The Footman’s Livery

Alyssa Myers

Footmen were the only servants of the house who had a strict uniform in the form of livery and were therefore the most visually defined servant in English country houses. The footman’s high visibility and active role at dinner required tasteful (and often quite expensive) livery that reflected the status of the family. Dress livery would include knee-length breeches and a long knee-length coat, worn open to show the waistcoat. The outer coat would typically be two-toned, with one solid and often bright colour on the outside and a contrasting colour for the lining; the collar and cuffs might be a different colour again. Both coats and waistcoats were often ornamented with lace and gold or silver buttons, threads and trimmings. These were continued across the back of coats so that livery looked equally opulent from behind.

Carington Bowles, Master Parson with a Good Living (1782). Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

The footmen’s livery tended to be in direct opposition to the fashion of the times. By the end of the eighteenth century, lace was incredibly outmoded and yet the footmen’s livery would include more and more lace. Moreover, they continued to wear powdered wigs long after these ceased to be fashionable among their genteel employers. These antiquated accoutrements and accents ensured that footmen were a site of sartorial display yet easily recognizable: they would blend with their fellow footmen and be readily distinguishable from their employers.

Livery took away the footman’s individuality in exchange for aesthetic conformity. The recognisable luxury present in their livery was therefore an intentional representation of footmen as ‘things’. Through their visual appearance, footmen were just as much a part of the artifice and decoration as the table display. Their physical characteristics were chosen for ultimate unity in appearance. Combined with their wigs, they could be near identical mirrors of each other in the dining room, especially in dim candlelight. Their appearance was curated in the same way that the room was designed, and the table was laid out.

Further reading

  • Hill, Bridget, Servants: English Domestics in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).
  • Knox, Tim ‘Enter a Footman in Plush Breeches,’ Country Life (Archive: 1901-2005), Mar 05, 1998, pp. 50-53.
  • Maxwell, Christopher, In Sparkling Company: Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World (Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 2020).
  • Stobart, Jon, and Mark Rothery, Consumption and the Country House (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  • Styles, Jon, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).