Nicholas Rhea: Yorkshire Life

Children in our moorland villages were expected to have one set of best clothes. We wore them for special occasions such as visiting grandparents and other relations but also when attending church, going to parties and visiting town.

As the clothes were handed down, they were never new and didn’t fit very well. Nonetheless, they were patched up, altered and put away for best. They were kept in good condition because they must always be smart. As grandmother told us, “You don’t have to be rich to be smart. Good clothes, clean shoes and a smart hair cut will take you anywhere.”

One oddity was that we had to wear best clothes during the school trip. We were taken to Scarborough to play on the beach, paddle in the sea, visit Richard III’s house and end with a fish-and-chip tea. I could never understand why we had to wear best clothes to play on the sands and eat fish-and-chips, except that we had to keep up appearances whilst away from home.

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As I grew older, mother took me to Whitby to go shopping, and we lunched at Botham’s with my grandmother. Because Whitby is a town, and no doubt because lunch at Botham’s was considered rather grand, I had to put on our best clothes.

They were most uncomfortable and not worth the hassle of sitting through lunch with two grown-ups who talked non-stop before finishing their meal with a cigarette. I’d have rather been exploring the woods in my well-worn trousers, tattered jumper and mucky boots.

As young lads, we wore shorts and I grew up thinking jeans were nothing more than overalls. When my uncles were working on granddad’s farm, they wore overalls covered in muck and plother. They looked exactly like jeans and probably for that reason, I never bought jeans when they became fashionable.

In some places it was the custom to have new clothes at Easter. If parents could afford it, they would buy outfits for the whole family but these were not worn until Easter Sunday for attending church.

If people were poor, as most were, then modest items were sufficient to meet the occasion, say a pair of socks or gloves. And, of course, new clothes were in addition to our best outfits.

It was customary among children to take it out on those turning up in their new clothes for the first time. This might include pinching bare legs or cheeks or nipping arms and necks. It was something of a game although I have seen it result in tears. Some “nips for new” were definitely malicious.

Putting on my best clothes to visit a town remained with me into married life. When we lived at Northallerton as newly-weds, my wife liked shopping in Leeds – very exciting for a lass from t’moors. She dressed up and I wore a smart suit. Times without number have I waited patiently outside Ladies’ Wear as customers asked me for directions. They assumed I was a member of staff and I became quite knowledgeable about various departments and how to find the toilets. Some customers were puzzled, however, when I added, “If you’re going buy new clothes, make sure you don’t get nipped.”