Pearly Kings and Queens

Posted on May 7th, 2015

Kylie Minogue adores Pearly Kings and Queens style and Boris Johnson courts them. London’s Pearly Kings and Queens are a unique colourful part of London’s heritage, but few of us know the history behind them.

1 The Pearly history dates back to the ‘coster kings and queens’ or costermongers, a tough breed of London market traders. By the end of the 19th century they had developed the fashion of sewing smoke pearl buttons onto the piped seams of their trousers, jackets, caps and waistcoats in order to indicate their marketplace status. They also started a parade to show off their finery – the Lambeth Walk, later put to music in the musical ‘Me and My Girl’.

2 The pearly charity tradition: It was street sweeper Henry Croft who took the pearly costume to the next level. He developed a suit and top hat decorated with 60,000 pearly buttons featuring charity slogans such as ‘pity the poor’. This become the very first “smother suit”. The costers dug deep to raise money for the poor, and others quickly joined the pearly revolution. By 1911 all 28 metropolitan London boroughs and the City of London and Westminster had their own pearly king and queen.

3 ‘Pearlies’ today: The tradition of sewing pearls onto suits began and is still carried on today by Pearly Families – and the Pearly Kings still do the sewing. Each suit has a unique pattern, and features their title spelled out in buttons on the back. It can take a lifetime to finish a pearly suit – and they can weigh up to 30Kgs!

P8300181-3-225x3004 The Pearly Kings and Queen elaborate outfits:  These are decorated with symbolic shapes, each representing the values and  essence of Pearly King and Queen life.  An article  published by the Daily Mail on Pearly Kings and Queens has many photographs showing their beautiful outfits.

Horseshoe = Luck
Doves = Peace
Heart = Charity
Anchor = Hope
Cross = Faith
Wheel = Circle of Life
Symbols of Playing Cards = Life is a gamble
Flower Pots = Costermongers
Donkey Carts = Costermongers

5  Donkeys:  Pearlies have a long connection with donkeys too.  Donkeys were necessary for costers to sell their wares, since their fruit and vegetables were carried to market in a cart led by a donkey.  In 1927 at the Horse of the Year Show, 52 donkeys and barrows were invited to the arena and paraded to the tune of ‘Ain’t She Sweet’.

6  Pearly Cool:  The suit originally intended to parody posh Londoners in the 19th century because a style icon in the 21st century.  Kylie Minogue wore a designer pearly suit at the Queen’s 2012 Jubilee celebrations, and former singer with the Libertines Pete Doherty also donned a ‘smother’.

Like the pearly kings and queens, Arment’s Pie and Mash shop is another longstanding London tradition. We still serve customers old and new delicious pie and mash cooked the same way as it was over 100 years ago. Pop in and visit us and enjoy traditional London fare in an authentic pie shop. Or get your dishes delivered piping hot, or freshly frozen and ready to be re-heated at your convenience.


  1. debbie abbott says:

    hi sorry to bother you, but i am trying to hire a pearly king and queen to sing at my dads 90th birthday party on the 20th august , my mum and dad and there parents were costamongers from the east end , and thats all dad talks about isthe old days and values, we thought it would be good idea for his party, is there any one you know i could contact to arrange this kind regards debbie abbott

    1. Cheryl says:

      Debbie I have emailed your with details.

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