Throughout the year we’ve been celebrating the unique clothing of the various people living and visiting Pennsbury Manor in the late 17th Century. After featuring the Laborers and the Servants/Tradespeople, we can highlight the Community Leaders!
As the school year quickly shifts into high-gear and stores advertise their latest sales on backpacks and sneakers, the staff at Pennsbury can’t help but notice the differences between modern life and childhood back in the 17th Century. We spent the summer posting on children’s daily lives and education, so maybe it’s time to feature what they’d be wearing!
“Dress to impress” is surely a phrase we’re common with this day in age, but not something you would necessarily abide by in William Penn’s time. In 17th-century England and the colonies thereof, clothing was expensive. With the majority of the common folk working solely to survive, the average household could not afford to pay as much attention to fashion as their modern counterparts.
What was purchased and worn had to be durable enough to endure the work they’d be doing – silk brocade mantua gowns and embroidered coats were not going to cut it! The secondhand clothing found in the markets of the day actually became a great source among the working class for affordable and up-to-date options for dress.
However, this lack of emphasis on fleeting fashion does not diminish its true importance of clothing. “What people wore defined their social position and every colonial government tried with sumptuary legislation to keep class lines clear.” In 1619 in Massachusetts, legislation was passed “against excess apparel” among plain people . The court ordered that offenders be fined by local priests. Nevertheless, the lines blurred in many cases and it became sometimes difficult for guests in well-to-do families’ households to distinguish between the lady of the house and her servant!
Children of the time followed the same standards as their parents. “Dressed as miniature adults from the time they could walk,” children always knew their families’ status in society and were direct representations of such status. “Wives of the well-to-do imposed standards of proper dress on the children” and likewise, if you were from the country and a farmer’s child, the same aprons, straw hats, and patterns your mother wore would also be your attire.
In the 17th Century, what you wore was much more telling of who you were then in our modern society. In our world, many people can afford even the cheapest imitations of the season’s latest fashions, and children of all families are often dressed up like dolls! But for the Penn Family, their clothing would have reflected their social position and their Quaker beliefs.
Although a man of power and money, William and his family would have dressed in the best fabrics and highest-quality materials, but their religion would have demanded the fashionable embellishment and frills be left off. This was sure to define the family in a rather unique way, in comparison to their Protestant and Anglican English counterparts of equal social rank.
Written by Mary Barbagallo
Everyday Life in Early America, David Freeman Hawke, Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. 1988, New York, NY.
The Criers and Hawkers of London: Engraving and Drawings by Marcellus Laroon, Standford University Press, Standford, CA,1990.
Following our 17th-century Fashion Show last spring, I posted an article highlighting the Laborers and their clothing – next up are the Servants & Tradespeople!
These men and women did not have to break their backs in the fields or peddling wares on the streets, but they still lived a humble life. Perhaps they performed a trade, like turning table legs in a Joyner’s Shop, or worked as a housemaid on a large estate like Pennsbury Manor. Perhaps after saving their wages, they would have enough to purchase a small farm or open their own shop. They had enough to live on, but their modest clothing reflected their lower station in society.
Pennsbury volunteers Valerie and Joseph Long are pictured here modeling appropriate ensembles. Valerie is wearing the latest in 17th-century gowns: the Mantua (featured in a previous post). Her gown is a modest cut and color, and the fine wool fabric would last a long time. Her serviceable coif may not have been the latest style in caps, but it kept the hair off her face while she worked.
Just like his wife, Joe’s simple linen waistcoat and justacorps (also featured previously) was fashionable yet serviceable. Linen is a hard-wearing fabric that would last, which is important when every piece of clothing you buy is an investment. Tradesmen like Joe would dress informally when working in their workshops – shops were for manufacturing, not selling; that would happen at a store or at least a separate room at the front of the building. But when walking through town, he would still want to look like a man of business and stature.
A person’s outward image was a reflection of their status in society and served as a walking advertisement to others on how to treat you. Earlier in the 17th century, English law actually restricted what people could wear based on their social class. But as the gentry class increasingly sold their clothes to secondhand shops in order to fund their new, more fashionable wardrobes, the lower classes began to buy those high-quality garments. In wearing these gently-used pieces, just a fraction of the price for new clothes, they started looking just as nice as their employers. The gentry were NOT HAPPY and wrote in their letters and journals how frustrating it was when the maid looked just like the mistress!
Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator & Costumier
**You might be wondering why our models don’t have any shoes on in these pictures? That’s because we haven’t been able to afford any. We are fundraising to purchase reproduction shoes, since a costumed interpreter in sneakers ruins the whole atmosphere… To help out, you can visit our official website www.pennsburymanor.org and click the “Donate Now” button at the bottom.**
About a month has passed since our 17th-Century Fashion Show, and we had such an amazing time! A HUGE thank-you goes out to our lovely volunteer models (L-R) Mike Thomforde, Maggie Brosz, Joe Long, Valerie Long, Steve Ringel, Melissa Dill, Ron Matlack, and Judith Kirby. Don’t they look great??
I finally have some time to begin sharing what was discussed during the program. We covered so much about the evolution of clothes in the 17th century, but what I want to highlight most is the diversity in society. I previously posted a teaser of these various styles, and it’s an important step in the evolution of our living history programs. Fashions changed not just for the aristocracy, but all the lower classes as well. A colorful range of people would have lived and worked in colonial Pennsylvania, and we strongly believe all those people should be represented at Pennsbury Manor. This includes showing the variations in their wardrobe!
So today we begin with the lower class of residents at Pennsbury: the Laborers. Whether you were plowing the field, tending the kitchen garden, or churning butter in the dairy, your clothes needed to be practical. Below you see Mike and Maggie modeling appropriate ensembles. Compare them with the 17th-century drawings by Marcellus Laroon, which depict the poor street cryers in late 17th-century London.
Outdoor laborers would have needed to dress for the weather and conditions required of their jobs. While they might have a better set of clothes for Sundays or special occasions, out in the fields their attire had to be sturdy and comfortable. Mike is modeling a shirt, coat, and breeches which are all linen and obviously too big to be made for him specifically. He could have received hand-me-downs or bought clothes secondhand from a street cryer or ready-made from a store. His monmouth cap was a universal style worn by land laborers and sailors alike for centuries. If performing a dirtier job, he would don an apron like the one seen below on the vinegar-seller.
Just like Mike, Maggie is dressed to tackle the hard jobs all laboring women would face depending on the season. She might spend her days washing clothes, tending the Kitchen Garden and animals, brewing beer, or preparing meals at the hearth. The older style of short gown, rather than the more recent mantua style (seen in a previous post), would have been safer for working around fires and less cumbersome when laboring in the garden or stable. Her apron is made of a spare piece of rough linen and kerchief tucked into her bodice and out of the way. The only sign of fashion is the striped linen petticoat.
**You might be wondering why our models don’t have any shoes on in these pictures? That’s because we haven’t been able to afford any. We are fundraising to purchase reproduction shoes, because an interpreter in sneakers ruins the whole atmosphere created by historical dress, am I right? To help out, you can visit our official website www.pennsburymanor.org and click the “Donate Now” button at the bottom.**
Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator
Our Ladies’ Dressing Guide post back in September has been the most viewed featurette on this blog -wow!! I am really excited to finally be able to offer a follow-up for the guys… our clothing collection for the male interpreters is starting to grow, and I encourage our volunteers start using some of the new pieces this spring! Keep in mind that people’s jobs and station in life would change how they dressed (see our post on Clothing Diversity), but this will give a good idea of a basic outfit.