This article considers the ways in which clothing is represented in selected work of Thomas Hardy in the context of wider social and economic change in nineteenth-century English rural society. While taking into account the difficulties of using fictional literature in this way, I suggest that it is precisely Hardy's subjectivity that makes his observations so compelling and that his perception of change lies at the heart of his representation of dress. I endeavour to show how in his writing, the perceived tension between an unchanging, idealised, countryside increasingly subjected to the influence of an urban culture is frequently expressed, either directly or metaphorically, in terms of clothing. The social and economic changes, including agricultural change, of which Hardy was so acutely aware, help to account for the disappearance of traditional features of rural dress, such as the smock-frock and the sun-bonnet. In their place were adopted styles influenced by notions of ‘fashion’ and made available through the process of mass production which Hardy associated primarily with towns. For Hardy, the influence of urban fashions alienated people from that individuality and speciality in dress which formed a link with their environment and ultimately their own past and history.