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At the time America was settled, rich dress was almost universal in Europe among persons of any wealth or station. The dress of plain people also, such as yeomen and small farmers and work-people, was plentiful and substantial, and even peasants had good and ample clothing. Materials were strongly and honestly made, clothing was sewed by hand, and lasted long. The fashions did not change from year to year, and the rich or stout clothes of one generation were bequeathed by will and worn by a second and even a third and fourth generation.


In England extravagance in dress in court circles, and grotesqueness in dress among all educated folk, had become abhorrent to that class of persons who were called Puritans; and as an expression of their dislike they wore plainer garments, and cut off their flowing locks, and soon were called Roundheads. The Massachusetts settlers who were Puritans determined to discourage extravagance in dress in the New World, and attempted to control the fashions.

The Massachusetts magistrates were reminded of their duties in this direction by sanctimonious spurring from gentlemen and ministers in England. One such meddler wrote to Governor Winthrop in 1636: "Many in your plantacions discover too much pride." Another stern moralist reproved the colonists for writing to England "for cut work coifes, for deep stammel dyes," to be sent to them in America. Others, prohibited from wearing broad laces, were criticised for ordering narrow ones, for "going as farr as they may."

In 1634 the Massachusetts General Court passed restricting sumptuary laws. These laws forbade the purchase of woollen, silk, or linen garments, with silver, gold, silk, or thread lace on them. Two years later a narrow binding of lace was permitted on linen garments. The colonists were ordered not to make or buy any slashed clothes, except those with one slash in each sleeve and another slash in the back. "Cut works, imbroidd or needle or capps bands & rayles," and gold or silver girdles, hat-bands, belts, ruffs, and beaver hats were forbidden. Liberty was thriftily given, however, to the colonists to wear out any garments they chanced to have unless in the form of inordinately slashed apparel, immoderate great sleeves and rails, and long wings, which could not possibly be endured.

In 1639 men's attire was approached and scanned, and "immoderate great breeches" were tabooed; also broad shoulder-bands, double ruffles and capes, and silk roses, which latter adornment were worn on the shoes.

In 1651 the Court again expressed its "utter detestation that men and women of meane condition, education, and calling, should take vppon them the garbe of gentlemen by wearinge of gold or silver lace, or buttons or poynts at their knees, or walke in great boots, or women of the same ranke to wear silke or tiffany hoods or scarfs."

Many persons were "presented" under this law, men boot-wearers as well as women hood-wearers. In Salem, in 1652, a man was presented for "excess in bootes, ribonds, gould and silver lace."

In Newbury, in 1653, two women were brought up for wearing silk hoods and scarfs, but they were discharged on proof that their husbands were worth £200 each. In Northampton, in the year 1676, a wholesale attempt was made by the magistrates to abolish "wicked apparell." Thirty-eight women of the Connecticut valley were presented at one time for various degrees of finery, and as of too small estate to wear silk. A young girl named Hannah Lyman was presented for "wearing silk in a flaunting manner, in an offensive way and garb not only before but when she stood presented." Thirty young men were also presented for silk-wearing, long hair, and other extravagances. The calm flaunting of her silk in the very eyes of the Court by sixteen-year-old Hannah was premonitory of the waning power of the magistrates, for similar prosecutions at a later date were quashed. By 1682 the tables were turned and we find the Court arraigning the selectmen of five towns for not prosecuting offenders against these laws as in previous years. In 1675 the town of Dedham had been similarly warned and threatened, but apparently was never prosecuted. Connecticut called to its aid in repressing extravagant dress the economic power of taxation by ordering that whoever wore gold or silver lace, gold or silver buttons, silk ribbons, silk scarfs, or bone lace worth over three shillings a yard should be taxed as worth £150.

Virginia fussed a little over "excess in cloathes." Sir Francis Wyatt was enjoined not to permit any but the Council and the heads of Hundreds to wear gold on their clothes, or to wear silk till they made it--which was intended more to encourage silk-making than to discourage silk-wearing. And it provided that unmarried men should be assessed according to their apparel, and married men according to that of their family. In 1660 Virginia colonists were ordered to import no "silke stuffe in garments or in peeces except for whoods and scarfs, nor silver or gold lace, nor bone lace of silk or threads, nor ribbands wrought with gold or silver in them."

The ministers did not fail in their duty in attempting to march with the magistrates in the restriction and simplification of dress. They preached often against "intolerable pride in clothes and hair." Even when the Pilgrims were in Holland the preachers had been deeply disturbed over the dress of their minister's wife, Madam Johnson, who wore "lawn coives" and busks, and a velvet hood, and "whalebones in her petticoat bodice," and worst of all, "a topish hat." One of the earliest interferences of Roger Williams was when he instructed the women of Salem parish always to wear veils in public. But John Cotton preached to them the next Sunday, and he proved to the dames and goodwives that veils were a sign and symbol of undue subjection to their husbands, and Salem women soon proved their rights by coming barefaced to meeting.

Mr. Davenport preached about men's head-gear, that men must take off their hats, and stand up at the announcement of the text. And if New Haven men wore their hats in meeting, I can't see why they fussed so over the Quakers' broadbrims.

After a while the whole church interfered. In 1769 the church at Andover put it to vote whether "the parish Disapprove of the female sex sitting with their Hats on in the Meeting-house in time of Divine Service as being Indecent." In the town of Abington, in 1775, it was voted that it was "an indecent way that the female sex do sit with their hats and bonnets on to worship God." Still another town voted that it was the "Town's Mind" that the women should take their bonnets off in meeting and hang them "on the peggs." We do not know positively, but I suspect that the bonnets continued to grace the heads instead of the pegs in Andover, Abington, and other towns.

To know how the colonists were dressed, we have to learn from the lists of their clothing which they left by will, which lists are still preserved in court records; from the inventories of the garments furnished to each settler who came by contract; from the orders sent back to England for new clothing; from a few crude portraits, and from some articles of ancient clothing which are still preserved.

When Salem was settled the Massachusetts Bay Company furnished clothes to all the men who emigrated and settled that town. Every man had four pairs of shoes, four pairs of stockings, a pair of Norwich garters, four shirts, two suits of doublet and hose of leather lined with oiled skin, a woollen suit lined with leather, four bands, two handkerchiefs, a green cotton waistcoat, a leather belt, a woollen cap, a black hat, two red knit caps, two pairs of gloves, a mandillion or cloak lined with cotton, and an extra pair of breeches. Little boys just as soon as they could walk wore clothes made precisely like their fathers': doublets which were warm double jackets, leather knee-breeches, leather belts, knit caps. The outfit for the Virginia planters was not so liberal, for the company was not so wealthy. It was called a "Particular of Apparell." It had only three bands, three pairs stockings, and three shirts instead of four. The suits were of canvas, frieze, and cloth. The clothing was doubtless lighter, because the climate of Virginia was warmer. There were no gloves, no handkerchiefs, no hat, no red knit caps, no mandillion, no extra pair of breeches. They had "a dozen points," which were simply tapes to hold up the clothing and fasten it together. The clothing of the Piscataquay planters varied but little from the others. They had scarlet waistcoats and cassocks of cloth, not of leather. We are apt to think of the Puritan settlers of New England as sombre in attire, wearing "sad-colored" garments, but green and scarlet waistcoats and scarlet caps certainly afforded a gay touch of color.

A young boy, about ten years old, named John Livingstone, was sent from New York to school in New England at the latter part of the seventeenth century. An "account of his new linen and clothes" has been preserved, and it gives an excellent idea of the clothing of a son of wealthy people at that time. It reads thus, in the old spelling:--

     "Eleven new shirts, 4 pair laced sleves, 8 Plane Cravats, 4 Cravats with Lace, 4 Stripte Wastecoats with black buttons, 1 Flowered Wastecoat, 4 New osenbrig britches, 1 Gray hat with a black ribbon, 1 Gray hat with a blew ribbon, 1 Dousin black buttons, 1 Dousin coloured buttons, 3 Pair gold buttons, 3 Pair silver buttons, 2 Pair Fine blew Stockings, 1 Pair Fine red Stockings, 4 White Handkerchiefs, 2 Speckled Handkerchiefs, 5 Pair Gloves, 1 Stuff Coat with black buttons, 1 Cloth Coat, 1 Pair blew plush britches, 1 Pair Serge britches, 2 Combs, 1 Pair new Shooes, Silk & Thred to mend his Cloathes."

Osenbrig was a heavy, strong linen. This would seem to be a summer outfit, and scarcely warm enough for New England winters. Other schoolboys at that date had deerskin breeches.

Leather was much used, especially in the form of tanned buckskin breeches and the deerskin hunters' jackets, which have always and deservedly been a favorite wear, since they are one of the most appropriate, useful, comfortable, and picturesque garments ever worn by men in any active outdoor life.

Soon in the larger cities and among wealthy folk a much more elaborate and varied style of dress became fashionable. The dress of little girls in families of wealth was certainly almost as formal and elegant as the dress of their mammas, and it was a very hampering and stiff dress. They wore vast hoop-petticoats, heavy stays, and high-heeled shoes. Their complexions were objects of special care; they wore masks of cloth or velvet to protect them from the tanning rays of the sun, and long-armed gloves. Little Dolly Payne, who afterwards became the wife of President Madison, went to school wearing "a white linen mask to keep every ray of sunshine from the complexion, a sunbonnet sewed on her head every morning by her careful mother, and long gloves covering the hands and arms." Our present love of outdoor life, of athletic sports, and our indifference to being sunburned, makes such painstaking vanity seem most unbearably tiresome.

In 1737 Colonel John Lewis sent from Virginia to England for a wardrobe for a young miss, a school-girl, who was his ward. The list reads thus:--

     "A cap ruffle and tucker, the lace 5 shillings per Yard, 1 pair White Stays, 8 pair White Kid gloves, 2 pair coloured kid gloves, 2 pair worsted hose, 3 pair thread hose, 1 pair silk shoes laced, 1 pair morocco shoes, 1 Hoop Coat, 1 Hat, 4 pair plain Spanish shoes, 2 pair calf shoes, 1 mask, 1 fan, 1 necklace, 1 Girdle and buckle, 1 piece fashionable Calico, 4 yards ribbon for knots, 1½ yard Cambric, A mantua and coat of lute-string."

In the middle of the century George Washington also sent to England for an outfit for his stepdaughter, Miss Custis. She was four years old, and he ordered for her, pack-thread stays, stiff coats of silk, masks, caps, bonnets, bibs, ruffles, necklaces, fans, silk and calamanco shoes, and leather pumps. There were also eight pairs of kid mitts and four pairs of gloves; these with the masks show that this little girl's complexion was also to be well guarded.

A little New England Miss Huntington, when twelve years old, was sent from Norwich, Connecticut, to be "finished" in a Boston boarding-school. She had twelve silk gowns, but her teacher wrote home that she must have another gown of "a recently imported rich fabric," which was at once bought for her because it was "suitable for her rank and station."

Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a constant succession of rich and gay fashions; for American dress was carefully modelled upon European, especially English modes. Men's wear was as rich as women's. An English traveller said that Boston women and men in 1740 dressed as gay every day as courtiers in England at a coronation. But with all the richness there was no wastefulness. The sister of the rich Boston merchant, Peter Faneuil, who built Faneuil Hall, sent her gowns to London to be turned and dyed, and her old ribbons and gowns to be sold. But her gowns, which are still preserved, are of magnificent stuffs.

New Yorkers were dressed in gauzes, silks, and laces; even women Quakers in Pennsylvania had to be warned against wearing hoop-petticoats, scarlet shoes, and puffed and rolled hair.

The family of so frugal a man as Benjamin Franklin did not escape a slight infection of the prevailing love for gay dress. In the _Pennsylvania Gazette_ this advertisement appeared in 1750:--

     "Whereas on Saturday night last the house of Benjamin Franklin of this city, Printer, was broken open, and the following things feloniously taken away, viz., a double necklace of gold beads, a womans long scarlet cloak almost new, with a double cape, a womans gown, of printed cotton of the sort called brocade print, very remarkable, the ground dark, with large red roses, and other large and yellow flowers, with blue in some of the flowers, with many green leaves; a pair of womens stays covered with white tabby before, and dove colour'd tabby behind, with two large steel hooks and sundry other goods, etc."

Southern dames, especially of Annapolis, Baltimore, and Charleston, were said to have the richest brocades and damasks that could be bought in London. Every sailing-vessel that came from Europe brought boxes of splendid clothing. The heroes of the Revolution had a high regard for dress. The patriot, John Hancock, was seen at noonday wearing a scarlet velvet cap, a blue damask gown lined with velvet, white satin embroidered waistcoat, black satin small-clothes, white silk stockings, and red morocco slippers. George Washington was most precise in his orders for his clothing, and wore the richest silk and velvet suits.

A true description of a Boston printer just after the Revolution shows his style of dress:--

     "He wore a pea-green coat, white vest, nankeen small clothes, white silk stockings, and pumps fastened with silver buckles which covered at least half the foot from instep to toe. His small clothes were tied at the knees with ribbon of the same colour in double bows, the ends reaching down to the ancles. His hair in front was well loaded with pomatum, frizzled or craped and powdered. Behind, his natural hair was augmented by the addition of a large queue called vulgarly a false tail, which, enrolled in some yards of black ribbon, hung half-way down his back."

Many letters still exist written by prominent citizens of colonial times ordering clothing, chiefly from Europe. Rich laces, silk materials, velvet, and fine cloth of light and gay colors abound. Frequently they ordered nightgowns of silk and damask. These nightgowns were not a garment worn at night, but a sort of dressing-gown. Harvard students were in 1754 forbidden to wear them. Under the name of banyan they became very fashionable, and men had their portraits painted in them, for instance the portrait of Nicholas Boylston, now in Harvard Memorial Hall.

With the increase of trade with China many Chinese and East Indian goods became fashionable, with hundreds of different names. A few were of silk or linen, but far more of cotton; among them nankeens were the most imported and even for winter wear.

Both men and women wore for many years great cloaks or capes, known by various names, such as roquelaures, capuchins, pelisses, etc. Women's shoes were of very thin materials, and paper-soled. They wore to protect these frail shoes, when walking on the ill-paved streets, various forms of overshoes, known as goloe-shoes, clogs, pattens, etc. When riding, women in the colonies wore, as did Queen Elizabeth, a safeguard, a long over-petticoat to protect the gown from mud and rain. This was sometimes called a foot-mantle, also a weather-skirt. A traveller tells of seeing a row of horses tied to a fence outside a Quaker meeting. Some carried side saddles, some men's saddles and pillions. On the fence hung the muddy safeguards the Quaker dames had worn outside their drab petticoats. Men wore sherry-vallies or spatter-dashes to protect their gay breeches.

There was one fashion which lasted for a century and a half which was so untidy, so uncomfortable, so costly, and so ridiculous that we can only wonder that it was endured for a single season--I mean the fashion of wig-wearing by men. The first colonists wore their own natural hair. The Cavaliers had long and perfumed love-locks; and though the Puritans had been called Roundheads, their hair waved, also, over the band or collar, and often hung over the shoulder. The Quakers, also, wore long locks, as the lovely portrait of William Penn shows. But by 1675 wigs had become common enough to be denounced by the Massachusetts government, and to be preached against by many ministers; while other ministers proudly wore them. Wigs were called horrid bushes of vanity, and hundreds of other disparaging names, which seemed to make them more popular. They varied from year to year; sometimes they swelled out at the sides, or rose in great puffs, or turned under in heavy rolls, or hung in braids and curls and pig-tails; they were made of human hair, of horsehair, goat's-hair, calves' and cows' tails, of thread, silk, and mohair. They had scores of silly and meaningless names, such as "grave full-bottom," "giddy feather-top," "long-tail," "fox-tail," "drop-wig," etc. They were bound and braided with pink, green, red, and purple ribbons, sometimes all these colors on one wig. They were very heavy, and very hot, and very expensive, often costing what would be equal to a hundred dollars to-day. The care of them was a great item, often ten pounds a year for a single wig, and some gentlemen owned eight or ten wigs. Little children wore them. I have seen the bill for a wig for William Freeman, dated 1754; he was a child seven years old. His father paid nine pounds for it, and the same for wigs for his other boys of nine and ten. Even servants wore them; I read in the _Massachusetts Gazette_ of a runaway negro slave who "wore off a curl of hair tied around his head with a string to imitate a wig," which must have been a comical sight. After wigs had become unfashionable, the natural hair was powdered, and was tied in a queue in the back. This was an untidy, troublesome fashion, which ruined the clothes; for the hair was soaked with oil or pomatum to make the powder stick.

Comparatively little jewellery was worn. A few men had gold or silver sleeve-buttons; a few women had bracelets or lockets; nearly all of any social standing had rings, which were chiefly mourning-rings. As these gloomy ornaments were given to all the chief mourners at funerals, it can be seen that a man of large family connections, or of prominent social standing, might acquire a great many of them. The minister and doctor usually had a ring at every funeral they attended. It is told of an old Salem doctor, who died in 1758, that he had a tankard full of mourning-rings which he had secured at funerals. Men sometimes wore thumb-rings, which seems no queerer than the fact that they carried muffs. Old Dr. Prince of Boston carried an enormous bearskin muff.

Gloves also were gifts at funerals, sometimes in large numbers. At the funeral of the wife of Governor Belcher, in 1738, over a thousand pairs were given away. Rev. Andrew Eliot, who was pastor of the North Church in Boston, had twenty-nine hundred pair of gloves given him in thirty-two years; many of these he sold. In all the colonies, whether settled by Dutch, English, French, German, or Swedes, gloves were universally given at funerals.

The early watches were clumsy affairs, often globose in shape, with a detached outer case.

To show how few of the first colonists owned either watches or clocks, we have the contemporary evidence of Roger Williams. When he rowed thirty miles down the bay, and disputed with the "Foxians" at Newport in 1672, it was agreed that each party should be heard in turn for a quarter of an hour. But no clock was available in Newport; and among the whole population that flocked to the debate, there was not a single watch. Williams says, "unless we had Clocks and Watches and Quarter Glasses (as in some Ships) it was impossible to be exactly punctual," so they guessed at the time.

Sun-dials were often set in the street in front of houses; and noon-marks on the threshold of the front door or window-sill helped to show the hour of the day.