Why is this the classic attire of a bankrupt cartoon character? How did this notion enter the repertoire of broad comedy? Was there ever a time in history when poor people would be forced to walk around wearing a barrel?
I think that a barrel is just what one might find discarded somewhere in those days. The implication is that they are so destitute that they can’t even afford clothes, and must cover themselves with whatever object they can find. A modern equivalent would be someone wearing a cardboard box or a sheet of plastic.
–It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.
I have also seen pictures from the Civil War where POWs or deserters were forced to walk around with barrels on. I presume that this was to increase the humiliation for whatever they did wrong.
It’s also very hard to sit down when you we’re wearing a barrel.
But surely you could buy clothes somewhere that would be less expensive than a barrel with suspenders. I’m thinking a barrel like that would put you out about $70 or so.
“My hovercraft is full of eels.”
I think the humiliation/punishment/joke angle works best. Have you ever lifted a wooden barrel? If I was faced with wearing a hundred pounds or so of oak and iron I’m sure I could scrounge some rags.