Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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having button holes wrought with gold thread, and gold bas-
ket buttons." We occasionally meet with quarters and
eighths of the Spanish dollar, which had eyes soldered on
them, and their stamps retained, and which were used as
buttons. Such costly additions were fashionable till the re-
trenchment of revolutionary times. The poorer class of
males had their waistcoats fastened with cloth-covered, horn,
pewter, brass, and gilded buttons, which, at the crisis just
mentioned, became substitutes for the richer sort. For the
welfare of our population, it is matter of high satisfaction,
that, although wealth never more abounded among us, as a


general concern, yet the owners of it have not gone back to
ancient practice, and have been contented to fasten their at-
tire with other substances than gold and silver. The more
and the longer a people keep aloof from such useless badges
of distinction, the greater is their claim upon our respect and

Smallclothes. — This garment was common among the
northern nations, as the Getoe, Sarmatians, Gauls, Germans,
and Britons. It was worn by the Medes and Persians.
Hence it was called by Tacitus the covering of barbarians.
Instead of it, the ancient Romans sometimes wore swathed
sicarves, denominated femoralia. Having made its way into
the Roman empire, under Honorius and Arcadius, both of
whom died in the fore part of the fifth century, it was re-
strained, and the makers of it, called bracarii, were expelled
from the metropolis. The reason assigned for this severity
was, that such an article was unworthy of the people who
held dominion over the nations, from whom it was derived.
An argument of this sort, though as good as is often given
for state policy, was more the indication of pride than of
true magnanimity.

Charles V. of France issued an edict against his subjects'
wearing short and tight smallclothes, as an infringement on
past and general custom. Such dress, in the reign of Henry
VIIL, was, to use the language of an English writer, " stuffed
out to an enormous size with horse hair and cotton." This
custom was in imitation of that king's corpulence. There
is proof from a Ilarleian manuscript, that a scaffold was
erected in the Parliament house for the convenience of such
members as wore so tumid a garment. This custom declined
in 1-565, but revived soon after the decease of Elizabeth, in
1603. It was lashed by a ballad, which said, —

" What hurt, what damage doth ensue
And fall upon the poorc,
For Avaut of -wool and flax of late,
"Which monstrous /lose devour."

Though hose, mentioned here, were sometimes applied to
stockings, yet they often meant breeches, as in the passage


just cited. Strutt informs us that, " in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, breeches were fastened round the waist,
and then descended nearly half the length of the thighs.
The hose were usually drawn up over the breeches, and at-
tached to the doublet, with ribbons or laces, called poiiits.^^
The same author mentions that an eye witness related that,
towards 1600, several kinds of breeches were in vogue, as
follow : The Gallic hose were loose, not stuffed out with
wadding. They were sometimes called galligaskim, or gas-
coines. There were the French, the Venetian, and the boot

Smallclothes came over with our sires to this country.
For some of them, in 1629, there were two hundred pairs
purchased, being leather, half of which were oiled; and
drawers to wear with the whole of them. As worn by our
ancestors, they were of sheep and deer skins, as well as of
cloth. The points, which had been fastened to the bottom
of the waistcoat, were removed, by 1634, to the knees of the
breeches. This garment, in the year last named, had assumed
so turgid an appearance, that the Massachusetts legislature
ordered its reduction. Though such intervention in sump-
tuary affairs had some efi'ect, it did not last long. The arti-
cle to which it was applied had large bunches of ribbon in
the place of buckles, and also pufts round the knee band,
which looked like small blown-up bladders. It became so
large by being stuffed, that it was called trunk hose.

From 1689 till after 1727, having been gradually lessened,
smallclothes were made longer and closer. Some of them,
in 1778, had so deviated from this order, that a writer spoke
of them as slouching — not the neatest adjective in our lan-
guage. About this period, such a class of them, being large
in size, were worn by men, on land and sea. Until sixty
years since, boys, as soon as the attire of their childhood was
put aside, would be dressed with smallclothes of the natural
shape. Thirty-seven years ago they were seen on a few
young and some old men with the bands fastened either
with buckles or strings. Subsequently to this, they have
nearly disappeared from those of every age and class.
L* .18


One of the materials of which such a garment was made,
while it continued in vogue, was wash leather. Several pairs
of this description, in 1721, were charged each from one pound
to one pound eighteen shillings. In 1730, one pair of them is
mentioned as of colored buck skin. When a college edifice
was burned at Cambridge, in 1764, several students lost simi-
lar articles. They, as well as others, were worn by males in
the different classes of community, and by boys as well as
men. As cloths abounded after the peace of 1783, these gar-
ments diminished until 1800, when few of them were worn.

Of all the phases assumed by the garment now passing in
review before us, none appear more outre than the " petticoat
breeches." Were a man to assert, without proof, that these
were once used in New, as well as in Old England, by per-
sons of his own sex, he would be considered as laboring un-
der a great mistake. The work known as the Domestic Life
of our fatherland, informs us that such an article was fash-
ionable there in the sixteenth century. Randall Holmes, in
the Cheshire Herald, gives the following description: " Large
stirope hose, or stockings, two yards wide at the top, with
points through several eyelet holes, by which they were made
fast to the petticoat breeches by a single row of pointed rib-
bons, hanging at the bottom." The former of these two au-
thorities states that not long after the accession of Henry
VIII. to the throne, the garment under consideration was
laid aside. Strutt relates that it reappeared at the com-
mencement of the next century. One of our accounts of
property, in 1640, left by a deceased person, mentions it as a
part of his wardrobe. From that date, the writer has not
seen it mentioned. It then had probably ceased to be fash-
ionable among our population, and has never since regained
their favor. An octogenarian says, that when a boy, he re-
members to have seen it worn by foreign seamen who arrived
at Boston, but by none of our people.

The object of having smallclothes closely fitted was to
keep them up, when not assisted so to do by suspenders,
which have been valuable for such purposes the last half cen-
tury. Pride of men was not a little gratified when their


form was such, that they could wear smallclothes above their
hips without any apjDurtenances, and their stockings above
the calf of their legs without garters. However such an un-
comfortable passion be cut oft' from this source of indulgence,
it finds full objects enough for its constant exercise.

Pantaloons. — This term was derived from the Venetians,
among whom the garment to which it refers is said to have
originated. That people were called Pantaloni, from St.
Pantaleon, whom they formerly reverenced as their patron.
Domestic Life in England informs us that pantaloons were
worn by the chiefs of Britain before its invasion by the Ro-
mans. Such an article of dress has much resemblance to the
ancient hose. It served the purpose of smallclothes and
stockings generally, down to the heel, and sometimes over
the whole foot. '^ Fancy's child " speaks of it : —

" The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantahon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side."

While hose was common with our primitive fathers, it is not
improbable that pantaloons were among their wardrobes, be-
cause such garments were worn in England at that period.
Pantaloons have had their periods of publicity and retirement.
Their principal reign has been since smallclothes were gen-
erally laid aside. So prevalent, they have changed from be-
ing full to tight several times. Within thirty years, they
have been, for the most part, of the former class. Comfort
is strongly in favor of this fashion.

Troivsers. — These were anciently called trossers, trouse,
and trousers. Spenser wrote the following passage : " The
leather quilted jack serves under his shirt of mail, and to
cover his trouse on horseback." Trowsers in New England
have had the general form and length of pantaloons, but
have been of larger dimensions. While the long hose was
fashionable, and served a like purpose, they do not appear in
the inventories of property seen by the writer, though they
may have been limitedly used, as they were in our fatherland.
The class of our population, who have mostly worn them,


are seamen, and next to them laborers on the land. As part-
ly connected with this topic, Fosbroke remarked, " that the
costumes of all the nations lie in a small compass, in tunics
with togas, or similar external coverings, breeches, pantaloons,
or trowsers." The Boston News Letter of 1719 describes a
mariner as having a long pair of large " Oxenbridge trusers."
For men impressed to serve, in 1779, on board of the General
Putnam, Captain Daniel Waters, the council of Massachusetts
order thirty pair, valued, in depreciated paper currency, at nine
pounds apiece. Such garments were worn by boys. Hon.
Edward Everett, during a speech of 1851, showed a jacket
of coarse India cotton, in which he and other students of
Exeter Academy appeared with trowsers of the same com-
modity, in 1807, as the uniform for a military company.
Though trowsers have not, in general, been the badge of dis-
tinction, still they serve the purpose of convenience for their
wearers, some of whom have cherished nobler purposes and
possessed better hearts than many arrayed in the costliest
and most finished attire. The garb is not the surest indica-
tion of character.

Spatterdashes and Gaiters — These were made from dif-
ferent sorts of cloth. The bottom of them was fitted to the
foot, so as to reach some over the shoe, and the other part
covered half of the stocking on the leg, and thus was a pro-
tection in cold weather. They were a good substitute for
boots, and were used a great deal more than they have been
since the general discontinuance of smallclothes. One of
our early inventories, in 1638, mentions them. A pair of
them were lost, in 17G5, by a gentleman of Boston. As an
exception to these articles being generally used, a brigade, in
the same capital, in 1772, wore " white stockings," but " no
spatterdashes." In modern times, such a part of dress, as
worn under loose pantaloons, has been called gaiters. These
are not very fashionable, but enough so to keep them from
being forgotten.

Sl//ders, or Overalls. — These were worn over smallclothes,
and so prevented them from being soiled. "We have not
found the first word, by which they were designated, in any


of our dictionaries, though therv-^ is no doubt Dut that it was
formerly and frequently spoken and understood. The Loscley
Manuscripts give among the outfits of Sir George Chawortli
for Austria, in 1621, ^^ Sli/ders of Welch cotton over Ihe
breechcs." Accounts of chattels, left by our early settlers,
speak of the same articles. In 1641, the will of Edward
Skinner mentions a pair of " leather slivers." These, of va-
rious materials, have been worn ever since, though their an-
cient name has slipped from our modern vocabularies. Its
substitute has been very pertinently denominated overalls,
though sometimes formerly applied to pantaloons.

Spencer. — This, as well known, is not much unlike a short
jacket. Its origin is stated to have been as follows : An Eng-
lish gentleman, by the name of Spencer, was on a hunting
party, and while leaping in pursuit of game, the skirts
of his coat were torn otF, and nothing but the waist was left.
The remnant he continued to wear, and thus seta new mode.
Whatever may be the accuracy of such a tradition, we have
a statement of 1666, that an article of dress like the spencer
was then worn over the close coat, was cut at the breast,
hung loosely, and was six inches shorter than the vest. In
the edition of Johnson's dictionary of 1805, the word does
not appear. This is an indication that the term spencer had
not been adopted by the usiis loquendi, nor by lexicographers,
at that date, as the signification of a garment.

This article of dress, as formed of various materials, was
much worn in our country, by both sexes, in 1805, and sev-
eral years afterwards. On females, it served for a shawl, and
on males for a surtout. It is now seen occasionally on a
few men, who are loth to lay aside what they deem a con-
venient fashion, as they are a well-tried friend.

Coats. — This word has long been a general term for cov-
erings of the human body. In Genesis we are taught that,
after the fall of our first parents, the Most High " made them
coals of skins, and clothed them." The Septuagint calls
them chilonas, in the accusative plural, and that presented
by Jacob to his beloved son Joseph, chitona, in the same case
singular. The fact that the translators of James's Bible so

142 COATS.

construed these words, shows that the name of the garments
indicated by them was familiar to their ears. The yjhrase
coats of arms was common in England from the Norman
conquest. The articles of attire denoted by it were worn by
ancient knights, in battles and tournaments, over their armor,
and were so made as to distinguish them one from the other,
their faces being covered with helmets. Domestic Life in
England states, that the close coat was used by the chiefs of
Britain prior to its being invaded by the Romans.

The coat, formed somewhat like a frock, is said to have
been invented by Charles VII. of France-, who died in 1461, to
hide the deformity of his lower In an inventory of
attire belonging to Henry VIII. were the foUov/ing: Long,
demi, short, riding, skirt, stalking, tenice, and leather coats.
These were fashionable in the reign of Elizabeth ; but before
her decease, they declined in public preference. Stubbs says
of coats in England, " As they be divers in colors, so divers
in fashions. Some be made with collars, some without;
some close to the body, some loose ; some are buttoned down
the breast, some under the arm, and some on the back ;
some with flaps over the breast, some without ; some with
great sleeves, some with small ; some plaited and crested be-
hind, and curiously gathered, some not."

At the period when New England was occupied by our
ancestors, the coat was not mentioned very often, because
the doublet was generally used in its stead. Indeed, these
two garments were so much alike in their purpose, it would
not be strange if, when one was described, the other would
be essentially implied. Strutt enumerates the coat among
the apparel of Charles II,

Our probate documents mention a small coat in 1638 ;
one with silver buttons in 1645, and others in 1661, being gray
and red. In 1676, loops, and gold and silver buttons, for such
garments, are mentioned. Samuel Wentworth's bill against
Colonel Dudley Bradstreet, on account of his son, charges four-
teen shillings, in 1690, for making coat and breeches, and one
pound three shillings, in 1694, for making coat and jacket.

As known to our ancestors, part of the coats came down

COATS. 143

directly in front, reaching below the knee, and fitted to be
fastened with clasps, or buttons, or hooks and eyes, to the
very bottom. They had a fullness at the skirts, which were
made to hang off by means of buckram and other stiffening.

Not far from 1700, a lady in the Spectator is represented
as saying to the other sex, " The skirt of your fashionable
coats forms as large a circumference as ours ; as these are set
out with whalebone, so are those with wire, to increase and
sustain the bunch of fold that hangs down on each side."
Such raillery was then fully and deservedly to the point.
Even down to 1750, a coat of the ton had three or four large
plaits in the skirts, with much wadding, to keep them from
wrinkles. Its sleeves covered, generally, half the arm, and
sometimes were seen longer. They were very full, and had
wide cuff's, which ascended above the elbow, where was a
circle of large buttons ; and below these cuff's was the white
wristband with a ruffle, set off by gold, silver, or other but-
tons. They were open at the cuffs, the upper parts of which
were liberally dilated, and frequently had lead put into them,
so that they might, when the arm was raised, be kept off con-
siderably from the sleeves.

Before 1702, the coats had no pockets opening outside ; but
in 1715, it appeared with them, having large flaps, under
which was seen a row of great buttons. These were also
arranged in front of the coat, so that it might be fastened.

Among the noted and wealthy there was no lack of gold
lace, as an ornament to this article of dress. It showed no
collar like that of our day. It had a thin, narrow hem, so as
to expose the close-plaited stock of fine linen cambric, and a
large silver stock buckle on the back of the neck.

Specimens of such an article of dress are seen on the por-
traits of Governor Burnet, whose demise was in 1729 ; of
the founder of Faneuil Hall, in Boston, who deceased 1743 ;
of Benjamin Lynde, chief justice, who died 1745, and of Sir
William Pepperel, as represented at the capture of Louis-
bnrg, in the same year as the last mentioned. With regard
to colors of coats, worn by several distinguished persons in
England, we have an account. A garment of this sort,


belonging to Dr. Samuel Johnson, and having large cuffs,
sleeves wide, showing his linen nearly to the elbow, and
great metal buttons, was brown ; one of Hogarth's, sky blue ;
of Joshua Reynolds, plum color ; of Sheridan, being long
waisted, blue ; of George III., long skirted, also blue.

In the middle of the reign of this sovereign, in 1790, the
square-cut coat began to be succeeded by another without
stitf skirts, and having a shorter waist. Such a fashion ap-
pears to be what is known as the close-bodied coat. Though
it does not seem to have met with so ready and wide a wel-
come in our country as in England, still its way continued
onward to popular favor. But, for all this, such a garment,
as seen on French refugees from the West Indies, about
1800, while walking through the streets of our seaports, at-
tracted considerable attention, as not being altogether famil-
iar to general sight and sympathy. It has never been able
to achieve an entire conquest even to the present time. Not
a small number have preferred the frock coat, as more com-
fortable, though of more cloth. Nor can they be driven from
that preference, though charged with being more partial to
the Oriental fashion than to the taste of attendants at the
courts of St. Cloud and St. James.

Greatcoats, Surtouts, and Sacks. — The ancient significa-
tion of the second term, as to use, was the same as that of
the first here introduced. Still there has long been a distinc-
tion between these two in our country, both in form and
name. While the greatcoat has been large and loose, the
surtout has been smaller and close to the body. They have
both been generally alike as to being long and having sleeves.
The latter probably became one of the substitutes for the
doublet, which it resembles in some respects.

Of one modification or material, or another, the great-
coat is probably coeval with the close coat, especially in cli-
mates subject to wet and cold. The necessities and conven-
iencies of men have ever naturally led them to invent corre-
spondent attire.

One of the Boston papers, in 1741, advertises that a " blue
greatcoat, with a blue velvet cape, was found at Dr. Colman's


meeting house." Such a garment, subject to the changes
and varieties of fashion, will probably be continued as long
as the inquiry shall be made, " Wherewithal shall we be
clothed ? " It serves a purpose similar to what garments for
females did formerly, which were called snrcoats. These, at
the close of the fourteenth century, were described as follows
by a person in Paris : " There came to me two women
wearing surcoals longer than they were tall by a yard ; so
they were obliged to carry the trains upon their arms, to pre-
vent their trailing upon the ground ; and they had sleeves to
these surcoats reaching to the elbows." Such garments were
also made without sleeves.

The greatcoat and surtout were not formerly so common,
in proportion to the people, as they have been since. Then
and previously, both the sexes were not accustomed to wear
so much clothing as they have in modern times. One reason
was, that they, in general, had not the means to purchase
more, and did not give so free a rein to their fancy for com-
pliance with the beau monde. A result of such economy
was, that they were more hardy, and did not suffer for the
want of a greater quantity, as those of different experience
may suppose.

About 1700, Prior wrote of the second kind of garments
in the order of the caption, —

" The surtout, if abroad you wear,
Repels the rigor of the air."

From this period there appears to have been a very slow ad-
vancement of such an article in public favor. It was made
of white Dutch blankets for many an officer in our revolu-
tionary corps. Till within about six years, it abounded, com-
pared with its former use. It still appears on a portion of
community, who are not in a hurry to follow the multi-
tude in casting off old customs.

With regard to the sack, this was formerly used to signify
a sort of female robe. Within several years, the word sack
has been applied to a part of male as well as of female at-
tire. Of the former class, it has held a medium between the
M 19


surtout and greatcoat. Of the latter, it is between the cloak
and pelisse. In both one and the other, its varieties, as to
material, length, and form, have been almost legion. Still,
amid its protean appearances, comfort has remained a stead-
fast quality of its character.

MandUion and Cloak. — The first of these terms is de-
rived by Johnson from the Italian mandi^lione. It anciently
signified loose outside garments, covcnng the body like a
large cloak, which were commonly without sleeves. Stubbs,
speaking of such articles, as worn by the English, says,
" some loose, which they call viandilions, covering the whole
body down to the thighs, like bags or sacks, that were drawn
over them." The British Costume mentions them as fash-
ionable in the reign of Elizabeth, and that they resembled
jerkins, though other authority gives a different description
of them. Chapman supposed that they were worn by mili-
tary men in the time of Homer. To whatever extent they
may have appeared among Greeks and Englishmen, one hun-
dred of them, lined with white cotton, were provided in 1629
for settlers in Massachusetts, At the same time, hooks and
eyes were ordered to fasten such garments. Though these
have long since laid aside their old names, yet they have con-
tinued, in some degree, to preserve their identity, under other
terms, at different periods.

The cloak, for its simplicity of invention and convenience
for the body, would be, as we naturally suppose, among the
first items of human attire. The prophet Isaiah said, " The
Lord was clothed with zeal as a cloak." John the evan-
gelist declared, " Now they have no cloak for their sin."
The Septuagint for the former has imation, and for the latter

Such a garment resembled the tog-a of the ancient Romans.
This had no sleeves, and varied in value and material, accord-
ing to the means of its wearer. It was a distinguishing
mark of that nation, which gave rise to the phrase jus tog-ce,
or the privilege of a Roman citizen, sometimes liberally con-
strued, " the right of wearing a Roman habit, and of tak-

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 12 of 18)