Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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costume received a great check among our ladies by the dark
day of 1780. Many who had cushions laid them aside, and
others, who had retained them, had them lowered by several
degrees. Still the reform was not so extensive, but that the
very next year, the Abbe Robin, on a visit in Boston, made
the ensuing remark as to the ladies' dress at church : " The
hair of the head is raised and supported upon cushions to an
extravagant height, somewhat resembling the manner in
which the French ladies wore their hair some years ago."
The same author just quoted, in giving his observations on
Rhode Island and Connecticut, thus expressed himself:
" The headdresses of all the women, except Quakers, are
high, spreading, and decked profusely with gauzes." The
reign of the cushion continued about a fourth of a century.
It was succeeded by craping and curling, which have lasted,
more or less, ever since. For a like period of years to
1840, but with slow decrease the several last years, as
we may well remember, false curls greatly abounded, so
that heads beautiful as that of the Venus de Medicis had
their temples and foreheads loaded with clusters or bunches,
the taste of which even a Spurzheim would be puzzled to ex-
plain favorably. Since, such curls have been much less worn.

Another pi-actice was adopted thirteen years ago by misses
whose age descended from sixteen, which attracted much at-
tention at its first appearance. It was to have their hair be-
hind braided a la Chinois, sometimes in one parcel, pendent
in the middle of the back ; often in two, so as to have one
coursing its way down each shoulder ; and occasionally in
three, to take as many and such positions as are last desig-
Q 25


nated. This fashion reminded us of the phrase, " A pacha
from one to three tails," though these have more similarity
in sound to those than in real signification. It has consider-
ably lessened for two or three years.

The powdering of natural and false hair was known in
England before population landed on our shores. It was
used in Europe in 1590. Like other whims of the fash-
ionable coteries, it has had its elevations and depres-
sions. Robert Lisley, of Boston, when married, in 1677, to
Elizabeth Thomas, at Barbadoes, appeared with it upon
his head. It abounded in the reign of Queen Anne.
Washington, at his levees, while President of the United
States, had his hair in full dress, powdered, and gathered be-
hind in a silk bag. It was usual for some New England
gentlemen to wear the shoulders and backs of their coats
powdered, as well as their heads. It appears that, in 1781,
when the Abbe Robin was in Boston, powder was not much
used by the female part of community. His observation
was, " Instead of powdering, they often wash the head,
which answers the purpose well enough, as their hair is com-
monly of an agreeable color; but the more fashionable among
them begin now to adopt the present European method of
setting off" the head to the best advantage." For no small
period after this, it was common for both sexes, and for chil-
dren as well as adults, to appear with powdered heads.
Such a custom lasted till about a half century ago. Then,
to show us that this was not mere fancy, we now and then
beheld " a piece of the old world " gravel}'^ threading his way
in the streets of our cities, and giving us ocular proof that
it was a reality. We arc told that Lampridius ridiculed the
Emperor Commodus for having his false hair powdered with
scrapings of gold. We are not sure but that the same histo-
rian, if living in New England, would, though not having so
much of an occasion, endeavor to raise a laugh against the
past custom of filling the locks with less costly, though
equally unnecessary and more perfumed dust.

Combs. — We are informed that these have been discov-
ered in Egypt, and that they are supposed to be four thousand
years old. Our natural thought is, that some of the first


efforts of human invention would bo expended in findinj^ ont
such things, not difficult, and still requisite for the proper ad-
justment of the head.

Combs were known to the settlers of our soil. The first
sort of them, which we meet with, are horn and ivory. Such
have been continued to our time.

Among the various combs worn in the head by females,
which have been sometimes small, and at others very large,
and heavy enough almost to make the head ache, were those
of tortoise shell one hundred years ago. These, at that pe-
riod, ornamented with paste, were not of the gigantic class.
Dress combs were of their largest dimensions twenty-five or
thirty years since. At present, they are of a moderate size.
They have been also fashionable as made of silver and gold,
to some extent, for fifty years, and of buffalo horn for twelve
years. jMilton has the passage, —

" By fair Ligea's golden comb.
Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks,
Sleeking her soft, alluring locks."

The following is mostly from the records of the General
Court of Massachusetts : —

September 3, 1634.

The Court taking into consideracon the great, superflu-
ous and unnecessary expences, occasioned by reason of some
new and immodest fashions, as also the ordinary weareing of
silver, golde, and silke laces, girdles, hat bauds, etc., hath
therefore ordered that noe person, neither man or woman
shall hereafter make or buy any apparell, either woollen, silk,
or lynnen, with any lace on it, silver, gold, silk, or thread, vn-
der the penalty of forfeiture of such clothes, etc. Also that
no person, either man or woman, shall make or buy any
slashed clothes, other than one slash each sleeue and another
in the backe. Also all cutt works, imbroidered or needle
worke capps, bands and rayles, are forbidden hereafter to be


made and worne vnder the aforesaid penalty ; also all golden
or silver girdles, hattbands, belts, ruffs, beaver hatts, are pro-
hibited to be bought and worne hereafter, vnder the aforesaid
penalty, etc. ; moreover it is agreed, if any man shall judge
the wearing of any the forenamed particulars, new fash-
ions, or long haire, or any thing of the like nature, to be vn-
comely or prejudiciall to the comon good, and the person
offending reforme not, then the same upon notice given him,
that then the next assistant being informed thereof, shall
have power to binde the party soe offending, to answer it at
the nexte court, if the case so requires, provided and it is the
meaning of the court, tiiat men and women shall haue liber-
ty to weare out such apparell as they are now provided of,
(except the imoderate gi-eat sleeves, slash apparrell, imod-
erate greate rayles, long wings, etc.) This order to take
place a fortnight after the publishing thereof."

September 4, 1639.
Whereas there is much complaint of the excessive wearing
of lace and other superfluities tending to little vse or benefit,
but to the nourishing of pride and exhausting of mens es-
tates, and also of evil example to others ; Tis therefore or-
dered by this Court and decreed, that henceforward no per-
son whatsoever shall presume to buy or sell within this juris-
diction any manner of lace to be worne or vsed within our
limits : And that no taylor or any other person whatsoever
shall hereafter set any lace or points upon any garments,
either linnen, w^oolen, or any other wearing clothes whatso-
ever, and that no person hereafter shall be imployed in mak-
ing of any manner of lace, but such as they shall sell to such
persons as shall and v/ill transport the same out of this juris-
diction, who in such case shall have the liberty to buy the
same : And that hereafter no garment shall be made with short
sleeves, whereby the nakedness of their armes may be discov-
ered in the wearing thereof, and such as have garments al-
ready made with short sleeves shall not hereafter wear the
same, vnless they cover their armes to the wrist with linnen
or otherwise : And that hereafter no person whatsoever shall


make any garment for women, or any of their sex, with
sleeves more than half an elle wide in the widest place there-
of, and so proportionable for large or smaller persons.

And for present reformation of imoderate great sleeves,
and some other superfluities, which may easily be redressed
without much preiudice, or the spoil of garments, as imod-
erate great breeches, knots of ryban, broad shoulder bands
and rayles, silk ruses, double ruffes and cuffes, &c.

Sept. 18, 1646.
The commissioners of the United Colonies recommend
to their respective legislatures, that they take measures
" against excess and disorder in apparel."

May 6, 1649.

A declaration of the General Court against mens wear-
ing long haire. ,

6, 3 mo., 1649.

Forasmuch as the wearing of longe haire after the man-
ner of ruffians and barbarious Indians hath begun to invade
New England, contrarie to the rules of God's word, which
saith it is a shame for a man to weare longe haire, as also to
the commendable custome generallie of all the godlie of all
our nation till within these few years :

This court therefore hath thought it necessarie, for the
clearing of our owne innocencie in this behalf, to declare and
manifest our dislike and detestation against the wearing of
such long haire, as against a thing uncivill and unmanly;
and if, after the publication of this declaration, any shall be
found still to continue to wear long haire to the deforming
of themselves and the greiving and offending of sober and
modest men, they shall thereby iustly incurr the note of im-
pudency, and ought to be accounted of as men (while they
so continue) who are corrupters of good manners ; and to
the intent this evill fashion, thus crept in among us, may
spread no farther, but be rather suppressed and extirpated,
this court doth intreate all the elders in this iurisdiction, as
often as they shall see cause, to manifest their zeal against


it in their publike admenistration, and take care that the
members of their churches be not defiled therewith, that no
such shall prove obstinate and will not reforme themselves,
may have God and man to beare witness against thern.

The magistrates desire the concurrence of our brethren the
deputies hereto.

Jo. ExDEcoTT, Gour.

The deputies cannot consent to the passing of this bill.

Edward Rawson, Cleric.

October 14, 1651.
Although several declarations and orders have been made
by this court against excess in apparrill, both of men and
women, which have not yet taken that effect which was to
be desired, but, on the contrary, we cannot but to our gi-ief
take notice, that intolerable excess and bravery hath crept in
upon vs, and especially amongst people of mean condition,
to the dishonor of God, the scandall of our profession, the
consumption of estates, and altogether vnsuitable to our
povertie, and although we acknowledge it to be a matter of
much difficultie in regard to the blindness of mens mindes
and the stubournes of their wills, to set down exact rules
to confine all sorts of persons, yet we cannot but account it
our duty to recommend vnto all sorts of persons a sober and
moderate vse of those blessings which, beyond our expecta-
tion, the Lord hath been pleased to afford vnto vs in his
mildness, and also to declare our vtter detestation and dislike
that men or women of mean conditions, educations, and
callings, should take vppon them the garb of gentlemen by
wearing of gold and silver lace, or buttons, or poynts at their
knees, to walk in greate bootes ; or women of the same rank
to weare silk or tiffany hoodes or scarfs, which though allow-
able to persons of greater estates or more liberal education,
yet we cannot but judge it intolerable in persons of such like
conditions. Its therefore ordered by this court and the au-
thorities thereof, that no person within this iurisdiction, or
any of their relations depending vpon them, whose visible
estates, reall and personall, shall not exceed the true and


indifferent value of two hundred pounds shall weare any gold
or silver lace, or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace
above two shillings per yard, or silk hoods or scarfs, vppon
the penalty of ten shillings for every such offence, and every
such delinquent to be presented to the grand jury ; and for as
much as distincte and particular rules in this case, suteable to
the estate or quality of each person, cannot easily be given,
it is further ordered by the authority aforesaid, that the se-
lectmen of every town, or the major part of them, are hereby
enabled and required, from time to time, to have regard and
take notice of apparel in any of the inhabitants of theire
several townes respectively, and whosoever they shall judge
to exceede theire rank and abilities in the costlyness or fash-
ion of their apparrill in any respect, especially in the wearing
of ribbands and greate bootes, (leather being a commoditie
scarce in this countrey,) the said selectmen shall have power
to assesse such persons so offending, in any of the particulars
above mentioned, in the country rate, according to that pro-
portion that such men vse to pay, to whom such apparrill is
suitable and allowed ; provided that this law shall not extend
to the restraint of any magistrate, or other publicke officer of
this jurisdiction, or any settled military officer or soldier in
the time of military service, or any other whose education
and employments have been above the ordinary degree, or
whose estates have been considerable though now decayed.
The deputies have passed this order, and desire the consent
of our honored magistrates hereunto.

William Torrey, Cleric.

20, 8, 1651.
The magistrates consent to this, provided that every one
that wears apparrill as above said, ribons, lace, points, etc.,
shall be rated at the estate of £200, and that magistrates
wives and children, and other officers, maybe left to their dis-
cretion in wearing apparel.

A^oted by the magistrates with reference to the consent of
our brethren, the deputies.

Jo. Endecott, Gour.


The deputies consent to this last returne of our honored
magistrates, and desire this order may be of force at the end
of two months after this session of court, with reference to
the consent of our honored magistrates hereto.

William Torrey, Cleric.

Consented hereto by ye magistrates.

Jo. Endecott, Gour.

May 7, 1662.
As an addition to the laws about apparell, whereas excess
in apparell amongst vs, vnbecoming a wilderness condition
and the profession of the gospel, whereby the rising genera-
tion are in danger to be corrupted and effeminated, which
practices are witnessed against by the lawes of God and
sundry civil Christian nations, it is therefore ordered and
enacted by this court, and the authority thereof, that all per-
sons within the jurisdiction, whether children or servents, that
are under government in families, that shall wear any apparel
exceeding the quality and condition of their persons or es-
tates, or that is apparently contrary to the ends of apparell,
and either of these to be so judged by the grand jury and
county court of that shire where such complaint or present-
ments is made, all such persons being convicted shall for the
first offence be admonished, for the second pay a fine of
twenty shillings, for the third offence forty shillings, and so
following, as the offences are multiplied to pay forty shillings
unto the treasurer of that county. Also every taylor who
shall make or fashion any garment for such children or ser-
vants under government, as aforesaid, contrary to the minde
and order of their parents or governours, every such taylor
shall for the first offence be admonished, and for the second
offence to forfeit double the value of such apparell or gar-
ment as he shall fashion or make contrary to the mind and
order of parents or governours, half to the owners (?) and half
to the country; and all grand jurymen are hereby en-
joyned to present all those whom they judge breakers of this


The magistrates have passed this order with reference to
the consent of their brethren, the deputys, hereto.

Edward Rawson, Sccty.

Consented to by the deputyes.

Willia:\i Torrey, Cleric.

May 15, 1672.
Philip, the king of the Pokanokets, writes from Mount
Hope to Captain Hopestill Foster, of Dorchester, as follows :
" My request is, that you would send five yards of white or
light-colored serge, to make me a coat, and a good Holland
shirt ready made, and a pair of good Indian breeches, all
which I have present need of; therefore, I pray, sir, fail not
to send them by my Indian, and with them the several prices
of them, and silk and buttons, and seven yards of galloon
for trimming."

Nov. 3, 1675.
Orders of the General Court.

Whereas there is a manifest pride openly appearing
amongst us, in that long hair, like women's hair, is worn by
some men, either their own or another's hair, made into per-
iwigs, and by some women wearing borders of hair, and their
cutting, curling, and immodest laying out their hair, which
practice doth prevail and increase, especially amongst the
younger sort, this court doth declare against this ill custom
as offensive to them, and divers sober Christians amongst us,
and, therefore, do hereby exhort and advise all persons to use
moderation in this respect, and further do impower all grand
juries to present to the county court such persons, whether
male or female, whom they shall judge to exceed in the prem-
ises ; and the county courts are hereby authorized to proceed
against such delinquents either by admonition, fine, or cor-
rection, according to their good discretion.

Notwithstanding the wholesome laws already made by
this court for restraining excess in apparel, yet through cor-
ruption in many, and neglect of due execution of those laws,



the evil of pride in apparel, both for costliness in the poorer
sort, and vain, new, strange fashions both in poor and rich,
with naked breasts and arms ; or, as it were, pinioned with
the addition of superstitious ribbons both on hair and appar-
el. For redress whereof, it is ordered by this court, that the
county courts, from time to time, do give strict charge to pre-
sent all such persons as they shall judge to exceed in that
kind, and, if the grand juries shall neglect their duty herein,
the county courts shall impose a fine upon them at their dis-
cretion. And it is further ordered, that the county court, sin-
gle magistrates, commissioners' court, in Boston, have hereby
power to summon all such persons, so offending, before them,
and for the first offence to admonish them, and for each of-
fence of that kind afterwards to impose a fine of ten shil-
lings upon them, or, if unable to pay, to inflict such punish-
ment as shall be by them thought most suitable to the nature
of the offence ; and the same judges, above named, are hereby
impowered to judge of and execute the laws, already extant,
against such excess.

Edward Randolph, in his relation to the king's privy
council, in 1676, says, that our New England vessels, in their
voyages to Europe, brought home " silks, laces, linen of all
sorts, cloth, serges, baize, kersies, stockings, and many other
commodities." Hubbard's election sermon, of 1676, has the
following passage : " Pride in habit, attire, and that in those
of the meaner sort, where it most reigns and is most offen-
sive. . . . Let all this be done decently and in order. The pru-
dent husbandman uses more to be delighted in the busy, ac-
tive, yet sable bee, than in the gaudy butterfly, which, it may
be, ranges all over the field to get only fine colors wherewith
to paint her wings, from those flowers whence the other dili-
gent creatures fetch both wax and honey, wherewith they
both build their houses, and furnish them with provision, to
feed themselves, and refresh their owners, while the other are
but the object of children's sport. Let all due testimony be
borne against this kind of pride, so abounding."



Jan. 18, 1742.
An act is passed requiring " that no scarves, gloves, (ex-
cept six pair to the bearers, and one pair to each minister of
the church or congregation where any deceased person be-
longs,) wine, rum, or rings shall be allowed and given at any
funeral, upon penalty of fifty pounds."

Oct. 24, 1774.
Among the items agreed on by members of Congress, for
themselves and constituents, as an association against im-
ports from Great Britain, was the following : " On the death
of any relation or friend, none of us, or any of our families,
will go into any further mourning dress than a black crape
or ribbon on the arm or hat for gentlemen, a black ribbon or
necklace for ladies, and we will discountenance the giving of
gloves and scarves at funerals."

March 11, 1797.

The Massachusetts legislature pass the su*bsequent resolves.
" Whereas the good people of the United States, during the
revolution, did, among other patriotic establishments, in or-
der to promote economy, and to introduce and perpetuate a
national badge for mourning dress, suitable to the dignity of
their independence, agree that men should wear a piece of
black silk or crape upon the left arm, and women wear a
black ribbon upon the head, and that no other token for
mourning should be worn ; and whereas it appears, that
this wise establishment is not sufficiently attended to at the
present time ; —

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives in
General Court assembled, That it be, and hereby is, recom-
mended to all the good people of this commonwealth, to
adopt and perpetuate the national mourning dress before
mentioned, that the property of the citizens may not be
wasted in purchasing useless manufactures, and the national
character degraded by copying injurious examples, that, with
other republican principles and manners established during
the revolution, this may descend to posterity, and contribute
to the ornament and support of independence.


Resolved, That the selectmen of every town and district
in this commonwealth cause the foregoing resolve to be
read in their annual May meeting for the choice of represen-


Before we finally part with this subject, it may not be
amiss for us, — who have not only fancy to be pleased with
proper attire, but also spirits soon to be clothed upon with re-
tributive immortality, and obligated to be the wiser and bet-
ter for every exercise of attention to any topic, — to continue
our patience with a few concluding remarks.

First. In no respect is the adage of Solomon, " There is
no new thing under the sun," more true than in respect to
fashions. It is not unfrequently the fact, that positions in
politics, science, philosophy, and religion will be advanced
with all the apparent freshness and attraction of originality.
Such positions would pass along as possessed of this charac-
ter, and be hailed or rejected by multitudes, according to
their respective opinions and feelings, were they not sounded
and measured by the line of historical investigation. When
so examined, and their relations are compared with those of
former centuries, they are discovered to be nothing more, sub-
stantially, than a new edition of old speculations. So it is
in reference to fashions. These exhibit themselves in our
presence. We look at them as if exhibiting the graces of
novelty. They have never before come within our familiar
vision, so as to lose the charm of being presented for the first
time to the gaze of human curiosity. Some of them existed
so long ago, that they were beyond the recollection of our
indulgent grandmothers, and therefore had no part in the
absorbing stories of olden times, which we eagerly listened
to from their lips. Others, which have not been known in
our day, and have been mentioned to us among the narra-
tives of our childhood, made but partial and indistinct im-


pressions on our memory. Hence it is, that fashions not of
our own age, when revived among us, have the appearance
as though no eye had ever seen, no ear ever heard, no hand
ever touched them before. But the semblance is broken, the
delusion passes away, so soon as the talisman of investiga-
tion holds up the mirror of truth. Thus aided, we find, in a

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 17 of 18)