Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Costuming Men for the 1770's to 1860's in America

Sans asked why we weren't in costume over the weekend, but we in fact were. FH whinges about his face being seen on the internet, so I've blacked it out to make him happy... but I digress.

This blurb is a bit like Pulp Fiction, the film. I'm starting in the middle (1820's), will move to the end, and then hop back to the beginning. Also let me just say that I will end up leaving things out as I don't have an entire semester's worth of time with three hours a week of lecture time available for me to give information. But it's out there if folks are interested in reading more.

In a Rendezvous camp setting, we are depicting a fur trading camp in the time frame of 1770 to 1860. We stop at the Civil War (War of Northern Aggression, War Between the States, etc..) because generally the only activity for female reenactors is the role of "camp follower." I'm certain you can figure out what that means. Needless to say it's not very flattering for most women and while wouldn't mind portraying it for a historical documentary once in a while, we don't want to be in that role constantly.

Now the time frame gives us about 100 years of garment history to "play in" and it also gives us melding of several cultures and their clothing styles. In the picture below FH is wearing a Cherokee Ribbon Shirt without ornamentation. The ribbons are quite handsome, but not very practical for everyday wear when you're hunting, chopping wood, etc. The fabric is a lightweight cotton, which fits for the 1820's and 1830's. If you look closely the color is a faded green and white, and is a simple checkerboard pattern. Commercial weavers in Europe were already producing checked and plaid patterns by this time.

Keep in mind that shirts during this time were considered underwear. But when you're on the frontier and your waistcoat falls apart, not to mention kept getting in the way, you don't replace it easily. And some men ceased caring about them altogether given that they were living and trading with Native Americans on the frontier.

[Side note, the Cherokee and other tribes in southeast had adopted European customs and modes of dress. There was a good deal of melting pot action going on... until the American government started playing dirty.]

His belt is typical of the time: wide and buckled to the side. It's actually his kilt belt, but it serves for this nicely. He made the knife in his belt years ago but only just threw together a sheath for it over the weekend. He's going to add a loop to the sheath so it can slide onto the belt. He's also lacking a belt pouch still. FH really needs to dig out the leather tools and get moving. ;-)

The strip of cloth looped around the belt is very important. It's a strip of "patch," thin linen or in this case cotton fabric that is used to load the firearms. When you load a muzzle loading firearm, the little chant you say over and over until you can do it without thinking is "powder, patch, and ball." The fabric actually gets loading into the barrel as part of the shot. It's kept in a strip about an inch wide and tied to the belt. When you need a strip, the hunter sets the butt of his firearm on the ground, loads his powder, than sets the strip over the barrel and cuts about an inch off the length while setting the ball in place. This keeps tiny bits of fabric from flying thither and yon.

He pants aren't precisely period in this picture. There was denim fabric then and it was being made into pant. But the pants would not have pockets. That's why his shirt is long. It covers the pockets nicely. I have to make him some pants soon, but for now this works.

Longer pants were being worn in the 1820's, especially along the "frontier" in western Virgina and Kentucky. The handsome knee length trews with extremely tall stockings didn't work well in "uncivilized" parts. They were easily torn and didn't protect well from certain natural elements... like brambles and thorns. If I had thought quicker, he would have gartered his pants at the knee with strips of leather. I will be getting some small buckles in the near future to make him "proper" garters... at least from a "white man's" view of proper. Native men just tied leather strips at their knees to hold leggings in place. And speaking of leggings...

Another option was sometimes adopted from various Native American tribes. The breechcloth and leggings combination.
If you click on the picture to make it larger you can see the leather legging detail. The breechcloth is designed to cover one's privates and behind, while the leather protects your legs. Mr. Aday is wearing an apron panel, which is beautifully decorated in the front. However I don't have a picture of his front. FH took these. There was no way on this Green Earth I was walking to the rifle range in a skirt. Remember what I said about brambles and thorns? Yeah.

Foot wear depended heavily on what you could afford, what was available, and if you had to make it yourself. Back east there were more cobblers and if you could afford boots, you could get them. On the frontier once your boots worn out, you might switch to moccasins. The style of moccasin varied by region.

As time progressed through the 1840's to the 1860's there was a westward migration of white Americans. As "civilization" became easier to reach so did fashion. Actual boots were easier to get, as were wool trousers and fancier clothes, like proper frock coats. The styles from Europe from that time were adopted here, albeit slower. It did take time to bring the latest fashions over the water.

Jumping back in time to the American Colonial and Revolutionary periods, we see men's fashion still similar in the frontier areas. The example here is a painting depicting the capture of Quebec's governor, Henry Hamilton by George Roger Clark. The military uniforms of the time versus frontier clothing make an interesting contrast. Do you see the different hat styles too? Oh the coat that Clark is wearing is called a hunting frock and was worn up through the Mexican-American War. It's a variation of the typical frock coat of the time. But it's sturdier and made so ice and rain don't hinder your movements.

Mainstream clothing in the colonies (places near actual cities) are what most people think of when pondering this period. If you look here and here you can see some great photos that I don't have the rights to, but illustrate men's fashion nicely.

I think that's about all I have the time to blog about. I really need to actually get going with the sewing or else I will never get done.

If anyone is interested, click the following links to see some more clothes.

Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc section on clothing
Crazy Crow Trading Post

Oh and one more thing, when FH has to dress nicely in period he will eventually have an outfit that looks like this:
But there's no way I'm letting him run through the woods with embers from muzzle loaders flying around and tearing my hand sewn work on brambles. No way, no how. These will be for indoor and formal occasions. The rest of the time he gets to run around like the Cherokee-Scott-Irish man he is... leather, canvas, and cotton. ;-)


Marlene said...

That was really interesting, with nice links, my house is set in 1820, but I know very little of American history for that date.

Kim said...

Thank you for posting this! I find it very interesting and I have learned lots from you today- any time you want to give us a lecture I will be reading for sure. Reading all of this and knowing that you make the items for these trips makes me think that we spend way too much time on tv and video games today and not enough time making and doing things. I am very inspired and motivated by you! Also, tell your hubby thank you for the pics of him with blacked out face- very cool to be able to look at the pictures closely and see what you are talking about :)

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

That was very informative! I was wondering what the difference is between what you do and the Civil War re-enactments we've been to locally. There are women who are soldiers in the Civil War re-enactments; we were told that is historically accurate because women did disguise themselves and enlist.

Katie's Clay Corner said...

Good lord...You know a lot...and thank-you for sharing it all with us. These events sound like a lot of fun!!! I love that last outfit! Pretty spiffy!!! I can see why you wouldn't want hubby to wear it out to play in! LOL!! Boys and their toys:)

Oh...and before I forget~ A Navy blue and silver dragon would be perfect~ bf is a Dallas Cowboy fan and I think it would be neat to have a dragon in those colors! I have a spinning loom that I will get a picture of that I'd like to send you~ if you can use it... :)

Caseymini said...

Kat! I love seeing the photos of the camp out. Who is taking all of the tintypes? LOL

I have a book that you should look for. I am not giving up my copy, but I am hoping that you might find one where you are. It was published in 1976 by George Shumway Publisher. The name is "Rural Pennsylvanaia Clothing" and the author is Ellen J Gehret. I will e mail you the particulars.

MiniKat said...

Marlene: I'm glad you found this interesting. If you ever have a need of American history for the time period, just let me know. I have an emphasis degree in it.

Kim: I think you're onto something with the "too much TV and video games" idea. That's why I make minis. But FH is an outdoorsman and sportsman hunter, so this works great for him. Besides, not only is it fun for us, but it's a way to make history interesting enough for people to pay attention.

Michelle: There were women dressed as men acting as soldiers yes, but not every woman who wants to reenact can pull that off. ;-) The womanly women end up as camp followers for reenacting. It does pay off though as the Civil War uniforms are bloody hot, since they're wool. ;-)

Katie: I don't know much at all really. But I'm happy to share what I do know. It makes life more interesting. ;-)

Casey: Cool thanks! I will start looking for a copy. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing all that. I have a cousin who is very active in a re-enactment group and they take it very seriously. She is a "camp follower" and follows her husband and makes the camps etc. She makes all their clothes and everything must be exactly as it was back then. No purses, make up, modern conveniences etc. (At least while they are in camp - they can leave it behind when they go into town.) I find it all very facinating and I just love history.

Caseymini said...

OK Kat, where's the photo of you in costume? We wanna see!

MiniKat said...

Doreen: Glad you're enjoying.

Casey: It doesn't exist. I was just wearing a skirt and blouse. It worked for the informal camp, but I need real stuff before the next one.

Alice said...

Great fun, and a neat history lesson! We don't have a history re-enactment group here that I know of (except for the SCA, but they don't do American history.) Thanks for sharing!

Sans said...

Kat, this is a very nice follow up. I love all the historical facts you posted on the costumes. Did it take you 4 hours to do this post? LOL. Why don't you put up pics of your costume and black out your face, hair (bad hair day, you said?) and legs and arms? We just want to see your costume ;p!

So this whole re-enactment thing is really fascinating! Do you guys meet real often?

MiniKat said...

Alice: Yeah the SCA doesn't do American history... some history scholars would argue they don't do any history. But that's another story. ;-)

San: I wasn't really in costume. Hence no pictures of me in costume. We're still working on getting me outfitted for this time period. Everything I have is for Renaissance era Scotland.