|Sir Thomas More, wearing the fashionable livery collar, as painted by Holbein*|
Well...which is it?
According to my usual resource, the Online Etymology Dictionary, livery makes its original appearance in English in about 1300. At that time, it meant a "household allowance of any kind (food, provisions, clothing) to retainers or servants". It made it's way over by the typical Anglo-French means, coming from livere, out of the Old French livrée, which was an allowance, ration or pay, but originally seems to have meant clothes "delivered by a master to his retinue". Over time, the meaning contracted to simply mean servants' rations, and, interestingly, "provender for horses". Perhaps not so much distinction was made between servants and horses as there might be now...
Livery shrank still further till it only meant "distinctive clothing given to servants", and the horse part died out--except for in the term "livery yard" or "livery stable". Both of these places provide provender for horses, but have slightly different functions. In England, a livery yard or livery stable is a place where you board your horse. But in America a livery stable was actually a place where you hired horses and wagons and teams.
According to Wikipedia, the livery stable "was a necessary institution of every American town, but it has been generally ignored by historians." If that's so, I wonder why. They go on to tell us that not only were livery stables the source of many resources that arrived in town, like hay, grain and coal, but were also a lively, somewhat immoral or at least amoral venue, attracting such things as cockfighting and gambling--not to mention vermin. Like other kinds of questionable districts, there were a lot of efforts to control them. The advent of the automobile age effectively put an end to livery stables--though probably not the kinds of activities they drew into their spheres.
But cars didn't put an end to livery. In fact, automobiles are some of the many vehicles that, following the fashion of decorated carriages, sport livery these days. Planes, trains and automobiles, in fact. Well, jets.
|Horizon Air's custom livery promoting four Oregon public colleges.|
Words are funny that way.
*I should say that More's livery collar is actually the chain. It was a symbol of allegiance, though it's actually the emblem hanging from it that is the livery.