by Marie-Louise Jensen
Sometimes, in the course of research, I stumble across a tiny nugget of information that makes a little more sense of the world. This is one such instance. Incidentally, I cannot recommend the Handbook of English Costume in the 18th Century by Cunnington and Cunnington highly enough; it contains a wealth of fascinating information.
I don't think I ever wondered what a 'riding hood' was. I simply accepted it as a character name in the fairy tale. But I just came across it and it makes complete sense.
In the 1700s, it was fashionable for women to wear hoods; sometimes attached to a cape or scarf-like strips and sometimes not. The hoods were always soft, not stiffened and could be worn over a cap or elaborate hairstyle.
The style of hoods varied and changed throughout the century. One which was popular around the 1740s, was known as the Riding Hood, or Capuchin. This had a cape attached and was often lined.
Right there - the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, which I'd never questioned, but which now suddenly means something quite different to me.
The timing of this fashion and the fairy tale is interesting. The story was first published in 1697, according to Wikipedia. Perhaps the riding hood was popular then already, or perhaps the tale was translated a little later into English, when the riding hood was in fashion, or perhaps it's a later translation that has prevailed.
I don't think Little Red Capuchin would have had quite the same ring to it, somehow. It's definitely the alliteration that is so memorable. Rather like 'Villa Villekulla' in the Pippi Longstocking stories: I was always dissatisfied with the translation of 'Villekulla Cottage' in English. It lacked the resonance of the original. I was so pleased when the new OUP edition opted for Villa Villekulla a few years back.
So Little Red Riding Hood it was and is, and we'll ignore the fact that the fashion was apparently frequently used by female thieves to conceal their ill-gotten gains in crowded city streets. And that it wasn't a fashion that was used especially for riding.