Monday, November 28, 2011


Oh baby! Out you come! You’ve been hiding in that closet for waaay too long! Metallics are out and about, showing up any time of day or night in tops, bottoms, shoes, accessories, you name it! Aren’t you glad I let you hang around since… remind me, when was it padded shoulders like yours were in? But what’s old is new again, babe, so off that hanger with you! You and I are about to hit the town.

Yes, what’s old is new again, but isn’t that always the case? Here's 30s Hollywood vamp, Jean Harlow, in a gown of gold lamé that clings to every curve. The style could be hot off this season's runways, but the photo was taken in the 1930s when metallic lamé emerged as a designer favorite among evening wear fabrics.

Metallic fabric has a long and illustrious history, one that goes back a few thousand years. The Biblical book of Exodus records, “And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut [it into] wires, to work [it] in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen, [with] cunning work.” The reference is to cloth of gold, the predecessor to synthetic metallic fabrics. Woven from silk yarn wrapped with a band or strip of genuine gold, this was the real thing. It is said Genghis Kahn (1162-1227) had in his possession "a piece of cloth beautiful beyond description, which he claimed was of pure gold, containing 130 shades of color."
Perhaps the great Mongolian emperor’s cloth was similar to the magnificent songket fabric of Indonesia and Malaysia shown here. It certainly existed in his time (see Such sumptuousness also brings to mind the Field of Cloth of Gold. It is the year 1520 - June 1520 to be precise - when Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France meet in a valley midway between Guisnes and Arde in France. This excerpt from Hall’s Chronicle describes the historic meeting. “Thursday 8 June being Corpus Christi day, Henry and the French king Francis I, met in a valley called the Golden Dale which lay midway between Guisnes and Arde where the French king had been staying. In this valley Henry pitched his marquee made of cloth of gold near where a banquet had been prepared. His Grace was accompanied by 500 horsemen and 3,000 foot soldiers, and the French King had a similar number of each.”

It’s now nearly 500 years since then and shine hasn't lost its allure. Heads still turn when the glimmer of gold or the sheen of silver makes an entrance.


Gianfranco Ferré - Fall Winter 2011/2012
Jean-Paul Gaultier - Paris Fall Winter 2011
Giorgio Armani - Fall Winter 2011/2012

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by Jennie A. Brownscombe

It's interesting to learn how people dressed long ago, but that
subject sometimes can’t be separated from history in general. And so before talking about what the Pilgrims wore for the three-day feast that eventually became known as Thanksgiving, let me set the stage by sharing an account of the event by Edward Winslow.
Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others."
The famous painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe, shown above, depicts the first Thanksgiving, but it was painted in 1914 and is therefore an artist’s rendering that can’t be taken literally. So, how do we know what the Pilgrims were decked out in when they celebrated their first successful harvest? Few items the Pilgrims wore still exist, but they would have dressed in the same fashion as people in England at that time. Obviously there were different cloaks for different folks, but we have very few visual records to guide us. Virtually all paintings of that era are of the aristocracy to which the Pilgrims did not belong.
We are, however, able to paint a fairly accurate picture of the Plymouth feast where attire is concerned. Pilgrim wills and inventories describing articles of clothing are a start. In addition, The Mayflower passenger list shows several of the Pilgrims came to America with servants. This points to some of them having been of the Middle Class - skilled tradesmen and merchants. Fortunately for the fashion researcher, there is enough from that period in museum collections to give an idea of how the English Middle Class dressed.
An article by Duane A. Cline at also gives us insight into the social status of the Pilgrims. “The Pilgrims were certainly knowledgeable of fabrics and clothing construction. In looking at the occupations of the Pilgrims we find that Isaac Allerton and James Chilton were tailors, William Bradford was a fustian-maker, Edward Tilley was a cloth-maker, John Tilley was a silk worker, Francis Cooke and William White were wool combers or carders, and Digory Priest had been a hatter in London. In addition to those clothing-related trades we know that William Mullins was a boot and shoe merchant, and Thomas Rogers was a camlet merchant.”
Putting the pieces together, we realize Pilgrim clothes were not as drab as myth would have us think. 1621 was the early Baroque period when the Cavalier style was all the rage. Although the flamboyant colors and extravagant details of high society fashion would have been somewhat toned down by Middle Class and Puritan conservatism, Pilgrim attire would have conformed to the style of the day by and large. Women’s dresses would have had shaped bodices and flowing skirts over petticoats. Men would have worn short, fitted jackets called doublets and breeches or pantaloons which ended below the knee. The rest of the leg would have been covered only by hose, except when the knee-high bucket top boots of the day were worn. Both men and women wore the popular falling ruff, a wide circular collar that fell on the shoulders and opened in a V.
As I imagine the assembly of Pilgrims for that first Thanksgiving, I see men in beaver hats with cocked brims sitting around a long table. There is a man wearing a red waistcoat, which stands out in contrast to the otherwise subdued colors worn by the group. Another has a violet velvet cloak lined with taffeta draped over his shoulders. Peeking out from beneath the skirt of the woman sitting next to him is a pair of lace-trimmed, pointed slippers that match her embroidered cap. Across the table from her, another woman wears a dress with a white ruff and sleeves with wide cuffs. She, like many women in the group, wears an apron. Although they are hidden from view, her stockings are held with garters, which unlike ours today, are long, wide ribbons wrapped several times around her upper calves before being tied securely in a bow.
What did Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and his entourage of ninety men wear for the occasion, I wonder? Having not read the full texts of the Pilgrims' journals for their first year at Plymouth, I can only surmise. One account describes Massasoit when the Pilgrims first saw him in March, 1621. “The great chief first appeared at the head of 60 warriors, face painted red and wearing a thick necklace of white beads, the sign of his authority.” This account makes no mention of clothes, but it’s safe to assume the Wampanoag were wearing suits of deerskin for their visit to the Pilgrims in March and again for the feast that would become one of America's most loved traditions.

Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and his entourage are greeted by a Pilgrim.

Image of "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by Jennie A. Brownscombe
courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth.

If you are interested in 17th century clothing, you might be interested in the museum's current temporary exhibition “What’s Under things? Hidden Colonial Clothing featuring a number of rare survivors of 17th century undergarments. For information, visit