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RAIMENT AND VESTURE
WE know definitely the dress of the settlers of Massachusetts Bay, for the inventory of the "Apparell for 100 men" furnished by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628 is still in existence. From it we learn that enough clothing was provided to supply to each emigrant four "peare of shewes," four "peare of stockings," a "peare Norwich garters," four shirts, two "sutes dublet and hose of leather lynd with oil'd skyn leather, ye hose & dublett with hooker & eyes," a "sute of Norden dussens or hampshire kersies lynd, the hose with skins, dublets with lynen of gilford or gedlyman kerseys," four bands, two handkerchiefs, a "wastcoate of greene cotton bound about with red tape," a leather girdle, a Monmouth cap, a black hatt lyned in the browes with lether," five Red knit Capps mill'd about 5d a piece," two pair of gloves, a mandillion "lyned with cotton," one pair of breeches and waistcoat, and a "lether sute of Dublett & breeches of oyled lether," and one pair of leather breeches and "drawers to serve to weare with both their other sutes."
This surely was a liberal outfit, save perhaps in the matter of shirts and handkerchiefs, and doubtless intended to last many years. Though simple it was far from being a sombre one. Scarlet caps and green waistcoats bound with red made cheerful bits of color alongside the leather breeches and buff doublets on Salem shore.
The apparel of the Piscataquay planters, furnished in 1635, varied somewhat from that just enumerated. Their waistcoats were scarlet, and they had cassocks of cloth and canvas, instead of doublets. Though scarce more than a lustrum had passed since the settlement on the shores of the Bay, long hose like the Florentine hose had become entirely old-fashioned and breeches were the wear. Coats — "lynd coats, papous coats, and moose coats" — had also been invented, or at any rate dubbed with that name and assumed. Cassocks, doublets, and jerkins varied little in shape, and the names seem to have been interchangeable. Mandillions, said by some authorities to be cloaks, were in fact much like the doublets, and were worn apparently as an over-garment or greatcoat. The name appears not in inventories after the earliest years.
Though simplicity of dress was one of the cornerstones of the Puritan Church, the individual members did not yield their personal vanity without many struggles. As soon as the colonies rallied from the first years of poverty and, above all, of comparative isolation, and a sequent tide of prosperity and wealth came rolling in, the settlers began to pick up in dress, to bedeck themselves, to send eagerly to the mother country for new petticoats and doublets that, when proudly donned, did not seem simple and grave enough for the critical eyes of the omnipotent New England magistrates and ministers. Hence restraining and simplifying sumptuary laws were passed. In 1634, in view of some new fashions which were deemed by these autocrats to be immodest and extravagant, this order was sent forth by the General Court:
"That no person either man or woman shall hereafter make or buy any apparel, either woolen or silk or linen with any lace on it, silver, gold, or thread, under the penalty of forfeiture of said clothes. Also that no person either man or woman shall make or buy any slashed clothes other than one slash in each sleeve and another in the back; also all cut-works, embroideries, or needlework cap, bands, and rails are forbidden hereafter to be made and worn under the aforesaid penalty; also all gold or silver girdles, hatbands, belts, ruffs, beaverhats are prohibited to be bought and worn hereafter."
Liberty was thriftily given the planters, however, to "wear out such apparel as they are now provided of except the immoderate great sleeves, slashed apparel, immoderate great rails and long wings," which latter were apparently beyond Puritanical endurance.
In 1639 "immoderate great breeches, knots of ryban, broad shoulder bands and rayles, silk ruses, double ruffles and capes" were added to the list of tabooed garments.
In 1651 the General Court again expressed its "utter detestation and dislike that men or women of mean condition, education and callings should take uppon them the garbe of gentlemen by the wearinge of gold or silver lace or buttons or poynts at their knees, to walks in great boots, or women of the same rank to wear silks or tiffany hoodes or scarfes."
Many persons were "presented" under this law; Puritan men were just as fond of finery as were Puritan women. Walking in great boots proved alluring to an illegal degree, just as did wearing silk and tiffany hoods. But Puritan women fought hard and fought well for their fine garments. In Northampton thirty-eight women were brought up at one time before the court in 1676 for their "wicked apparell." One young miss, Hannah Lyman, of Northampton, was prosecuted for "wearing silk in a Maunting manner, in an offensive way and garb, not only before but when she stood presented, not only in Ordinary but Extraordinary times."
We can easily picture sixteen-year-old Hannah, in silk bedight, inwardly rejoicing at the unusual opportunity to fully and publicly display her rich attire, and we can easily read in her offensive flaunting in court a presage of the waning of magisterial power which proved a truthful omen, for in six years similar prosecutions in Northampton, for assumption of gay and expensive garments, were quashed. The ministers of the day note sadly the overwhelming love of fashion that was crescent throughout New England; a love of dress which neither the ban of religion, philosophy, nor law could expel; what Rev. Solomon Stoddard called, in 1675, "intolerable pride in clothes and hair." They were never weary of preaching about dress, of comparing the poor Puritan women to the haughty daughters of Judah and Jerusalem; saying threateningly to their parishioners, as did Isaiah to the daughters of Zion:
"The Lord will tape away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their Gauls and their round tires like the moon.
"The chains and the bracelets and the mufflers.
"The bonnets and the ornaments of the legs and the head-bands and the tablets and the earrings.
"The rings and nose jewels.
"The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles and the wimples and the crisping pins.
"The glasses and the fine linen and the hoods and the veils."
Every evil predicted by the prophet was laid at the door of these Boston and Plymouth dames; fire and war and poor harvests and caterpillars, and even baldness — but still they arrayed themselves in fine raiment, "drew iniquity with a cord of vanity and sin with a cart-rope," and "walked with outstretched necks and wanton eyes mincing as they go."
As an exposition of the possibilities, or rather the actual extensiveness, of a Puritanical feminine wardrobe at this date, let me name the Articles of clothing bequeathed by the will of Jane Humphrey, who died in Dorchester, Mass., in 1668. I give them as they appear on the list, but with the names of her heirs omitted.
"Ye Jump. Best Red Kersey Petticoats, Sad Grey Kersey Wascote. My blemmish Searge Petticoate & my best hatt. My white Fustian Wascote. A black Silk neck cloath. A handkerchiefe. A blew Apron. A plain black Quoife without any lace. A white Holland Appron with a small lace at the bottom. Red Searge petticoat and a blackish Searge petticoat. Greene Searge Wascote & my hood & muffe. My Green Linsey Woolsey petticoate. My Whittle that is fringed & my Jump & my blew Short Coate. A handkerchief. A blew Apron. My best Quife with a Lace. A black Stuffe Neck Cloath. A White Holland apron with two breadths in it. Six yards of Redd Cloth. A greene Vnder Coate. Staning Kersey Coate. My murry Wascote. My Cloake & my blew Was-cote. My best White Apron, my best Shifts. One of my best Neck Cloaths, & one of my plain Quieus. One Callico Vnder Neck Cloath. My fine thine Neck Cloath. My next best Neck Cloath. A square Cloath with a little lace on it. My greene Apron."
It is pleasing to note in this list that not only the garments and stuffs, but the very colors named, have an antique sound; and we read in other inventories of such tints as philomot (feuillemort), gridolin (gris-de-lin or flax blossom), puce color, grain color (which was scarlet), foulding color, Kendal green, Lincoln green, watchet blue, barry, milly, tuly, stammel red, Bristol red, sad color — and a score of other and more fanciful names whose signification and identification were lost with the death of the century. In later days Congress brown, Federal blue, and Independence green show our new nation.
This wardrobe of Jane Humphrey's was certainly a very pretty and a very liberal outfit for a woman of no other fortune. But to have all one's possessions in the shape of raiment did not in her day bear quite the same aspect as it would at the present day. Many persons, men and women, preferred to keep their property in the form of what they quaintly called "duds." The fashion did not, in New England, wear out more apparel than the man, for clothing, no matter what its cut, was worn as long as it lasted, doing service frequently through three generations. For instance, we find Mrs. Epes, of Ipswich, when she was over fifty years old, receiving this bequest by will: "If she desire to have the suit of damask which was the Lady Cheynies her grandmother, let her have it upon appraisement." Hence we cannot wonder at clothing forming so large a proportion of the articles bequeathed by will and named in inventories; for all the colonists
". . . studied after nyce array,
And made greet cost in clothing."
Nor can we help feeling that any woman should have been permitted to have plenty of gowns in those days without being thought extravagant, since a mantua-maker's charge for making a gown was but eight shillings.
Though the shops were full of rich stuffs, there was no ready-made clothing for women for sale either in outside garments or in under-linen. Occasionally, by the latter part of the eighteenth century, we read the advertisement of a "vandoo" of "full-made gowns, petticoats and sacs of a genteel lady of highest fashion" — a notice which reads uncommonly like the "forced sales" of the present day of mock-outfits of various kinds.
About the middle of the century there began to appear "ready-made clothes for men." Jolley Allen advertised such, and under that name, in 1768, "Coats, Silk Jackets, Shapes and Cloth Ditto; Stocking Breeches of all sizes & most colours. Velvet Cotton Thickset Duroy Everlasting & Plush Breeches. Sailors Great Coats, outside & inside Jackets, Check Shirts, Frocks, long and wide Trowzers, Scotch bonnets & Blue mill'd Shirts." But women's clothes were made to order in the town by mantua makers, and in the country by travelling tailoresses and sempstresses, or by the deft-fingered wearers.
New England dames had no mode-books nor fashion-plates to tell to them the varying modes. Some sent to the fatherland for "fire-new fashions in sleeves and slops," for garments and head-gear made in the prevailing court style; and the lucky possessors lent these new-fashioned caps and gowns and cloaks as models to their poorer or less fortunate neighbors. A very taking way of introducing new styles and shapes to the new land was through the importation by milliners and mantua-makers of dressed dolls, or "babys" as they were called, that displayed in careful miniature the fashions and follies of the English court. In the New England Weekly Journal of July 2, 1733, appears this notice:
"To be seen at Mrs. Hannah Teatts Mantua Maker at the Head of Summer Street Boston a Baby drest after the Newest Fashion of Mantues and Night Gowns & everything belonging to a dress. Latilly arrived on Capt. White from London, any Ladies that desire to see it may either come or send, she will be ready to wait on 'em, if they come to the House it is Five Shilling & if she waite on 'em it is Seven Shilling."
We can fancy the group of modish Boston belles and dames each paying Hannah Teatts her five shillings, and like overgrown children eagerly dressing and undressing the London doll and carefully examining and noting her various diminutive garments.
These fashion models in miniature effigy obtained until after Revolutionary times. Sally McKean wrote to the sister of Dolly Madison, in June, 1796: "I went yesterday to see a doll which has come from England dressed to show the fashion" — and she then proceeds to describe the modes thus introduced.
We can gain some notion of the general shape of the dress of our forbears at various periods from the portraits of the times. Those of Madam Shrimpton and of Rebecca Rawson are among the earliest. They were painted during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The dress is not very graceful, but far from plain, showing no trace of Puritanical simplicity; in fact, it is precisely that seen in portraits of English well-to-do folk of the same date. Both have strings of beads around the neck and no other jewels; both wear loosely tied and rather shapeless flat hoods concealing the hair, Madam Shrimpton's having an embroidered edge about two inches wide. Similar hoods are shown in Romain de Rooge's prints of the landing of King William, on the women in the coronation procession. They were like the Nithesdale hoods of Hogarth's prints, but smaller. Both New English dames have also broad collars, stiff and ugly, with uncurved horizontal lower edge, apparently trimmed with embroidery or cut-work. Both show the wooden contour of figure, which was either the fault of the artist's brush or of the iron busk of the wearer's stays. The bodies are stiffly pointed, and the most noticeable feature of the gown is the sleeve, consisting of a double puff drawn in just above the elbow and confined by knots of ribbon; in one case with very narrow ribbon loops. Randle Holme says that a sleeve thus tied in at the elbow was called a virago sleeve. Madam Shrimpton's sleeve has also a falling frill of embroidery and lace and a ruffle around the armsize. The question of sleeves sorely vexed the colonial magistrates. Men and women were forbidden to have but one slash or opening in each sleeve. Then the inordinate width of sleeves became equally trying, and all were ordered to restrain themselves to sleeves half an ell wide. Worse modes were to come; "short sleeves whereby the nakedness of the arm may be discovered" had to be prohibited; and if any such ill-fashioned gowns came over from London, the owners were enjoined to wear thick linen to cover the arms to the wrist. Existing portraits show how futile were these precautions, how inoperative these laws; arms were bared with impunity, with complacency, and the presentment of Governor Wentworth shows three slashes in his sleeve.
Not only were the arms of New England women bared to an immodest degree, but their necks also, calling forth many a "just and seasonable reprehension of naked breasts." Though gowns thus cut in the pink of the English mode proved too scanty to suit Puritan ministers, the fair wearers wore them as long as they were in vogue.
It is curious to note in the oldest gowns I have seen, that the method of cutting and shaping the waist or body is precisely the same as at the present day. The outlines of the shoulder and back-seams, of the bust forms, are the same, though not so gracefully curved; and the number of pieces is usually the same. Very good examples to study are the gorgeous brocaded gowns of Peter Faneuil's sister, perfectly preserved and now exhibited in the Boston Art Museum.
Nor have we to-day any richer or more beautiful stuffs for gowns than had our far-away grandmothers. The silks, satins, velvets, and brocades which wealthy colonists imported for the adornment of their wives and daughters, and for themselves, cannot be excelled by the work of modern looms; and the laces were equally beautiful. Whitefield complained justly and more than once of the "foolish virgins of New England covered all over with the Pride of Life;" especially of their gaudy dress in church, which the Abbe Robin also remarked, saying it was the only theatre New England women had for the display of their finery. Other clergymen, as Manasseh Cutler, noted with satisfaction that "the congregation was dressed in a very tasty manner."
In old New England families many scraps of these rich stuffs of colonial days are preserved; some still possess ancient gowns, or coats, or waistcoats of velvet and brocade. In old work-bags, bed-quilts, and cushions rich pieces may be found. When we see their quality, color, and design we fully believe Hawthorn's statement that the "gaudiest dress permissible by modern taste fades into a Quakerlike sobriety when compared with the rich glowing splendor of our ancestors."
The royal governor and his attendants formed in each capital town a small but very dignified circle, glittering with a carefully studied reflection of the fashionable life of the English Court, and closely aping English richness of dress. The large landed proprietors, such as the opulent Narragansett planters, and the rich merchants of Newport, Salem, and Boston, spent large sums annually in rich attire. In every newspaper printed a century or a century and a quarter ago, we find proof of this luxury and magnificence in dress; in the lists of the property of deceased persons, in the long advertisements of milliners and mercers, in the many notices of "vandoos." And the impression must be given to every reader of letters and diaries of the times, of the vast vanity not only of our grandmothers, but of our grandfathers. They did indeed "walk in brave aguise." The pains these good, serious gentlemen took with their garments, the long minute lists they sent to European tailors, their loudly expressed discontent over petty disappointments as to the fashion and color of their attire, their evident satisfaction at becoming and rich clothing, all point to their wonderful love of ostentation and their vanity — a vanity which fairly shines with smirking radiance out of some of the masculine faces in the "bedizened and brocaded" portraits of dignified Bostonians in Harvard Memorial Hall, and from many of the portraits of Copley, Smibert, and Blackburn.
Here is a portion of a letter written by Governor Belcher to a London tailor in 1733:
"I have desired my brother, Mr. Partridge to get me some cloaths made, and that you should make them, and have sent him the yellow grogram suit you made me at London; but those you make now must be two or three inches longer and as much bigger. Let 'em be workt strong, as well as neat and curious. I believe Mr. Harris in Spittlefields (of whom I had the last) will let you have the grogram as good and cheap as anybody. The other suit to be of a very good silk, such as may be the Queens birthday fashion, but I don't like padisway. It must be a substantial silk, because you'll see I have ordered it to be trimm'd rich, and I think a very good white shagrine will be the best lining. I say let it be a handsome compleat suit, and two pair of breeches to each suit."
Picture to yourself the garb in which the patriot John Hancock appeared one noonday in 1782:
"He wore a red velvet cap within which was one of fine linen, the last turned up two or three inches over the lower edge of the velvet. He also wore a blue damask gown lined with velvet, a white stock, a white satin embroidered waistcoat, black satin small-clothes, white silk stockings and red morocco slippers."
What gay peacock was this strutting all point-device in scarlet slippers and satin and damask, spreading his gaudy feathers at high noon in sober Boston streets! — was this our boasted Republican simplicity? And what "fop-tackle" did the dignified Judge of the Supreme Court wear in Boston at that date? He walked home from the bench in the winter time clad in a magnificent white corduroy surtout lined with fur, with his judicial hands thrust in a great fur muff.
Fancy a Boston publisher going about his business tricked up in this dandified dress — a true New England jessamy.
"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 riband of the same color in double bows the ends reaching down to the ancles. His hair in front was well loaded with pomatum, frizzled or creped, and powdered; the ear locks had undergone the same process. Behind his natural hair was augmented by the addition of a large queue, called vulgarly the false tail, which, enrolled in some yards of black riband, hung halfway down his back."
We must believe that the richest brocades, the finest lawn, the choicest laces, the heaviest gold and silver buckles, did not adorn the persons of New England dames and belles only; the gaudiest inflorescence of color and stuffs shone resplendent on the manly figures of their husbands and brothers. And yet these men were no "lisping hawthorn buds," their souls were not in their clothes, or we had not the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the heroes of the Revolution.
The domination of French ideas in America after the Revolution found one form of expression in French fashions of dress; and where New England women had formerly followed English models and English reproductions of French fashions, they now copied the French fashions direct, to the improvement, I fancy, of their modes. Too many accounts and representations exist of these comparatively recent styles to make it of value to enter into any detail of them here. But another influence on the dress of the times should be recorded.
The sudden and vast development of the Oriental trade by New England ship-owners is plainly marked by many changes in the stuffs imported and in the dress of both men and women. Nankeens became at once one of the chief articles of sale in drygoods shops. Though Fairholt says they were not exported to America till 1825, I find them advertised in the Boston Evening Post of 1761. Shawls appeared in shopkeepers' lists. The first notice that I have seen is in the Salem Gazette of 1784 — "a rich sortment of shawls." This was at the very time when Elias Haskett Derby — the father of the East India trade — was building and launching his stout ships for Canton. We have a vast variety of stuffs nowadays, but the list seems narrow and small when compared with the record of Indian stuffs that came in such numbers a hundred years ago to Boston and Salem markets. The names of these Oriental materials are nearly all obsolete, and where the material is still manufactured it bears a different appellation. A list of them will preserve their names and show their number. Some may prove not to have been Indian, but were so called in the days of their importation.