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.**
It is so easy to get caught up in creating the ULTIMATE historical ensemble. We worry about perfecting every detail, down to the smallest buttons and buckles. When costumiers get so caught up in recreating one outfit, it’s easy to forget just how diverse the clothing options actually were! We can’t just recreate one look (as we have done here) and think it will work for all people of all levels in society. Think about the modern world – we can tell a lot about a person’s job or life based on their clothing. Business men and women dress differently than artists or plumbers or teachers or politicians or… well, you get the picture.
So it’s our job as historians to research how those same clothing differences played out 300 years ago. We are developing job-specific costumes for the staff and volunteer interpreters recreating circa 1700 Pennsbury Manor, and working to increase our clothing collection with enough sizes to outfit everyone in the garments they need. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting in-depth tutorials for the different ensembles, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a sneak peak at our work…. enjoy!!
by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator
Many of you may not realize how much time and research goes into crafting the historical outfits worn by our Pennsbury Manor Interpreters. These reproductions are all based on original artifacts, paintings, and sketches in order to honor the people whose stories we tell. It’s a constant evolution, but we are working very hard to make sure each item (down to your pins and socks!) are as close as we can get to 17th-century originals. In many cases, we try to copy the same styles and silhouettes as real 17th-century people, as we have done here with this 1687 London strawberry seller: