Sunday, November 18, 2012

The first Thanksgiving at Plymouth

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.

On the right we see what the Pilgrims likely wore. But how did Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and his entourage of ninety men dress 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.

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

Friday, August 3, 2012


In the days of antiquity, and even much later, everybody bathed (splashed around, swam) in the buff. Seems the most comfortable way to go, so how in the name of Neptune did that get-up from 1858 on the left come to be? Certainly there was no law against swimming nude even in the United Kingdom until the mid-19th century. Though prior to that, towns were free to write their own laws against nude swimming. Bath, the popular summer stomping ground of Britain’s upper crust, was a forerunner in the cover-it-up trend. Take a look at the code of dress for men in the Bath Corportation bathing code dress of 1737:

“It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.”

Needless to say, a lot of men in the United Kingdom who were accustomed to splashing around in their birth suits didn’t think much of that and continued to do as they pleased until nude swimming was eventually banned in 1860. It was with much protest that they eventually pulled on their drawers (calecons as they were called). However, it wasn’t until the 1870s when the first men’s bathing suits came into being in the form of short red and white striped drawers. Women also bathed in the nude at the spas, but were forced to cover up by the 1670s. Here’s a description of a ladies’ bathing costume written by Celia Fiennes in 1687:

The Ladyes go into the bath with Garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning, which Lookes sadly in the poorer sort that go in their own linning. The Gentlemen have drawers and wastcoates of the same sort of canvas, this is the best linning, for the bath water will Change any other yellow.”

In the 18th century, women wore "bathing gowns", long dresses made of fabrics that wouldn’t become transparent when wet. Weights were sewn into the hems so the skirts wouldn’t rise up in the water. Men wore a form-fitting wool garment with long sleeves and legs similar to underwear. This style would change very little over the next one hundred years.

It was in the 19th century that the woman’s two-piece swimsuit first emerged. It was a gown that fell from the shoulders to the knees and was worn with leggings going down to the ankles. In the United States, beauty contests with women in bathing costumes became popular from the 1880s, though they were generally frowned upon.

Annette Kellerman – Wikipedia
 A Splash of Scandal
It may seem unimaginable today, but in 1907, the Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman created a furor when she appeared in an underwater ballet show in the United States wearing a swimsuit that exposed not only her neck and her arms, but shocker of shockers, her legs! It should come as no surprise Ms. Kellerman was arrested for indecent exposure. But she later starred in several movies and ended up with a line of bathing suits named after her, which goes to show infamy sometimes pays.

In 1913, inspired by the introduction of women into Olympic swimming (and most likely Ms. Kellerman’s boldness), designer Carl Jantzen introduced the first functional two-piece swimsuit. By the early 1920s almost every bathing beauty could be seen at the beach in a long top worn over shorts. Decency prevailed, however. The body was covered from the neck to almost the knees and matching stockings were part of the ensemble

1910 swimming costumes

 In 1921, Jantzen Knitting Mills introduced the first one-piece ‘elastic’ suit, launching the wool knit bathing suit for men and women that would be around for 15 years. Swimsuit maker Mabs of Hollywood created a more shapely look for women in the mid 1930s with Lastex, a satin finish elastic and silk fabric used for girdles.

Jean Harlow 1930s
 By the early 1940s the two-piece swimsuit that allowed a peek at the midriff was stepping out onto American beaches from sea to shining sea. Leading the parade were Hollywood stars such as Esther Williams, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth.

1940s two-piece swimsuit
No sooner had the sight of a little skin become the norm than there was a revolution of unprecedented proportions in France. The bikini was unveiled in Paris on July 5, 1946 by French engineer Louis Réard and designer Jacques Heim. When this itsy bitsy garment was revealed – modeled by a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris because no model dared wear it – even Parisian eyebrows shot up. The designers well knew they had created something explosive and so named their creation after nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll. 

Micheline Bernardini models the first modern bikini

But had Réard come up with something new? A mosaic mural at Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily shows women exercising in the 4th century AD. What they’re wearing looks a lot like a bikini to me.

In the 1950s, the bikini became less revealing with the bottom covering the navel. Modesty had returned. But it would be a mere two decades before the thong bikini took beaches by storm. American designer Rudi Gernreich has been credited with introducing the thong bikini in 1974, though some claim it first appeared on the beaches of Brazil in 1977. Wherever the credit lies, the thong isn’t new either. The fundoshi, a thong-style garment, has been worn by Japanese men for swimming for centuries. As I said in a previous post, what’s old is new again.

In 1990, the State of Florida told women to cover up, banning the thong bikini from state beaches. The ban is still in effect, but it only covers 30 miles – about 4% of the Florida coastline. The thong bikini covers about 2% of an average size woman's body.

 Sources: Wikipedia
Photo sources: Wikipedia,,,        

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where on earth did the idea of the white wedding dress come from?

You may not know this, but it wasn’t until the late 1940s when the white wedding gown with the full, long skirt became the standard for brides. Prior to that, wedding dresses followed the fashion of the period and dresses of any color marched down the aisle. So, where did the straight-out-of-a-fairytale Princess Diana-style wedding dress on the left come from? It originated with England’s Queen Victoria whose choice of color for her bridal gown (white) became all the rage. In those days -1840 to be precise - the sun never set on the British Empire, so it’s no surprise this new trend set by Victoria found its way around the world faster than a steam ship could travel. There was a resurgence of the Victorian look in the 1940s and the bridal gown has pretty much remained the same since.

Queen Victoria in her wedding gown

But to give history its due, it was not Victoria who first wore white for her wedding. Mary Queen of Scots (the one who lost her head because she stepped on Elizabeth I of England’s toes a little too hard) was the first royal bride to wear full white when she married the Dauphin of France in 1559. At that time, white was the color of mourning for French queens, but Mary, not being one to abide by rules, chose white. It was her favorite color. Philippa of England also wore white, though Philippa didn’t go the full hog. Her bow to the color that eventually came to be associated with virginity was a silk cloak bordered with squirrel and ermine.

Prior to the Victorian era, it was anything goes when it came to the color of the wedding dress - even black, which was popular in Scandinavia. Rich and boldly colored fabrics lined and trimmed with furs were worn by the crème de la crème of society up to that point. The marriage unions of the nobility weren’t just about two people. A marriage was also a union between families and, just as often, states. Brides of the aristocracy therefore dressed accordingly – to the nines. But no matter what her station, every bride put on her best show for her wedding, even if she was so poor she had to make do with her Sunday best. After all, the wedding, as it still often does, reflected the status of the family.

Edwardian brides took the Victorian wedding dress to the hilt with an extravagance of frills and flounces never before seen. On the right is Alexandra, bride of King Edward VII of England. However, with the outbreak of World War 1, the over-the-top wedding dress took a backseat to practicality. Styles became simpler, hems became shorter and the tightly laced corset was disposed of for once and for all. 

I’m sure it won't come as a surprise to hear it was the indomitable Coco Chanel who introduced the short wedding dress, a knee-length dress worn with a long train – everything white of course. According to From Times Past, “This cemented white as the universal color of the wedding dress.”


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cork Rump

Milliner's Shop by S. F. Fores
 In the first decade of the Georgian Era, bell shaped skirts were all the rage. This silhouette was accomplished with hoops of whalebone tied together in a cage around the waist. By mid-18th Century, oblong or fan hoops called panniers (French for basket) spread a lady's skirt to the sides. Proponents claimed this style made for ease of walking and kept importunate gentlemen at a distance. As always, however, such fashion came at a price. Women were forced to turn sideways when they passed through doors, and climbing into a coach was a logistical nightmare. So in the last quarter of the century, the emphasis shifted from the hips to the rump.
Pads filled with fabric or cork were tied at the waist and draped over the derrière, poufing the skirt in the back. Cartoonist were quick to lambast this new “bum roll” or “cork rump” trend. (Check out the 1787 print by S.F. Fores called The Milliner's Shop above. A bum roll is hanging on the wall to the right of the mirror.)
Chloe's Cushion or the Cork Rump by Matthew Darly
Typical of the ridicule was the print by Matthew Darly from 1777 entitled Chloe's Cushion or The Cork Rump. (Notice the puppy perched on the back!) Satirists like Peter Pindar composed poems about the style. In 1815 he published The Cork Rump, or Queen and Maids of Honour. He'd already offered a backhanded criticism of the fashion when he extolled the virtues of the common maid in his 1794 poem, The Louisad:

  “With Nature's hips, she sighs not for cork rumps,
“And scorns the pride of pinching stays and jumps;
“But, pleas'd from whalebone prisons to escape,
“She trusts to simple nature for a shape…”

Cork rumps were a popular subject in newspapers and broadsheets as well. One gentleman observed in the December 16, 1776 issue of The Weekly Miscellany:

“A most ingenious author has made it a question, whether a man marrying a woman…may not lawfully sue for divorce on the grounds that she is not the same person? What with the enormous false head-dress--painting--and this newfangled cork substitute--it would be almost impossible for a man to know his bride the morning of his nuptials. If the ladies look on this invention as an ornament to their symmetry, I will engage they shall be excelled by almost any Dutch market-woman or fat landlady in this kingdom.”

There is an account in History of the Westminster Election of a riot on May 10, 1784 in Covent Garden between proponents of the three candidates standing for Parliament. The Guards were called and subsequently fired upon the crowd. Two ladies lost portions of their wigs, several were “deprived of their eye-brows” and one woman had her cork rump shot off.
But perhaps no story was more outrageous than the one which appeared on October 4, 1785 in The Morning Post. A lady reportedly fell into the Thames and was saved from drowning by--you guessed it--her cork rump. (Click here for the entire article:
Eventually, the cork rump faded in popularity, replaced by the Grecian silhouette and empire gowns of the Regency. But as the saying goes, you can't keep a good thing down. The exaggerated tush returned mid-19th Century in the form of the Victorian bustle.
Joanna Waugh lives on the southern shore of Lake Michigan and writes Regency romance.

Her book BLIND FORTUNE is available in Kindle format at

Friday, April 20, 2012



18th & Early 19th Century England

By Maggi Andersen

Regency men
It was not in France but Britain that the classic style of clothes worn by men today began to evolve.
During the Georgian period, upper-class Englishmen were busy running their country estates. They needed fabrics which supported their sports, travel and life in the countryside.

18th Century Frenchmen's clothing
 18th Century Frenchmen’s clothing 
Surprisingly, the French, who remained in court and dressed accordingly, came to admire the sensible dress of the English. And in the 1780s, France became obsessed with all things English. This frenzy was known as Anglomania. Sir Walter Scott describes it well: “France, who had so long dictated to all Europe in matters of fashion, seemed now herself disposed to borrow the more simple forms and fashions of her ancient rival.”
Aside from the adoption of English butlers, carriages, dogs and horses, the French began to use wool for jackets instead of the traditional silks and satins. The French Revolution influences this, with the turning away from aristocratic forms of dress.
This resulted in a turning away of bright colors for men. The colors of jackets were limited to brown, grey, dark green, blue and black. Blue was acceptable for any occasion, and black reserved for morning (informal) or for eveningwear.

Regency riding boots
Boots were de rigueur, and by the 1820s trousers became the dominant item of clothing for men instead of breeches and pantaloons. The colors were predominantly tan, white, blue, grey and, occasionally, black. Normally one plain color but sometimes pin-striped. Materials were wool, cashmere, corduroy, cotton, linen, leather and silk.

Waistcoats were the main item used for color and variety. Sometimes two waistcoats were worn simultaneously to show contrasting colors. They were made in a variety of fabrics and often exhibited expensive embroidery. Many wore white or flesh colored waistcoats to give the impression, should the man remove his coat, that he was naked. Influenced by the Grecian Ideal, men were proud of their bodies and sought by fair means or foul (a little padding or corsetry) to display them at their best. 
Shirts were white linen. A great symbol of flair and individuality was the cravat, which required several meters of expensive cotton. Tying it took a considerable amount of time and assistance. These were predominantly white, although some striped fabrics were used, similar to ties worn today. By the Regency era, cleanliness became an important factor and white fabrics demonstrated that the wearer’s clothing was clean. Regular bathing and the use of soap replaced the heavy use of perfume to disguise body odor.
The movement away from powder, perfume wigs, silks, lace, embroidery and stockings segregated the fashions of men and women to become more like our modern day understanding of menswear and masculinity, through the many changes during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. 

Bridegroom's Attire
Groom’s attire
1900′s-1920′s (Edwardian Period): A frock coat (a double breasted long coat) was widely worn as part of men’s formalwear during the Edwardian and Victorian periods. By 1910, three-piece suits became more popular than frock coats, but the slim fitted jackets and trousers were still worn.

And up to the present day...

Contemporary Male Attire
Maggi Andersen, Author of The Reluctant Marquess

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Resource: NAPOLEON and the Empire of FASHION 1795-1815 Skira.
FASHION IN THE TIME OF JANE AUSTEN Sarah Jane Downing Shire Library.