TAMH: Source Material
Fisher dress in Arbroath and Auchmithie from 1860 - 1| 2

Blue Coats, Skate-Mooed Pooches and Strippet Brots

Margaret King examines Auchmithie and Arbroath Fisher Dress.

From the Arbroath Herald Review of 1992

(by kind permission of the Arbroath Herald)

People in fishing communities wore a distinctive dress which evolved to suit their special working conditions. Like other characteristic aspects of these communities (i.e. wedding customs, the use of by-names, and women retaining their maiden names), we now consider these customs as peculiar to this sector of society, but they were once commonplace throughout Scotland. Fisher costume ultimately derives from a more universal form of peasant dress. However, during the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, fisher attire became noticeably different from that of the rest of society. Although it was a recognisable style of costume, it was not standardised; each fishing community had its own version of the general concept. This article concentrates on the dress worn in Auchmithie and Arbroath from about 1860 until today.

Artists including such well-known names as Walter Geikie, James Watterson Herald, George Reid and Peter Anson, have long been fascinated by the picturesque qualities of fishing communities. Following in the footsteps of Hill and Adamson's famous photographs of the Newhaven fishing community, Angus photographers have recorded life in our fishing communities from about 1881, when Cox of the Dundee jute family came to photograph the fisher people of Auchmithie and Westhaven. John Fraser, one of the inventive family of engineers in Arbroath, spent a long time recording the work of the Auchmithie fisher people about 1890. It is very likely that he knew Cox well and that they influenced one another. In the same decade, a professional photographer and Town Councillor from Arbroath, Wilfred Anckorn, also visited Auchmithie frequently, taking numerous photographs of the people which were made into postcards which he sold. He also gave lantern slide-shows of these at Christmas-time in Auchmithie's Annie Gilruth Memorial Hall. The photographs are of two different kinds: the completely natural ones where the photographer has 'stolen' or captured people going about their daily chores unposed and in their everyday clothes, and, in contrast, the elaborately contrived, in which people are wearing their best clothes though posing as if at work. Both kinds of photographs and paintings are a rich source of information about costume.

Nowadays only the men wear anything which signals their occupation as fishermen. A royal blue or jade boilersuit is 'de rigueur' for our 1990s fisherman, accompanied by a tweed bunnet (cap) or a navy cheesecutter (Dutchman's cap) and a cotton or silky paisley type or other brightly patterned wrapper (scarf) to keep the neck warm.

Today, unless the fisherman's wife works as a fish processor, she rarely has any involvement with his occupation and dresses no differently from any other women. Women in Arbroath only ceased wearing their distinctive dress when they stopped going out selling fish from creels in the 1950s. Their traditional dress acted almost like an advertisement. Another contributory factor to women ceasing to wear a distinctive dress was that, also about this time, the fishermen were changing their fishing method from line fishing to net fishing. Line fishing demanded an enormous commitment from wives in shelling mussels and then using these to bait their husband's lines. In the 1950s, some fish sellers, who were not involved in baiting lines only wore the distinctive dress when out selling and, at other times, wre clothes no different from the rest of Arbroath. The older women were noted by the younger as wearing their fisher clothes all the time and this was sometimes a source of embarrassment to the younger, modern women who felt affronted when their mothers and aunties appeared at social events in their traditional dress.