industry, coming over sometime in the late 1570s or very early 1580s. His family were Huguenots, and so his coming to England possibly meant that they were escaping the persecutions (and downright bloody butcherings) of a Catholic France. {As a side note, I come from Huguenot stock}. He worked under a tailor in London at first, as an assistant. He was married at this point, so his apprenticeship, whether he served his time as one in France or England, must have been completed.

In the 1590s Christopher is recorded as having his daughter and wife working in the tire business, and as having 3 apprentices.  

The Mountjoy establishment...served the family both as work-place and dwelling place. The ground floor would have contained a workshop, where the  Mountjoy 'tires' were made, and probably also a shop in the retailing sense, where customers came for viewings and fittings.

Charles Nicholl explains the tire-making trade as
The creation of a head-tire involved various craft skills, among them silk twisting, threadmaking, wire-drawing and embroidery. It also involved wigmaking.

As Nicholl explains, and it is easy to see from the list of crafts above, that tire-making was a specialist profession.
...their specialist skills were increasingly in demand, as head-tiring became more fashionable, elaborate and expensive in the 1590s and 1600s.
Tiremaking is a nebulous sort of craft, because the 'tire' itself comes in many shapes and styles, and with many combinations of materials and effects. It is a creation more than a garment.

And by 1604 his trade reached its pinnacle; in Queen Anne's accounts a record can be seen of the purchase of a Mountjoy tire.

Another wonderful piece of primary evidence of Mountjoy's profession comes in the form of a letter written from a gentleman, Philip Gawdy, writing in a letter of 1593, in which he writes about doing some shopping for his siter in-law, Anne:-
"...her fann with the handle...a vardingale of the best fashion, her gold thread, her heare-call (hair caul), her pumpes, and in short there wanteth no thing she spake for but only a thing I should have had of Mr Munjoye, but he fayled me very wrongfully according to his promyse; but it is coming"
It sounds to me as if his business practices could do with a little work.

Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria by Rubens - 1606 - with a pretty impressive 'tire'

So what were the materials used in these creations? Human hair was often used, so tire-makers also needed to be wig makers.
In randall Cotgrave's French Dictionary of 1611, the skills are synonymous: he defines perruquiere as a 'woman who makes perriwigs or attires.'
The fashion of the day meant that blonde wigs were more highly regarded than brown or red hair.

Elizabeth I 'Ermine' portrait 1585Attributed to Nicolas Hilliard 

networke - a gauzy threaded material used in head-tires
mercer - cloth/textiles trader
cordwainer - leather worker
curriers - currid or dribbled leather

Names for tire-maker:-

Spellings of 'Attire' (or 'dressing' for the hair') maker (any adornment of the head not actually a hat or hood):-
Attires in the plural was also used in the broader sense of attire- garments, costumes etc which is why the dressing room of an Elizabethan theatre was called the 'tiring-house', and the man in charge of it the 'tire-man'.  

Nicholl states that this particular fashion evolved from its beginnings as part of the costume of the 'cours de ballet' of the Valois court. 

So what did these items of adorment for the hair consist of? 
 The full blown tire was an assemblage rising up sime inches above the head, based on a framework of silver of gilt wire, embroidered with silk and lace and gauze and gold thread, decorated with pearls, gems and spangles (sequins), and often topped off with a feather or two.

It was a sumptuous and expensive item. I should think that it must have been extremely costly.

Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger c.1592

Charles Nicholl has written an entire chapter about these head-tires in his book. I would certainly recommend the book for all lovers of the Elizabethan period. It is a very enjoyable read. Fascinating insights, and I am so grateful to him for looking into this little known costume article.

Queen Anne of Denmark Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger c.1605-10

 Naomi x