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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dressing a potter from 1820 in New England...

Dressing up a New England potter from 1820 ...
No, I am not a Princess....

This is a real problem. I have found wonderful web sites on fashion of this time period. Late "Regency"? Found some wonderful blogs about dressing in America in Pilgrim days, Colonial times, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and 1900's dress to. But all these are the fashionable, "I want to be a princess and go to balls" fashion.

What about the peasants? What about the shop keepers, the tradesmen and the working class? One problem is that there were no photographs in the early 1800's. If there were, how many people would get photographed in their street clothes? The really poor would not be photographed at all. So this leaves the painters and illustrators of the day.

Another problem is that the poor didn't pack away their clothes in trunks to be cherished and passed down to future generations. They were worn, worn out, cut down for children and then used for rags before completely rotting on the compost pile. How many people today keep their old underwear? Occasionally pajamas or slips get saved and packed away.

My mother in law was a historian at a local towns' historical society. She was a saver and collector. She saved many old clothes from her mother and grandmothers side and packed them neatly in the attic for us to cherish. These include camisoles, pantaloons, socks, children's garments, children's shoes, many wool and cotton slips, aprons, bonnets, purses and a few Victorian and flapper dresses. The oldest, however, looks to be Victorian, perhaps back to the 1880's.

To the left is an old flannel slip with red wool hand embroidery.

The tucks, hand stitching, knitted trims, banding and buttons are wonderful to look at and a good source for special features to be added to reproductions. But the are still to late for the time period I am looking for.

So what would a potter in 1820 Connecticut be wearing? When not getting muddy and dirty with the pottery work, she would be slopping hogs, butchering chickens, cooking, washing theses clothes with inferior detergents, scrubbing and mucking stalls. I can see myself dressing up in my one nice dress for Sunday church, coming home to make dinner for my 13 children and husband and maybe a neighbor or two, and some work hands. After washing dishes and pots, I would sit down with my knitting needles or needle and thread and work on mittens, a quilt or a new slip for one of my girls like the above.

I have heard one might have two dresses one to wash and one to wear while the other was being washed. Lucky girls had a third dress saved for Sunday. Washing you and your clothes might happen once a week, so you would be rather yucky most of the time. But so was the rest of your family, so you probably didn't notice it.

And then there were shoes. Shoes were leather top and bottom and had wood pegs to hold the soles on. I use new lace up shoes I find at thrift stores, but they have synthetic soles and polyester lining. What I need is a good pair of reproduction shoes. However, the ones available through reenactor sites are Colonial Williamsburg, too early or Regency, too fancy. I need a sturdy, thick leather shoe with no high heel. I am thinking of making a pair of moccasins. This would prompt discussions with my audience at fairs. Of course in 1820 there were a few surviving Native Americans in Connecticut.. or maybe upper New York, who would trade some of my down pillows for a good pair of work shoes.

See my new blog... Peasant Fashions of New England,  and subscribe!

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