Men in Slips.

A couple of years ago I read and loved To the Lighthouse (LH post); now I’m reading the other of Woolf’s books that I think is generally acknowledged as a masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway, and I’m just as enthralled as I remember being the last time I read it, decades ago. This time around, not only do I read with more understanding in general, but the internet permits me to look up and instantly absorb references that escaped me the first time. When she mentions Devonshire House and Bath House, I discover they’re grand mansions on Piccadilly, along which Clarissa Dalloway is walking, and when she writes “There were Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities; there were Soapy Sponge and Mrs. Asquith’s Memoirs and Big Game Shooting in Nigeria…” Google tells me that the first two items are by the popular Victorian writer R. S. Surtees (and furthermore that the italics I have reproduced from my HBJ paperback are wrong, since “Jorrocks'” is part of the title and should be ital, whereas “Soapy” Sponge is the protagonist of some of his writings and not a title and should not be ital). And here are a couple of sentences that made me glad of my access to the OED:

Gliding across Piccadilly, the car turned down St. James’s Street. Tall men, men of robust physique, well-dressed men with their tail-coats and their white slips and their hair raked back who, for reasons difficult to discriminate, were standing in the bow window of Brooks’s with their hands behind the tails of their coats, looking out, perceived instinctively that greatness was passing, and the pale light of the immortal presence fell upon them as it had fallen upon Clarissa Dalloway.

I, like any modern speaker of English, think of a slip as a woman’s undergarment, so I was taken aback by these “well-dressed men with their tail-coats and their white slips,” but the OED explained that this was “A light under-waistcoat with the edge showing to form a border to a waistcoat worn with morning dress”; here are the citations:

1933 C. St. J. Sprigg Fatality in Fleet St. viii. 98 Oakley looked like..a monkey which had surprisingly been trained to wear a morning-coat and grey slip.
1941 H. G. Wells You can’t be too Careful iii. x. 158 And you looking lovely in a silk hat and light grey trousers. You’ll have, you know, white slips to your waistcoat.

I can’t quite picture it, but at least I know what it is. And the OED entry (from 1912) doesn’t even mention the modern sense; I wonder how old it is?


  1. Thanks very much!

  2. Even though you may never really need to look up anything in it, I greatly recommend finding a copy of Mary Picken’s The Language of Fashion (Funk & Wagnalls, 1939). The vastness of words for cloth and clothing makes for fascinating reading. I was surprised not to find this older meaning of slip; however it has bias slip, costume slip, four-gore slip, and Hollywood top slip, as well as bandeau top, bodice top, camisole top, and shadow skirt..

  3. A woman’s slip is n.3 II 4 c.

  4. So woman’s slip is an entirely different word from a man’s? That does it, I’m giving up on language.

  5. For Ben Kliban’s Freudian Slip cartoon “Freud’s First Slip”, go here and scroll down a bit.

  6. Many Danish men wear slips.

    (From German “Schlips” possibly from Low German “slippe”.)

  7. Oh, and In Our Time did an introduction to Mrs. Dalloway 3 July:

    That’s possibly too basic for you, but I like the format of the podcasts. Very unedited discussion between experts.

  8. Tangential, but I’ve never heard B. Kliban referred to as Ben. His name was Bernard, which he hated. Did his friends call him Ben?

  9. per incuriam says

    Modern-day slips for men

  10. Come to think of it, he signed his cartoons “B. Kliban” and I must have somehow assumed the B was for Ben. I hadn’t actually seen that one in 20 or 30 years, but never forgot it, along with some other silly jokes like “Fig. 1, Fig. 2, Fig. 3” (the figures are all drawings of figs) and the Nixon Monument. Thanks for the correction.

  11. I’ve just been watching an old Poirot movie with David Suchet. He wears a slip. Ah, those Frenchmen, I mean, Belgians!

  12. marie-lucie says

    DO, in the past couple of weeks I have seen two Poirot movies with David Suchet, and in the past I have seen many more. I don’t think have ever seen Poirot other than fully clothed, even when he adjusts his moustache in the mirror in the morning he only lacks his jacket. What kind of “slip” was Poirot wearing?

  13. marie-lucie says

    And what was the occasion?

  14. Marie-Lucie, no special occasion, just his normal very formal dress (he didn’t wear the coattails, of course, just a normal-sized jacket). But just above the upper edge of his waistcoat you can see protruding from below a thin line of another garment. Which, thanks to Hat, we now know is called “slip”. Like this.

  15. I don’t think have ever seen Poirot other than fully clothed

    That might be because (I read) he wore a lot of padding. He’s much thinner than he appears in the role.

  16. Palmerston lived at Cambridge House, in Piccadilly. Even though the house is still there, it’s funny to think of Piccadilly as part of a residential neighbourhood. However, lots of politicians lived in Berkeley Square round the corner including Pitt, and George Canning at No. 50, the ghost house and home of Maggs rare books. I have a funny feeling we’ve mentioned Maggs Bros & No. 50 once before.

  17. Huh, only a year ago. I thought I was being Mr Memory.

  18. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    some other silly jokes like “Fig. 1, Fig. 2, Fig. 3″ (the figures are all drawings of figs) and the Nixon Monument.

    The drawing of the Nixon Monument (later renamed the Reagan Monument, apparently) is one of my favourite B. Kliban cartoons.

  19. Then there’s the Martha Washington Monument: a 555-foot deep hole.

  20. marie-lucie says

    DO: Poirot: But just above the upper edge of his waistcoat you can see protruding from below a thin line of another garment. Which, thanks to Hat, we now know is called “slip”

    I doubt very much that the line in question is from another garment, which would have to be a kind of “undervest” matching the shape of the waistcoat. It is more likely that it is a strip of thin cloth attached to the inside of the edge of the waistcoat, or a part of the lining of the waistcoat front. Otherwise the “slip” would move separately from the waistcoat rather than together with it, and the thin line would no longer be strictly parallel to the edge. But it could have started as a separate, probably washable garment. Similarly, when you see a turtleneck or shirt collar under a V-neck sweater, that collar might not belong to a full garment but only consist of the relevant part.

  21. It’s not actually another garment, though it started out that way; did you read the link in D.O.’s comment (the first in the thread)?

  22. marie-lucie says

    LH: I did read it at first, but I had forgotten! Mea culpa! But I was away for a month with only a very occasional look at the blog, and other things to worry about.

    I am intrigued by the origin of the “double waistcoat”. Perhaps for extra warmth? Hiding one’s old, worn waistcoat under a new one?

  23. marie-lucie, what you describe is called “piping”. I thought Poirot have sported a real slip, but I am not any good at this and might have been mistaken. As for two parts moving around, they are buttoned together underneath.

  24. marie-lucie says

    DO, Wikipedia has a definition and example of piping (sewing). It is a kind of trim, not at all restricted to waistcoats but also found on clothing (very commonly along the edges of pajama jackets), upholstery (often along the edges of pillows or cushions) and more. It is usually included within a seam (which it reinforces) and therefore permanently attached to the main item. By “moving around” I referred to the two superposed waistcoats which preceded the modern “slip” fashion.

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