Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

. (page 14 of 18)
Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 14 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


public or private, to cover them. So circnmstanced, our gran-
dams were glad to avail themselves of such coverings, in
their short journeys, to defend their faces from the frost of
winter, or heat of summer. ' • ^ '> >'' ii''

While thus resorting to a commodious expedient, they were
strangers to the practice which employs such an article in
the masquerades of Europe that will hardly compare in pro-
priety with blind man's buff of children. The less such for-
eign innovations, which most abound where licentiousness in
sentiment and manners prevails, are indulged among us, the
longer shall we deserve to be called a people of " steady
habits." This is of inexpressibly greater worth, in its bear-
ing on our highest interests, than all the smiles and flatteries
of the multitude, who are swift to do evil.

Many of the masks which have been exhibited, for the last
sixty years, at the windows of our city toy shops, are mostly
caricatures of the human phiz, and vended only for purposes
of sport.

Veils. — These have long constituted an item in the sched-
ule of female attire in the East. We read of Rebecca's put-
ting on her veil when about to meet Isaac. Referring to
her sex in our fatherland, Stubbs remarked, " They must
have thin silk scarfs cast about their faces, and fluttering in
the wind, which, they say, they wear to keep them from sun
burning." Their daughters, who did much towards prepar-
ing this country for the abode of freedom, brought the same
fashion with them.

In 1634, at a Boston lecture, the question was discussed
as to women's appearing with veils. Mr. Cotton, though,
while in England, of an opposite opinion on this subject,
maintained that, in countries where such articles " were not
a sign of the woman's subjection, they were not com-
manded by the apostle." Mr. Endicott, of Salem, took
different ground, and Roger Williams sided with his parish-
ioner. Both of these persons had been zealous to promote
the fashion of such coverings for heads of the other sex, in
their place of residence. On this account, the congregation
of Naumkeag showed more veils than any other in the colony.


This fact escaped neithe^r the observation nor reproof of Mr.
Cotton, when he preached for them. In the forenoon, he
broached his theory on the subject, which hinted to the gentler
sex of his audience, that the veil was an indication of more
submission to men than was tolerated by the gospel. The
practical inference was soon made, and the afternoon saw
many an open, fair face in the sanctuary, which had previ-
ously appeared there carefully concealed. Well would it be,
if true clerical instruction on other more important points
had always been so speedy and full in its effect.

Still, however the master of the New England Israel was
thus successful, and however the veil became much less pop-
ular in the city of peace, it has had its periods of abun-
dance and scarcity even to this day. As made of various
materials, it has been much in vogue for nearly forty

Aprons. — This word was applied, by the translators of
King James's Bible, to the coverings made by our first par-
ents. Johnson said of it, " A word of uncertain etymology,
but supposed by some to be contracted from afore one."
We have the passage from Shakspeare, " The nobility think
scorn to go in leather aprons." The custom of wearing
aprons came with our primitive mothers. Till 1770, the
richer classes were seen at meeting, on the Sabbath, with
muslin, silk, lawn, and embroidered aprons, while the poorer
appeared there with checked cloth ones. Such a part of fe-
male attire has been much more worn within twenty-two
years than for a like period immediately before. Aprons,
used in various callings of the community, aside from those
merely worn for the sake of fashionable purposes, have been
in constant requisition among many males as well as

Hoods. — These, of one material or another, have been
long numbered among the articles of dress. A quotation
from Isaiah says, " I will take away the hoods and veils."
From Dryden, we have the lines, —

" In velvet, white as snow, the troop was gowned.
Their hoods and sleeves the same."

HOODS. 161

Anciently, hoods were common in Europe for both sexes.
After hats came into vogue for men, they were retained by
women, and brought hither by our primitive mothers.
The Simple Cobler of Agawam, having returned from Ips-
wich to his native land, expressed himself in reference to
these, in 1647, as follows: " Methinks it should break the
hearts of Englishmen to see so many good English women,
imprisoned in French cages, peering out of their hood-holes."
In 1651, our colonial government enacted, that if any females,
not worth two hundred pounds, should wear silk or tiffany
hoods, they should be prosecuted and fined. Several ladies
were actually arraigned for infringing on this statute ; but
they were released on being proved worth, either of them-
selves or husbands, the requisite sum. One of the cases
related to the wife of Deacon Richard Knight, of Newbury.
She was complained of in 1653, and Edward Rawson, sec-
retary of the commonwealth, informed that the charge could
not be sustained, requested Samuel Symonds to have it
quashed. Such transactions in this day, infringing on the
liberties of our sisters, would create more than a Shays's re-

As we trace down such coverings, we find them of various
descriptions. In 1711 and 1712, they were offered for sale,
as made of lutestring and muslin. Mrs. Marriott, the noted
provider for changeable fashions in Boston, advertises, in
1739, tassels for hoods as well as mantles.

Hoods have survived all the revolutions incident to the
fashionable world. For ten years, a large portion of them
have been knit with yarn of Berlin wool. So great is its
comfortableness in cold and boisterous weather, and so con-
veniently taken off and held in large assemblies, it has a fair
claim to be numbered among the habiliments of many a
lady's wardrobe.

As appendages to hoods were articles called wings.
They were probably what were denominated pinners, from
pinna, wing. They were put under the same ban, by the
Bay magistrates, in 1631, as rails. They seem to have been
lappets of the hood, and, by aid of the wind, flaunted liber-
N* 21



ally about. They have continued, more or less, down to our
day. Gay wrote of them, — , , , ,, ,

" The goodly countenance I've seen,

Set off with kerchief starched and pinners clean."

Bonnets. — As coverings for the head, these articles must
have been used from the earliest ages. Predicting judgments
to come on Jerusalem, Isaiah declared, that " the bravery of
bonnets" and other attire should be taken away. They
were anciently worn by both sexes. Domestic Life in Eng-
land says that, in the early part of the fifteenth century,
" the common bonnet^ with shades over the cheeks, now first
appears." These, in their many mutations of materials and
forms, have always been fashionable with the females of
New England.

Down to 1780, those who resided in our country parishes
kept off such coverings while at worship in the meeting
house. It is probable that, not long before this, the same
was done on the seaboard. Modes of the country are de-
rived from the town.

Skimmers, with scarcely any crown, put over cushions, and
coming down in front as much as the bonnets, were common
before and after 1760. Previously and subsequently to 1765,
the black satin jockey, as well as hats of the same material,
appeared in considerable numbers. The muskmelon bonnet,
beginning to be worn prior to the revolution, had the crown
stiffened with abundance of whalebone. The calash^ of
green silk, very high and large, sustained with the same ma-
terial just named, was in vogue sixty years ago, and lasted
fifteen years. Of a like size, as we may recollect, they reap-
peared in 1820, and held their place till a dozen years past.

Twenty-two years ago, the wonder of bonnets, as to size,
made their debut. After a lead of five years, they began to
contract their dimensions, till they appeared of moderate pro-
portions. Their departure can hardly be regretted, so far as
convenience and comfort of traveling vehicles are concerned.
As Cardinal Wolsey took leave of his worldly eminence, so
we should be glad of an opportunity to address all mammoth


bonnets, " Farewell, a long farewell to all your greatness."
Within two years, articles of this sort have been very short
in front, so as to render sunshades more needful than ever.
With regard to length, these have drawn into the extreme,
opposite to that of those to which we have just bidden adieu.
With reference to those sometimes called hats^ Gay says,
about 1720,—

" New straw hat, so trimly lined with, green." ' ' ' '

Such protectors of the head have had their periods of ac-
ceptance and rejection. As in some parts of England, so in
our country, the braid, of which they are manufactured, has
been long made by women and children. Employment of
this kind partakes of pastime as well as labor. The foreign
braids, most valued, have been imported from Italy, and called
Leghorn, the name of the port whence they are sent. Bon-
nets of this material became fashionable a half century
since, and were in full tide of success in 1816. For a dec-
ade of years, they have been little worn, while others of
straw have had a fair share of patronage. At the close of
last year, our public prints related that there was much ex-
citement among the fashionables in Paris, because the Dip-
thera bonnet, made from polished leather, and a beautiful
affair, had made its appearance. It was the invention of
Madame Duhay De Golberg, who had conferred the exclu-
sive sale of it on a noted milliner in Regent Street, London.
Of course, judging the future from the past, it will have its
run among our New Englanders, Perhaps in no part of at-
tire does fancy play off her freaks of instability more than
in the forms, sizes, materials, and ribbons of such head ap-

Scarves. — These were imported from the mother country
at the commencement of our colonies. The General Court
of Massachusetts, at the date of placing their ban on costly
hoods, enacted that no scarves of silk and tiffany should be
seen on females, whose property, or that of their husbands,
was less than two hundred pounds. Under this rule, some
were sued and fined. This, it must be confessed, seems now


like uncavalier treatment, though intended to curtail dressing
where the means for its being supported were not sufficient.
Whatever was the success of such an attempt, and however
its effect was to make the quality of scarves to distinguish
the richer from the poorer class, such articles of attire have
come down to us without any restraint, with a full dispensa-
tion to be worn by all, according to their pleasure.

In the schedules of property left by our early families, we
find scarves of various descriptions. Those of a kind differ-
ent from such as appeared on women were worn by men,
and were presented to them at funerals. Francis Willough-
by, deputy governor, residing at Charlestown, who died in
1671, wrote in his will, " Whereas, in funeral solemnities,
there is, generally, a great expense, to little profit, to particu-
lar persons, I do prohibit the giving of scarves or ribbons to
any persons, except magistrates and those who officiate at
my funeral, and instead thereof, I do give to the military
company of Charlestown twenty pounds, to furnish a stack
of arms." In 1724, the legislature of Massachusetts pro-
hibited the giving of scarves, as a burdensome expense.
The custom, so put under an interdict, appears to have grad-
ually ceased. It was reckoned, in 1728, that each minister
of Boston received in scarves, gloves, and rings, to the
amount of fifteen pounds a year.

With reference to females, the scarf has never been entirely
laid aside. At one period, it has been, if we maybe allowed
astronomical similes, in the zenith of fashion, and at another
in the nadir. Of late years, it has been rather more in the
lower point than in the upper. With allusion to it, there is
a passage of Milton, —

"Iris there, -witli hurried bow,
"Waters the odorous banks that blow,
Flowers of more mingled hue
Than her purpled scarf can shew."

Mantle and Mantelet. — The former of these was derived
by Johnson from the Welsh mantell, and defined as " a kind
of cloak or garment thrown over the rest of the dress." It


presents itself far back in antiquity. When Elijah, the
jDrophet, knew, " on hearing the still small voice," that the
Most High was specially present, " he wrapped his face in
his mantle." From the various instances, in which the Scrip-
tures speak of the mantle it was evidently of men's dress as
well as of the other sex, and still continues to be so in Asiatic

The mantle was brought from Europe by our primitive
mothers. About 1665, the portrait of Mrs. Penelope Wins-
low, the wife of Josiah Winslow, governor of Plymouth,
was taken with one of a red color. It has had its vicissitudes
as to public favor, like other items of dress, ever since. Of
diversified materials, qualities, forms, and hues, it has been
chiefly used by females. With a figurative allusion to it,
Prior thus expresses himself: —

" Gently has he laid
The mantle on thy sad distress."

While the mantle remains unaltered as it came from the
manufacturer's hands, the mantelet, of the same general
shape, has the addition of the mantua maker's operation.
This is an article of attire which has long been appropriated
to the gentler sex. Among its periods of popularity are the
last dozen years. Though its present wearers must soon
pass away, it is likely to have its depressions and elevations,
in the rounds of fashion, for ages to come.

Muffs and Tippets. — These articles are so fitted for the
comfort of our race, in climates of cold seasons, and so easily
suggested by their need in such portions of the year, we nat-
urally suppose that, of some material or other, they must
have been known to antediluvians. Benblowers, in his The-
ophalia, published in 1652, gives an engraving of Hollar,
which represents an English lady with a winter dress, exhib-
iting a sable tippet and a larger muff of the same material.

These were brought from Europe by the first settlers of
our country. As of fur or feathers, silk or satin, stuffed with
wool, they were comfortable companions in the severity of
winter. In an account of goods, in 1666, left by one of the


colonists, is an " old muff','' which had done long and good

In the News Letter of 171G, an advertisement reads as
follows : " Any person, that took up a man's muff', dropped on
the Lord's day, between the old meeting house and the South,
is desired to bring it to the post office in Boston, and he shall
be rewarded." Another, of 1720, mentions that a black bear-
skin muff, belonging to the Rev. Mr. Prince, had been lost in
the same town, and desires that it may be returned to the
right owner. Notice is given, in 1740, that a sable skin arti-
cle of the kind in view had been found there. As to Eng-
land, Horace Walpole writes to George Montague, in 1764,
" I send you a decent smallish muff", that you may put in your
pocket, and it costs but fourteen shillings." There were lost
from Thomas Hutchinson's house, in 1765, muff's and tippets.

A half century since, both of these, made of fur, abounded
among females. Twelve years afterwards, they were mostly
transformed into capes and trimmings for outside wear.
During their greatest popularity, many of the muff's would
not measure, in circumference, much less than a flour barrel.
Then there was a competition who should have those of the
most costly fur. Not unfrequently from fifty to one hundred
dollars were paid for one of them.

Within seventeen years, muff's and tippets, the former of
diminutive size and the latter of liberal dimensions, have
shown themselves. They have gradually increased in num-
bers, and will probably undergo the changes, as to size, which
they have before.

The muffs worn by gentlemen, eighty and one hundred
years since, were prevalently smaff, and went by the diminu-
tive name of muftees. These were much more needed then,
because coat sleeves were shorter, and the arms more exposed
to cold, than they have been since. The wearing of muff's
by the ladies accords with our sympathies of fitness. Mit-
tens and gloves are enough for the more hardy sex.

Stays or Corsets. — These, with different names, were
known to the ancients. The last of them is derived from
the French coi'ps^ formerly and frequently written cars, be-


cause it signified a covering for the body. It was found in
the household roll, which belonged to the Countess of Leices-
ter, and was dated 1265. It was long of the same meaning
as bodice, also called boddies, to about 1700, when it was
changed to stays.

We are informed that, in the reign of Elizabeth, the corset
was worn by men to a limited extent. We have been told
that a few dandies, in the new and old worlds, have followed
in the same line.

Our early inventories of personal property contain the ar-
ticles under consideration. The facetious Cobler of Aga-
wam said of them, in 1647, " If I see any of them accident-
ally, I cannot cleanse my phantasie of them for a month
after." In speaking of the persons who manufactured them,
he humorously observed, " It is a most unworthy thing for
men that have bones in them to spend their lives in making
fiddle cases : it is no little labor to be continually putting
up English women in outlandish casks." The wardrobe of
Mrs. Ann Clarke, of Boston, in 1666, had a pair of " bodyes."
The News Letter, of Boston, in 1714, notifies that " silk
stays " are to be sold. The Weekly Journal, of the same
town, in 1728, advertises them of all sorts, for children as
well as women. They were common, till after the peace of
independence, for females, both young and old.

During the last sixty years, though often known by the
appellation of corset, and not so full of whalebone as previ-
ously, as credible report declares, they have substantially re-
tained favor with most of the gentler sex. For a dozen
years past, they have assumed the appearance, which strik-
ingly imitates the prototypes, as seen on the surviving por-
traits of our great-grandmothers. Not only did the Rev.
Nathaniel Ward, at one period of Ipswich, whose words are
before quoted, lift his voice against them, but also many
philanthropists, of both hemispheres, raised a hue and cry
for their suppression, because charged with being the sure
means of ruining health and of shortening many lives. May
good sense and a dutiful regard for the physical laws of
Providence so prevail, that a speedy and perpetual truce to

168 HOOPS.

such a war of words may be proclaimed throughout the civ-
ilized world.

Hoops. — These, as worn in the small coats of females,
were common in Europe before the planting of English col-
onies in America. They anciently went under the name of
farthingales. The following is from Shakspeare : —

" With silken coats and caps, and golden rings,
With rnfFs, and cuffs, and farthingales, and things."

Such articles seem not to have been fashionable when our
worthy mothers came to participate in the trials and efforts
to found a religious commonwealth. According to Hollar's
Ornatus Muliebris, an English lady of rank, in full dress,
in 1640, was represented without them. One of their reap-
pearances, in both Old and New England, was about 1700.
The subsequent anecdote applied to the wearers of them
here as well as there, Milner, in his Life of the Rev. Dr.
Watts, relates it as told by Di*. Winter. The last gentleman
stated that, when a boy, he was introduced to Lady Abney,
who was attired, according to the costume prevalent in the
reign of George I., with a formidable hoop and all the ap-
purtenances, which gave to her the look of considerable an-
tiquity. At the sight of such a mien, the lad was much dis-
concerted. The lady, perceiving this, tried to converse with
him, so that he might recover from his perturbation. Among
the questions she put to him, was, " How old do you think I
am ? " The awe-struck youngster, eying the venerable fig-
ure before him, replied, " Madam, nine hundred years."

The Rev. Solomon Stoddard, in a letter written to Judge
Sewall, in 1701, mentions "hooped petticoats" as among the
modes of dress which trenched on the line of morality.
Such articles had so far advanced in public toleration, that
there was, about 1730, a sign of one, over against the north
side of the town house, in Boston.

The forms of them varied at different periods. In 1735,
they projected all round, like a wheel ; and in 1745, they
were increased at the side, and lessened in front. During
the latter year, a pamphlet was published in England, called


The enormous Abomination of the Hoop Petticoat, as the
Fashion now is. In 1757, after some depression, they ex-
panded on the right and left.

While they had full swing, they were made to bear the
charge of being the occasion of particular calamities which
came on the public. Of course, many who wore them con-
sidered that such an accusation was causeless. Addison re-
marked of them in the singular number, " Some will have
it, that it portends the downfall of the French king ; and ob-
serve that the farthingale appeared in England a little before
the ruin of the Spanish monarchy." A similar notion was
generally entertained in our country at the time of the great
earthquake, in 1755. For several months after this alarming
event, few or no hoops were seen in public, and especially in
the house of worship. But when it was perceived that no
immediate overthrow of the country followed, they reappeared
in their dilated size. They were generally worn till sixty-two
years ago.

We are informed that they were exceedingly inconvenient
for entrance into pew doors. In fact, they could have no in-
gress at such narrow apertures, unless advantage was taken
of their form, and they, by a sleight of hand, were made to
assume a position at an angle of forty-five degrees. When
our ears heard of cable trimmings and such like notions,
which began to prevail about twenty-seven years since, and
our eyes saw the great extension occasioned by them, we
must confess that we could not subdue the suspicion that
the hoop age was soon to be renewed. But such omens con-
tinually diminished without being succeeded by their anti-

In remarking on the vogue of former days. Swift thus ex-
presses himself: —

" At coming in you saw her stoop ;
The entry brushed against her hoop."

Face Painting. — The application of paint to the human
face has been long practiced. One of the first persons
whom we find following this custom had a reputation not
o 22


the most calculated to give it popularity among moral com-
munities. In II. Kings, we read, " Jezebel painted her face,
tired her head, and looked out at a window." The prophet
Ezekiel said of Aholah and Aholibah, who had no better re-
gard for purity of character, " Thou paintedst thine eyes, and
deckedst thyself with ornaments." Layard's discoveries
among the ruins of Nineveh led him to conclude that some
of its ancient inhabitants followed the same custom.

The fact that females of an ill name, in civilized nations,
who depended for their attractions on artificial and external
show, have adopted such a fashion more than others of their
sex, has rendered it a very suspicious indication. The writer
well remembers a case wherein two young women, of very
good personal appearance, and also of correct deportment,
took it into their heads that they would touch off their faces
with tints of white and rouge. The immediate and increas-
ing result was, that, whenever they appeared in public, they
were objects of particular observation and remark, and sur-
mises were extensively circulated, that all, with them, would
not end well. Still they did not fall into the pit of degrada-
tion, as apprehended, though, as they grew older, they became
wiser, and threw off the slavish and injurious practice.

Strutt states, that, in the seventeenth century, English beaux

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18

Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 14 of 18)