Dress - Dressing tub

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Dress - Dressing tub', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/dress-dressing-tub [accessed 23 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Dress - Dressing tub", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/dress-dressing-tub.

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Dress - Dressing tub", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 23 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/dress-dressing-tub.

In this section


[dresse; dresse]

Personal attire or APPAREL. The term was originally applied to that proper to a special rank or to some ceremony or function. By the early-modern period, and in the Dictionary Archive, it was more commonly applied to external clothing, especially that serving mainly for decoration, hence advertisements like 'every ornament for ladies dresses' [Newspapers (1790)], and 'Fur Dresses for the Winter are arrived from London, consisting of the most fashionable Muffs, Fur Trimmings and Tippets' [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1606

Somewhat later 'dress' became an alternative name for a GOWN, particularly that intended to adorn, rather than merely to cover, the female body, hence its use in fashionable circles, and in advertisements like 'Dress Makers & Milliners to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester' [Tradecards (18c.)]. A distinction was sometimes made between dress suitable for appearance in public, called 'full dress', and that for use in the home, as in 'Caps for a full Dress, and for a Negligee Dress, and likewise to put under the Hat for all Ages and Sizes' [Newspapers (1760)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1638

Found described as for BOYs, CHILDREN, LADIES, ROBE

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.

Dress bag

The OED gives no definition, but the quotation there dated 1865 for a 'dressing bag' is ambiguous. In the Dictionary Archive the contexts of the few examples show a 'dress bag' in the eighteenth century was for use in dressing the hair, and in this sense it appears neither in the OED nor in Cox's 'Dictionary of Hair dressing', but Ribiero, quoting Johnson, describes a 'bag' as 'an ornamental purse tied to men's hair'. This was used to carry the pigtail of natural hair or that of a BAG WIG [Ribiero (1983)]. One example in the Dictionary Archive, 'ornamental Hair of all Sorts, Gentleman's Dress Bags' suggests a man's hair style was involved as illustrated by Ribiero [Newspapers (1780)]. In another, 'Silk Cushions Dress Bags and Rosets' [Tradecards (1790s)], the bag was associated with what was called elsewhere a DRESS CUSHION; an article normally associated with female attire.

Not found any relevant sense in the OED

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Ribiero (1983).

Dress cushion

A small CUSHION or pad over which the hair was dressed [Cox (1966, pb 1969)]. Ribiero has several illustrations of hair piled up over some sort of padding, which the cushion would provide [Ribiero (1983)]. The 'Silk Cushions' along with 'Dress Bags and Rosets' advertised in the 1790s were probably dress cushions [Tradecards (1790s)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Cox (1966, pb 1989), Ribiero (1983).


[drest; dressyd; dress'd]

Generally 'dressed' meant already prepared for use, and as such it was sometimes contrasted with UNDRESSED as in 'The ffirr polles dressed & undressed' [Inventories (1622)], 'white silk hose dressed and undressed' [Newspapers (1790)], and 'in sheres drest & undrest' [Inventories (1546)]. Although not found as such in the Dictionary Archive, 'dressed' was applied to food when it had been cooked and then prepared for the table, although in a recipe for 'Royal March-panes' the writer added the instruction 'to adorn while you are dressing them, put upon the void Spaces of these Rings a small round Pellet of some Paste, or a small Grain of some Fruit, such as Rasberry, Cherry, or the like' [Recipes (Nott)].

It was used, though not very often, as a descriptor for TEXTILEs as in 'Silks, Stuffs and Calicoes dyed, dressed and glazed' [Newspapers (1708)]. In this example it seemed to have been included to cover any sort of finishing not covered by 'dyed' and 'glazed', though this may well not be true of other examples. Although 'dressed' can mean 'with clothes on' as opposed to 'naked' as in DRESSED BABY [Tradecards (1794)], typically it was used to distinguish forma from informal wear [Newspapers (1751)].

The term was most commonly applied to SKINs and HIDEs when they was the opposite of DRIED, GREEN, HALF DRESSED, IN THE HAIR, UNDRESSED or WET. It could thus mean treated with SALT, ALUM and SALTPETRE to prevent putrifaction or with the hair or wool removed preparatory to tanning. Occasionally it was synonymous with TANNED. With regard to LEATHER it was applied to leather that had been further treated after it had been tanned or TAWED; hence 'Taned Leather drest & Undrest [Inventories (1678)]. In one example, it was used for leather prepared by a third method, neither tanned nor tawed but treated with OIL; 'Sheep Skins Tanned, Tawed, or Dressed' [Rates (1784)].

OED earliest date of use: 1480 in the general sense of prepared; 13-- of food; 1825 of leather further prepared after tanning


Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.

Dressed baby

[dressed babies]

A BABY, in the sense of a DOLL, already dressed in clothes, whereas most were sold bare. It was probably intended as a CHILDRENS TOY. Dressed dolls for adults were available in the eighteenth century to promote the latest fashions, but one has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.

Dressed flax

[flaxe dressed; flax viz dressed; flax drest; drest or wrought flax; drest hempe and flax; drest fflax; dressyd fflaxe; dress'd flax]

FLAX that had been prepared ready for spinning; as such it was sometimes contrasted with ROUGH FLAX.

Not found in the OED

Found described as BLACK, ENGLISH, FINE, for grinders, made up for sale for shoemakers and country shopkeepers, WHITE
Found in units of DOZEN, LB Found rated in HUNDREDWEIGHT OF 112 LB

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.

Dressed hemp

[drest hemp; dressed hempe; dress'd flax and hemp]

HEMP that is fully prepared and ready for the spinners. In [Rates (1657)] imported hemp is divided into three categories; the most dearly rated at £7 CWT was 'Hemp short dressed', next at £5 CWT came 'Hemp called Cullen and Steel Hemp and other sorts of dressed hemp, and finally at only £1 CWT 'Rough Hemp'. The differential remained in [Rates (1784)], although by this time there were only two categories: 'dressed' and 'rough or undressed'.

OED earliest date of use: 1794 for the quotation only, no definition

Found described as BLACK, for grinders, for shoemakers and country shopkeepers, GREEN, WHITE
Found for sale measured by DOZEN

See also ROUGH HEMP.
Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Dressed leather

[leather dressed; drest leather]

LEATHER that was ready for use in making SHOES and other objects of leather, as in 'Leather Dressed and 4 payre off Shooes' [Inventories (1663)]. The same person also had 'undrest Leather & 2 payre of Sides'. Another Shoemaker had 'Four Slitters of dressed leather', as well as 'One Hide undressed' [Inventories (1707)].

OED earliest date of use: 1607, although there is an earlier example referring to the practice, under Dress

Found described as BROKEN
Found in units of SLITTER

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).


[dress'r; dressar; dreser]

A SIDEBOARD or TABLE in a kitchen on which food was dressed, or a table in a dining-room or hall, from which dishes were served, or on which PLATE was displayed. Randle Holme was of the opinion that 'Cooks Dressers and Tables, are Emblems of Good Housekeeping and Hospitality; a thing in this age are much commended, but little practized' [Holme (2000)]. In this sense a dresser was similar to a DRESSER BOARD.

A later development turned the dresser into a complex piece of FURNITURE. In this form the dresser consisted of a side board, often with drawers as in 'One dresser w'th Two Drawers' [Inventories (1714)], usually topped with shelves on which the PEWTER, or later the CROCKERY, was displayed. In some, the shelves seem to have been detached as in 'One dresser w'th drawes & a case of Shelves over it' [Inventories (1666)], but in others the shelves and dresser were integrated into a single whole, as in 'one deale Dresser with three drawers and three Shelves' [Inventories (1729)], or 'Dresser with Drawers and Pewter Frame complete' [Inventories (1798)]. There are indications that some dressers were fixed to the wall, in which case they may not all have been listed in probate inventories, which would make sense of the puzzling entry of 'the drawers in ye dresser' [Inventories (1695)]; the drawers were listed since they were the only moveable part of the whole piece.

Dressers were sometimes important at least as much for display as for use. In Shropshire and the West Midlands, and particularly in Wales, the dresser was often the most prominent piece of furniture in the whole house. For example, in the probate inventories of Broseley in Shropshire during the 1740s and 1750s the appraisers tended to start the list with the dresser, suggesting that the positioning in the documents of these possessions reflected how they were esteemed within that community at that time. It suggests also that, in many households, the entry into the building led straight into the room where the dresser of drawers held pride of place. Presumably the primary function of the pewter dishes and plates placed on the dresser was to display the relative wealth and status of their owner, with the practicalities of every-day functional use a secondary consideration [Cox (2001)]. However, dressers were only mentioned rarely in auction sales of FURNITURE, suggesting that they were not highly esteemed by the well to do. In fact, almost the only example included dressers among the 'useful Articles for Kitchen' [Newspapers (1798)].

They were also used industrially, though they are rare in this sense in the Dictionary Archive. Apart from the SLOB DRESSER used by LEATHER dressers, the only other example are the 'two Velvet Dresser Frames, and Dyers Utensils' referred to in a notice of sale [Newspapers (1790)]. Presumably it was a devise on which VELVET could be finished or otherwise processed.

A different meaning of the term is found in Randle Holme, who mentions two IMPLEMENTs called dressers that looked rather similar. The first was one of the 'instruments belonging to the Cordwainers Occupation: and are used generally for their burnishing and smoothing down the Stitches, and to pair pieces of Leather upon' [Holme (2000)], while the other was an implement by which 'a Sheet of Lead is either beaten streight or crooked, or into any form of work without bruising it; it being only a Bat of Wood made with a handle, flat at the bottom, and rounded off at the top-side' [Holme (2000)]. Neither appears in the Dictionary Archive.

OED earliest date of use: c1420 as a piece of furniture; 1600 as a shoemaker's tool, but the OED includes several other tools called dressers

Found described as COARSE, OLD, SMALL, WHITE Found made of DEAL, ELM, WHITE WOOD, WOOD

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers.
References: Cox (2001), Holme (2000).

Dresser board

[dresser-board; dresser bord]

Either the BOARD or table of a DRESSER, hence entries like 'One pewter case & dresser board' [Inventories (1691)], or more usually a BOARD on which anything is DRESSED; especially a BOARD on which food is DRESSED.

OED earliest date of use: 14-- in the first sense; c1440 in the second sense

Found made of BEECH, CHESTNUT

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Dresser cloth

[dresser clothe; dresser cloathe; dresser cloath]

A CLOTH or runner to lie on a DRESSER. It is a term found exclusively in the North, with the one exception owned by a retailer in Newcastle in Staffordshire [Inventories (1702)]. Given that they were frequently made of DAMASK, they were probably for display rather than use.

Not found in the OED online

Found described as GREEN, OLD Found made of DAMASK, DIAPER, STRIPED - STUFF

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).


The term refers to the process of being DRESSED as in 'Buckskins in dressing' [Inventories (1707)]. A second meaning, which has connotations with the first, is an article of APPAREL, or some accompanying decoration. In the only example in the Dictionary Archive, it was clearly a form of HEAD DRESS; 'a p'cell of Quaives dressings hoods Cravatts and bands' [Inventories (1697)].

The various headwords that include 'Dressing' such as DRESSING FRAME, DRESSING IRON and DRESSING SIEVE illustrate how many practical applications the term 'to dress' had in the work place, while others like DRESSING BOX, DRESSING CAP, DRESSING GLASS and DRESSING TABLE show how much importance was accorded to the act of dressing and adorning the person.

OED first date of use: c1440 in the first and general sense; 1622 as an article of APPAREL

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Dressing basket

[dressing baskett]

An article found only once in the Dictionary Archive, and not at all in the OED. The one example is to be found in a fairly well furnished bed chamber, with a well equipped fireplace [Inventories (1681)]. Possibly this BASKET was a version of a DRESSING BOX or something similar, but it may have been for keeping things necessary for dressing a sore or wound.

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Dressing box

[dressing-boxe; dressing-box; dressing boxe; dresin box; boxes dressing]

A box containing TOILET utensils, possibly synonymous with DRESSING CASE. The Chambers'Cyclopedia of 1727-41, under Toilet, added 'wherein are kept the paints, pomatums, essences, patches, &c.; the pin-cushion, powder-box, brushes, &c. are esteemed parts of the equipage of a lady's toilet' (quoted in the OED). Randle Holme, in describing the bed chamber, wrote that it would be furnished with 'Table, stands, dressing Box with drawers, a larg Myrour, or Looking glass', as well as 'Couch, chaire, stoles, and chaires, a closs-stole' [Holme (2000)]. Dressing boxes are quite common in the Dictionary Archive, and some examples provide clues both to contents, as in 'One Dressing Box & Comb' [Inventories (1735)], and to quality as in 'Japanned Dressing Boxes for Ladies Toilets' [Inventories (1782)]. As fashionable items they were advertised for sale: 'TUNBRIDGE WARES _ Ladies curious inlaid _ Dressing, Work, Netting and Writing Boxes, of various Sorts and Sizes in a pleasing variety' [Tradecards (1794)], and innovations in their manufacture attracted the attention of innovators, as in the patent for 'Making japanned high varnished panels in paper, for ... dressing-boxes' [Patents (1772)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1663 under Dressing box

Found in units of SET

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Holme (2000).

Dressing cap

A term found only once in the Dictionary Archive in the promotional literature of a London retailer as 'Womens Sattin & Dimitty dressing Caps' [Tradecards (1760)]. It suggests they were fashionable items of APPAREL, possibly worn indoors or on informal occasions.

Not found in the OED online

Found described as for WOMEN Found made of DIMITY, SATIN

Sources: Tradecards.

Dressing case

A CASE provided with the requisites of toilet, such as COMB, BRUSH, POMADE, TOOTHPASTE, etc. Although dressing case was possibly synonymous with DRESSING BOX, it seems that the two may have been distinct, with the latter intended for the DRESSING TABLE, and the former for travelling. One of the examples in the Dictionary Archive expressly mentioned 'ladies Dressing Cases for Travellers, in mahogany and tin' that hold powder, pomatom, combs, essences, writings etc.' [Newspapers (1787)], while another referred to 'Japanned, Inlaid, and Plain Tin Dressing Cases' [Tradecards (1794)]. In each case the TIN was presumably to provide a lining to protect the contents from wet. The fullest advertisement is that for 'Improved Travelling and Dressing Cases of every Description for Ladies and Gentlemen; of Satin-wood and Mahogany, Plain and elegantly furnished with Silver or Plated Articles [Tradecards (1790s)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1790

Found described as ELEGANTly furnished, completely fitted out, in various sizes, for GENTLEMEN, for LADIES, for travellers, furnished with SILVER or PLATED articles, INLAID, JAPANNED, PLAIN Found made of MAHOGANY, SATIN WOOD, TIN

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Dressing chest

[dressing do]

A fashionable item of FURNITURE, in shape usually similar to a small CHEST OF DRAWERS, the top one being divided 'into conveniences for dressing' [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. In function, the dressing chest served as a DRESSING TABLE. They were usually highly valued; much more so than a DRESSING BOX. For example, one was said to be worth a GUINEA [Inventories (1783)], another 30s [Inventories (1775)].

Not found in the OED online


Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991).

Dressing coat

[dressing coate]

A term not found in the dictionaries, and only once in the Dictionary Archive. This one example occurred among the stock of a London dealer in SILK, in which a few items of APPAREL included '2 dressing Coates' [Inventories (1667)]. This so-called coat was possibly intended for the same purpose as the various powdering garments referred to by Cox. These were used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to protect clothes while the hair was being powdered [Cox (1966, pb 1969)].

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Cox (1966, pb 1989).

Dressing frame

[dresser frame]

Both the 'Dressing frame' and the 'Dresser frames' noted in the Dictionary Archive are implements used in the production of TEXTILEs. The former was found among the stock of a chapman who may have been involved in the production of his 'Threed Yarne and Laces' as well as selling them. He also possessed 'Two Twisting wheeles ffoure paire of Dutch Looms ...', which supports this supposition, but does not elucidate any further on the frame's precise function [Inventories (1706)]. The latter was given as 'two Velvet Dresser Frames' along with 'Dyers Utensils' suggesting they were used for finishing VELVET [Newspapers (1790)].

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.

Dressing glass

[dressing glasse; dressing glas; dress glass]

A free standing LOOKING GLASS swinging between two upright posts with spreading feet to render it stable. Some were small and designed to stand on a DRESSING TABLE or DRESSING CHEST, and some of these were set instead on a box base with drawers, as in 'Mahogany Ovel Dressing Glass with Drawers' [Inventories (1780)]. Other dressing glasses, though constructed in a similar way, were full length and were sometimes called a 'cheval dressing glass', though not in the Dictionary Archive [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. The dressing glass was sometimes contrasted with PIER GLASS as in 'handsome Pier and Dressing Glasses' [Newspapers (1780)], suggesting the longer type. SWING GLASS was a synonym for either type.

Dressing glasses were fashionable items of FURNITURE, often with frames GILT or burnished, or made with expensive woods, and hence entries like 'A Dressing Glasse with a sett of Japanned worke' [Inventories (1697)]. One entry in a probate inventory of 'a Table & Twylight a Dressing Glass & Sets of Boxes' gives a picture of how the whole equipage may have appeared in any house of the well to do [Inventories (1723)].

OED earliest date of use: 1714

Found described as ELEGANT, GILT, OVAL, SMALL, SQUARE Found made of MAHOGANY, OLIVE

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991).

Dressing iron

An IRON, in the sense of a TOOL, used, judging by the only entry in the Dictionary Archive, for preparing CUTLERY and other EDGE TOOLs [Inventories (1577)] From the context it is not clear precisely how they were used, but they were included in a long list of cutler's tools next to 'a payre of sheares'.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early).

Dressing sieve

[dressing seive]

Although in the single example of dressing sieves in the Dictionary Archive they are coupled with '28 li Glew', the entry followed one for '2 Old Mills for grinding Spices' [Inventories (1748)]. This suggests that in this instance they were used to sieve out rough and over-large grains from SPICE. In different contexts, such a SIEVE may well have been used for preparing FLOUR or other fine powders.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (late).

Dressing table

[dressing-table; dressing or other tables; dressing and other tables]

This is a term usually applied to a TABLE designed and fitted for the TOILET. Although the term has been noted in the seventeenth century applied in this sense to a small table with drawers, Randle Holme described it rather differently as 'a little round table, set vpon one pillar, or post, which in the foote branches it selfe out into three or foure feete or toes, after the maner of Catuses, for it fast and stiddy standing. It is used for to set a Bason on whilest washing, or a candle to read by, with many other uses for a chamber.' He added that they were 'also made square, sexagon, and octagon, 6 or 8 square in the table part' [Holme (2000)].

During the eighteenth century dressing tables in the usual sense became more popular, and more elaborate, and the DRESSING GLASS became an essential accessory, either fixed to the table or standing on it, hence entries like 'A Dressing Table & Swinging Glass' [Inventories (1765)]. From the mid-eighteenth century, the term seems to have been interchangeable with 'toilet table' [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)].

OED earliest date of use: 1692

Found described as COLOURED, OLD, SMALL Found made of DEAL, MAHOGANY, OAK, WAINSCOT

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991), Holme (2000).

Dressing tub

[dressing tob]

A TUB in which something was prepared or DRESSED. In the only unambiguous entry in the Dictionary Archive it was described as for FLOUR [Inventories (1774)], and may well have been used with a DRESSING SIEVE. A more contentious example is the 'Dressing Tob' valued at 5s, which immediately preceded various SIEVEs. However, it followed types of TOBACCO, so could have been an abbreviation for 'dressing tobacco', that is tobacco ready for dressing [Inventories (1747)]. Another entry for 'a Stove and Sives and Other Implimts for Dressing Tobacco' [Inventories (1741)] suggests that dressing tobacco involved sieving.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (late).