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Pearly King


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London costermongers (street vendors) are the only English occupational group to have evolved a festive costume. Men of their leading families wear black velveteen suits to which hundreds of mother-of-pearl buttons are sewn in decorative patterns; the women's black velveteen dresses are similarly adorned, and they wear huge hats with ostrich feathers. This showy style dates from the late 19th century, and probably developed out of a single row of buttons stitched to the trouser-seam by coster lads; the first to wear it is said to have been Henry Croft (1863–1930). In each borough, the eldest couple in the most respected family holds the title of Pearly King and Queen. Pearlies are much in demand as tourist attractions, and at charity fund-raising events (Binder, 1975).


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