We know that faeries wear clothes. So distinctive in fact are these garments- or, at least- their colours, that they can be used as a short-hand or euphemistic term to refer to the faeries themselves. Hence, all around Britain, communities refer to their Good Neighbours as the ‘green coats’ or the ‘green gowns,’ or some similar label.
Clothing of some description, therefore, is normal and unremarkable- although certain beings, most typically hobs, boggarts and brownies, are frequently encountered in a naked state. This usually seems to be because they’re so hairy that other coverings are simply unnecessary.
Consider these two cases,though. A little girl from Chudleigh on Dartmoor who was abducted by the pixies and was missing for several days. Despite all the search parties organised by her family, there was no sign of her, until a couple of local youths went to a spot very near her home, and found her sitting on her own, in good health, playing contentedly, but stripped of all her clothes. The only explanation the family could find was that the pixies had taken her as a playmate for a time, had looked after her, yet had felt that they could not tolerate what she was wearing.
A second incident from Argyllshire is especially interesting in this context. This time an adult, a man’s wife, was abducted by the local faeries. Over a period of two months she kept returning nightly to her home to tidy the house and to care for their children, although the husband never saw her. Eventually, one day, he was walking in a wood when he heard her voice calling his name. She was hidden in a hazel bush, saying that she wanted to come home but couldn’t because she had no clothes to wear. He had to bring her a garment so that she could be freed and could return to her family. Once again, the faes had taken away what she’d been wearing when she was kidnapped- and it appears that part of the reason was that the items represented some continuing link to her ‘old’ life.
Many readers will know that the domestic faeries- the brownies, boggarts, lobs and hobs that I mentioned just now- will act as devoted and untiring workers, happily undertaking all manner of laborious tasks– until they are offered clothes. This act of kindness and pity (on the part of the human) will be viewed as a gross insult by the faery and they will depart forever.
The grounds for taking such exception vary. Sometimes it’s not the clothes themselves that cause offence, but the fabric (they’re offered linen instead of wool, usually). Far more regularly, it’s the whole idea of being asked to wear human garments that is so objectionable. There appear to be several reasons why this is such an unforgivable affront. We know from the response of one Manx fynoderee that wearing mortal clothes would make him ill. This is a good reason for rejecting them, but it’s not mentioned in any of the other accounts from mainland Britain.
Possibly what’s offensive is the implication that the natural nakedness of the brownie ought to be covered up- that it’s shameful. We do hear, though, that clothes aren’t completely absent, but they are rags. Maybe here, too, the implicit criticism is cause of the upset.
Another suggestion (that I made before in 2020’s Faery) is that- for the intended faery recipient- the symbolism of the gift of clothes is a subjection to human mastery. The brownie- farmer relationship is very clearly one involving a sort of commercial transaction- work’s done in return for food and shelter- but the provision of clothes apparently oversteps the limits by formally making the brownie a servant of the human, or (even) incorporates the faery much more formally into the human household. Some loss of independence and identity looks to be involved- hence the strength of the adverse reaction to the offer.
These suggestions notwithstanding, and given the cases involving humans that I’ve mentioned, the stronger possibility would appear to be that the very fact that the clothes are human is the source of the problem. They may carry their own ‘glamour’ with them, a quality that offends the faeries, or inhibits their own magic or- conceivably- has some physical effect on them, as with the fynoderee. Whatever it is, wearing human clothing represents too strong an association with the mortal world and, as such, it has to be severed in the case of captives by stripping them or, for the faeries, it has to be avoided. For humans, we might even, perhaps, think of the process of being denuded as a sort of ‘rebirth’ into their new lives in Faery.
See my Manx faeries for a complete description of the fynoderee and its habits.