Shopping in Kiel (Part 1): ‘Clothes were my own chief care’

In my role as ‘notCarruthers’, I am determined to make sure that we keep our eye on the most important aspects of the adventure: what we’re going to eat, and what we’re going to wear.

On October 2 a lot of shopping takes place, and having already ruined two pairs of white flannels, Carruthers is keen to kit himself with clothes that are more appropriate to the task ahead:

‘I bought a great pair of seaboots of the country, felt-lined and wooden-soled, and both of us got a number of rough woollen garments (as worn by the local fishermen), breeches, jerseys, helmets, gloves; all of a colour chosen to harmonize with paraffin stains and anchor mud.’

During our first attempt at live streaming on Periscope, we were asked if we would be dressing up in full Victorian/Edwardian garb as we cycle and sail our way through Northern Germany in the late autumn (subject to your support). I think it’s unlikely that we’ll be doing this all the time; not least because we have to cover a fair few miles on bikes on some days, and I don’t think it’ll be practical to be wearing tweed jackets or full working sailors’ outfits.

Cromer fishermen of 1900 – is this what we should be wearing? (image via

At the point where we manage to get on boats, I’m also concerned that vintage sailing garb might actually endanger our lives. The sea boots, for example, are quite simply not fit for purpose – get washed overboard and the ‘felt-lined,wooden-soled’ nature of our footwear is likely to be the reason we sink rather than float. Don’t believe me? -Take a look at the photo of a Filey fisherman of the period on the Yorkshire Coast Maritime Archive websiteThe caption reads:

‘A Filey fisherman about 1870, showing typical fishermens garb, including the heavy leather sea-boots that were the cause of many deaths if the fisherman went overboard.’

I imagine the heavy woollen jerseys wouldn’t be exactly buoyant either  – although at least they’d be useful for recognising our fish-nibbled bodies when we washed up on the beach. Apparently, fishermens sweaters of the time would almost certainly have been cable-knit with very particular patterns and motifs, and might even have had the wearer’s initials knitted in.

I’ve heard stories in the past about Aran sweaters being packed with bespoke patterns to the point that each jumper is unique to the wearer. Wikipedia debunks this myth thoroughly, but does note that it’s in the age of Carruthers that this idea first gripped the imagination. In the 1904 play ‘Riders to the Sea‘ by J M Synge, a dead Islander is identified by the hand-knitted stitches on one of his garments. As two fellow Anglo-Irish gents who spent time in Germany, Synge and Childers must surely have known each other.

There is another kind of ‘jersey’ of German origin, by the way, that I think Carruthers would definitely have been interested in: Dr Jãger’s knitted underwear.

Woollens that Carruthers might like. Image via

It was the Germans who started a craze in the late 18th century for woollen undergarments, followed by woollen sportswear. Considered both hygienic and therapeutic, Jäger’s woolwear became the very thing, following the publication of the good doctor’s seminal work: ‘Standardized Apparel For Health Protection’ (1880).  

Jägerwear was popular with both arty stay-at-home aesthetes like Oscar Wilde and Bernard-Shaw, and also macho adventurers like Stanley during his search for Livingstone and Shackleton in the Arctic. Jäger’s most famous disciple was the Arctic explorer Nansen who liked to dress in German jersey from top to toe, and styled his woollen jacket so distinctively that still today we talk about ‘Nansen jackets’.

Nansen in a jersey 1903. Image via

(I found another Arctic explorer btw called Jackson – the man who found the missing Nansen in 1897 – who also made his own jacket out of a Jäger blanket. There’s a photo of it on the Scott Polar Research Institute website in a post entitled ‘Men who sew’.)

What I’m really getting at, I suppose, is that I’ve found a good excuse not to worry too much about wearing authentic old mud-coloured woollens, helmets and gloves on this trip, and instead  sport stylish Jaeger outerwear. I think Carruthers would approve.

Modern-day Carruthers in Jaeger outerwear


An excellent potted history of knitwear here:

Lovely stuff about the Nansen jacket (in Norwegian):

Massive props to Club member Kevin Butler who has been supplying us via email with *loads* of information about clothing. Here’s just a few snippets below. We probably need to do a separate post to do full justice to Kevin’s research:

On Sweaters

Just come across the below at:….. fascinating stuff on the individual village patterns:

‘Visser Truien’ (Dutch) by Stella Ruhe, translation in English is Fishermen Sweaters. The book describes all the different sweaters from 40 old fisher villages in Holland. Back in the days every village had their own sweater with their own pattern on it. The women made these while the men were on sea. You could recognize the home village of every fisherman with his sweater. 

On Flannels

Question – were/are cricketing & boating flannels interchangeable? Either way, you must surely each pack at least one pair for the adventure itself. Due to my wife’s interest in clothing history we do have a mini library on clothing through the ages, mostly female, and if male mostly formal, but there are several things of interest about men’s clothing of the period. One frequent comment was that men’s fashion changed slowly, so i have gone back as far as 1880’s to try & get a feel for things.
Iris Brookes “The History of English Costume” has a brief section…
”New interests in sports, such as tennis and bicycling, tended to make the men’s clothes even more informal than previously, and during the 80’s we even see the knitted ‘pull-over’, and knee-breeches frequently adopted in preference to trousers. The trousers had been the only shape of nether garment worn by men for 80 years. but now (after 1889) for all sporting events the Norfolk jacket and knee breeches take the board. The Norfolk jacket was in every way an entirely new idea, no belted coats having been worn since the time of William and Mary. And the increasing use of tweeds for men’s clothes became an established medium about the same date, when previously it had been looked upon in rather the light of an eccentricity than a rule.”
On Hats, Jackets, Shirts…
In ‘A Dictionary of English Costume’ by C Williet Cunnington, Phillis Cunnington & Charles Beard, there are various entries of interest:
-Alpine Hat -1890’s- a soft felt hat with low round crown slightly depressed circularly
Alpine Jacket -1876 – an ‘improved’ form of Norfolk jacket…double breasted with pleat down the centre of the back….worn fastened up to the neck
-Aquatic Shirt – 1830’ onwards – early form of “sports” shirt for boating; also for country and seaside wear. Of cotton in coloured stripes or checks or in whole colours(red, blue, green). decorated with sporting designs popular with the class known as ‘the Gent’. it developed into the coloured shirt and by 1894 had become ‘perfectly good form even with frock coats’ provided the collar was white’ solid colours are barred; neat stripes in pink and blue are favourites’.
-Bendigo -19th century – a rough fur cap worn by the working classes (wrong class i know, but seems the most practical all the bits of headgear around at the time for being out off the coast of norther europe in October)
-Blazer – -1890- originally scarlet jacket worn with cricketing or boating costume
-Box Bottoms – 19th century- the close-fitting extensions of breeches fastened below the knees and there stiffened with lining
-Cake Hat -1890’s – a soft felt hat with a low round crown slightly depressed circularly; similar to the Alpine hat
And so it goes on. Thank you, Kevin. With your help, I think we’re going to end up with a find set of togs for the Adventure.

8 thoughts on “Shopping in Kiel (Part 1): ‘Clothes were my own chief care’

  1. The figure on the right with his hands on his hips, back to the camera, is Erskine Childers in Howth, Dublin, July 1914. He’s wearing his storm gear as he has literally stepped off his yacht Asgard, as rifles are being unloaded.

    Here is the same moment from Howth, different camera. Erskine in the same storm gear again , furthest right, in profile.

    Onboard yacht ‘ Vixen ‘ ( aka Dulcibella ), and all his other yachts afterwards; was his personal library of seafaring books. A bible to him and the Royal Cruising Club which he belonged, was Biddle’s ‘ Corinthian Yachtsman ‘ 1881. His personal copy of it; although battered considerably, is still in family possession. Alongside his copy of EF Knight’s ‘ Falcon In The Baltic ‘.

    In the back of the Corinthian book, from Pg. 126 onwards in the PDF version, you will notice adverts of a certain shop at ‘ 136 Minories ‘ that should answer all your questions as to….said shops in the ‘ Minories ‘. It really did exist!


    1. Crikey. This is excellent stuff. The storm gear is snazzy. And the Corinthian book ads are fantastic. Who knew you could buy a whole *yacht* in the Minories?! And interesting to note that there were still boat builders in Lambeth at the time.


  2. JM Synge was a close friend of Erskine’s cousin’s family the Barton’s, in Annamoe, Wicklow. The Synge family were literally neighbors there. Erskine & Molly Childers knew Synge well.


    1. Excellent! My hunch was correct. I doubt they spent much time discussing Aran jumpers, mind. Although Synge lived on Aran for a while… And I guess there may have been talk of sailing kit.

      I was most surprised that Synge had spent so much time in Germany.

      btw we have Synge’s great grand nephew as a Club member. Ahoy Ian!


  3. re: the myth of seaboots dragging you down.
    Thanks to Archimedes, most footwear eg wellies, seaboots, weigh very little in water. I tried this on a sea survival course in full foul weather gear and (modern) sea boots. The only difficulty is in pulling youself back on board with wellies full of water. The trick is to flex your legs to bring your heels up to your backside so as to empty the boots as you climb out of the water..
    But the boots do not drag you down, especially with wooden soles.


    1. Tony – good to do a bit of myth-busting about this. I guess the museum people I quoted must have some reason for bad-mouthing sea-boots. I’ll mail them.

      I also found this little snippet advising that you should take off your boots asap if you go overboard – and possibly use them as buoyancy aids:

      I guess that old sea-boots may have had a fair bit of metal in them in terms of pegs or nails so would have been heavier. And maybe they didn’t drain so easily? Just a thought. Certainly bowing to your experience. I have yet to do a sea survival course. I’m worried I wouldn’t survive. 😉

      Tim (NotCarruthers)


      1. With reference to fishermen and drowning, in my part of the world, much of that may have had to do with the fact that most of the men could not swim – though I have nothing to back that up with apart from implied understanding from descendants passed on to ethnologists etc.

        And as for their ganzies, I think in most parts that if there was a pattern knitted in, then it was peculiar to a specific town or area.


      2. I love that word ‘ganzies’, Kaye. I’m still going to be on the look our for a ‘Kiel’ sweater, if there is such a thing.


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