Britain / History


Doublet MaleNe’er cast a clout till May is out.” The proverb in English comes from the Elizabethan age. It has a Spanish equivalent of about the same time, during the Spanish Empire: No te quites el sayo hasta el cuarenta de mayo. If you look it up in a dictionary you are unlikely to find the word sayo. It translates to ‘doublet‘, so the saying is “Do not discard your doublet until summer has fully arrived.”

They didn’t have a whole industry devoted entirely to global warming back then and the wise old saying advises us not to cast aside our doublets until the fortieth of May. Spain being to the South of Britain, the advice dates the arrival of hot weather to the tenth of May.

Doublet FemaleNaturally, women also wore doublets. Needless to say, they were more elaborate, probably even more uncomfortable (that’s the way they look, isn’t it?). Of course, the illustrations are of portraits of the rich.

Jerkin The poorer classes wore plain leather jerkins to keep warm. In fact, the advice we get these days about wearing layers would have applied very well to those ages of the past.

The reason to mention it here is that flowers are blooming, spring is in the air and it is cold in the mornings and evenings yet warm if not hot, at midday. Doublets on, doublets off, doublets on again.

Climate change has dealt the proverb a blow

Nowadays we don’t really know what to wear at any given time. Ah, but air conditioning, I hear you say. And central heating. Yes, they have made a vast difference to the way we live.

Having been brought up partly in the foothills of the Andes, with a deficient generator, a kerosene fridge (the most modern available in those parts) and oil lamps for when the generator was down, a frequent occasion. Air conditioning was conditional on the windows being open or closed at the right times. And it all depended on which way the wind was blowing.

In fact, not too different from the village where I live now, where the thick walls are a guarantee of a cool lower floor of the house in the often desperate heat of the summer. And the reverse in winter.

Then again, I lived in Miami for eleven years, where you couldn’t buy a car without air con, or rent or buy a house. Air con was mandatory and you wouldn’t want it any other way. At one time my job consisted of selling advertising for my own publication. I drove from client to client walking if not running, from an air conditioned car to an air conditioned building — and I had a cold for eleven years.

Not that different to the way the weather is in the village where I live now. Hot, cold, hot, cold.

Back to doublets. Okay, not doublets; let’s call them sweaters, jackets, pullovers or similar. Silly is the resident who doesn’t keep at least a light something handy. I have sat out at night in the middle of August, supposedly the hottest month of the year, and been cold. The fact that we could get up and dance is immaterial (this has to do with the International Music Festivals my village used to hold and they are another story), though it was a great way to keep warm.

Good thing I am no longer required to wear a doublet.


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