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Bernard Shaw's Jaeger cape

Jaeger

Category

Costume

Date

circa 1900

Materials

Wool

Measurements

43 ins (Length)

Order this image

Collection

Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

NT 1275326

Summary

A Jaeger green and fawn check cape, with concealed buttons. Bernard Shaw purchased his first Jaeger woollen cape in the 1890s. He owned several over the years, and photographs taken of Shaw at Shaw’s Corner show that he continued wearing a Jaeger cape until 1950. Jaeger woollen clothing became a distinctive mark of Shaw’s public persona. From 1885 Shaw adopted Dr. Jaeger’s “Sanitary Woollen System”. The first Jaeger shop opened in London in 1884. Jaeger’s theory was that ‘natural wool, unbleached, and knitted, worn next to the skin’ aided the escape of perspiration. Shaw’s Jaeger purchases were ostensibly an investment in his health, but they were also a means of attracting attention. Shaw sought publicity more than any other writer of his era, and viewed his distinctive clothes as a means of keeping himself in the limelight. He loved being photographed and posing for the cameras: many photographs survive which show him wearing his Jaeger cape, or one of his tweed Norfolk suits with matching knickerbockers. Traditionally considered to be a socialist with ascetic tastes, Shaw was actually a bit of a dandy who purchased expensive clothes throughout his life. Shaw subsequently shopped at Askew & Company in Conduit Street, London. Askew’s were known as the ‘Jaeger tailor’ and from about 1900 supplied Shaw with bespoke suits made from Jaeger wool. During the 1940s his bespoke suits were made by J.H. Coulson of Welwyn, a local firm.

Full description

Bernard Shaw was influenced by the work of Dr. Gustav Jaeger whose book Health Culture was translated into English by Lewis Tomalin in 1884. (H. R. Tomalin, in Chappelow, Shaw the Villager, p.238). Shaw attended the International Health Exhibition of the same year where he saw the Jaeger goods on display. Tomalin had opened the first Jaeger shop in Fore Street, London, in February 1884, selling the “Sanitary Woollen System” of clothing which was adopted by Shaw in 1885. Shaw’s friend and fellow-socialist Andreas Scheu was one of the first agent’s for Jaeger’s company in Britain. (Peter Symms, ‘George Bernard Shaw’s Underwear’, in Costume, 24 (1990), 94). Once Shaw acquired various items the two men were soon sharing tips on cleaning their woollen clothing. (Symms, ‘George Bernard Shaw’s Underwear’, p.95). Scheu had lent Shaw one of the early editions of Jaeger’s essays in June 1884, and consequently Shaw believed, following Jaeger, that certain types of fabric (such as cotton) were the causes of not only bodily discomfort but ill-health. Jaeger focused on ‘the sanitary advantages of pure animal wool’, which if correctly made according to the Jaeger methods, would ensure ‘the reduction of the abnormal or excessive heat of the animal body.’ (Gustav Jaeger, Selections from Essays on Health-Culture (New York: Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woolen System Co., 1891), p.4). Although doctors had long advised wearing wool in the form of ‘flannel’ underwear, Jaeger’s new theory was that natural wool worn next to the skin aided the escape of perspiration and bodily poisons (the ‘elimination of effete matters’), whilst retaining heat in cooler weather. By comparison, vegetable fibres such as cotton and linen were harmful and ‘even poisonous in their effect.’ (Jaeger, Selections from Essays on Health-Culture, p.7). Shaw felt that woollen clothing was beneficial as it allowed the skin to breathe. Writing to actress Ellen Terry in 1897 he claimed: ‘the curse of London is its dirt…. My much ridiculed Jaegerism is an attempt at cleanliness & porousness: I want my body to breathe…I always have the window wide open night & day; I shun cotton & linen & all fibrous fabrics that collect odors.’ (Shaw to Ellen Terry, 31 December 1897, Bernard Shaw Collected Letters, vol.1, pp.839-40). The first Jaeger suit purchased by Shaw in June 1885 was paid for with money from his father’s estate. He noted in his diary: ‘Ordered clothes at Jaeger’s – the first new garments I have had for years. These will be paid for out of the insurance on my father’s life.’ (19 June 1885, See Stanley Weintraub, ed., Bernard Shaw The Diaries, 1885-1897, vol.1, p.91). His diary entries record numerous purchases over the coming months, including a radical ‘knitted tunic and trousers’, and a ‘knitted woollen suit’ which was a bifurcated garment in the style of ‘combinations’. This costume ‘combined upper garment and trousers in one piece, and buttoned (cravat-less) up to the neck and along one side...He would create a sensation along Tottenham Court Road.’ (Stanley Weintraub, ed., Bernard Shaw The Diaries, 1885-1897, vol.1, p.103). None of these early purchases have survived, although Shaw was photographed by Emery Walker wearing a Jaeger wool suit in 1886: a jacket with a ‘triple-breasted front.’ (H.R. Tomalin, in Chappelow, Shaw the Villager, 241; image reproduced opposite p.247). Frank Harris in his biography of Shaw described Shaw’s transformation into ‘the Jaegerized butterfly from the desperately seedy chrysalis’, noting the Jaeger ‘craze’ for ‘an ideally healthy single garment or combination in brown knitted wool, complete from sleeves to ankles in one piece, in which a human being resembled nothing but a forked radish in a worsted bifurcated stocking.’ (Frank Harris, Bernard Shaw, p.114). Shaw became a prolific consumer of Jaeger clothing, which was expensive, and his diaries show that he visited various Jaeger shops on 68 different occasions during this period in the 1880s and early 1890s: making purchases, paying bills, having items altered, and trying on clothes. The Jaeger purchases were ostensibly an investment in his health, but he quickly discovered that his Jaeger suits attracted attention. His lover Jenny Patterson wrote to him in 1886: “Are you over come by your new “Jager” [sic] filled with vanity. Of course I know you will be quite too beautiful & that you will run many dangers from my abandoned sex…” (Jenny Patterson to Shaw, 13 April 1886, quoted in Gibbs, Bernard Shaw: A Life, p.137). Shaw continued to purchase dozens of Jaeger products over the following decades through to the 1940s, including jerseys, socks, capes, suits, shoes, slippers, scarves, gloves, cravats, collars and ‘underwear’ (which took the form of shirt and pants, or ‘combinations’ where the two formed one garment). Prior to his marriage in 1898, much of Shaw’s consumption of Jaeger products was recorded in his diary. Afterwards certain items were listed in Charlotte Shaw’s account books. Her cheque-book stubs (from 1917 to 1941) reveal numerous Jaeger purchases on Shaw’s behalf, including jerseys, slippers, and socks. (Charlotte Shaw cheque-book stubs, British Library Add. MS 63202 A-O; 63202 P-CC). These records also show that Jaeger sheets and pillowcases were purchased for use by Shaw, indicating that he embraced the wider concept of Jaegerism which incorporated bedding. (Alice McEwan, 2020)

Provenance

The Shaw Collection. The house and contents were bequeathed to the National Trust by George Bernard Shaw in 1950, together with Shaw's photographic archive.

Makers and roles

Jaeger, manufacturer

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