One of our very first posts here at the TNHG involved Loretta's encounter with a pair of black stockinette breeches. It was also one of our most popular posts – which is why we were particularly pleased to discover this pair of white buckskin breeches, as worn by the Spruce Sportsman, lower right, beautifully replicated by the tailors of Colonial Williamsburgusing traditional 18th c. techniques.
Buckskin breeches are another masculine style that had a long fashion-life (much like cocked beaver hats.) The Spruce Sportsman is shown wearing buckskins in 1777, and yet this singing swain by Gillray, right, is shown wearing virtually the same breeches nearly thirty years later, and they also appear on the heroes of countless Regency romances. Buckskins remained in fashion for good reasons: they were comfortable, durable, and looked quite dashing. Preferred for riding and country wear as a sporting look, they were so popular that they were also often seen about London as well.
Buckskins were in fact cut and stitched from the skins of deer, both bucks and does, with hides imported in great quantities from America to England (though George Washington preferred to have his made from elk skin.) Buckskin breeches were most usually white or pale tan, and not lined. Unlike most modern leather clothing, buckskins were washable to a point, though if they finally became too worn and stained over time and hard wear, they could be dyed a darker color. If this pair is typical, they were also incredibly soft, like the most velvety, comfortable pair of old jeans you've ever worn. We completely understand why gentlemen became so attached to them.
The view, above, shows the self-covered buttons on the leg openings, and the cuff tabs that would have fastened with buckles beneath the knee and over stockings. That white half-wafer lying on the breeches is a buffball (and, alternately, also a breeches ball, yellow ball, and yellow boys), a cake made of compressed ochre and kaolin clay suspended in glue and soap that was used for emergency touch-ups. The buffball didn't remove dirt or soil, but it did effectively cover the spot.
The detail, left, shows not only the decorative stitching and metallic buttons on the fall (the front flap), but also the fob, or watch pocket (wrist watches still being a far-distant invention.) A gentleman would take care to keep his fall buttoned, not only for propriety's sake, but also to protect his valuable pocket-watch from thieves. But if he were not a gentleman, but, say, a jockey or other professionally sporting fellow, he might choose to saunter about with the fall half-open like this with rakish nonchalance. Sporting indeed!
Many thanks to Neal Hurst of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, for the information in this post.
Top illustration: detail from Harmony Before Matrimony, by James Gillray, 1805. Lower illustration: detail from The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the best shot, by Carrington Bowles, 1777.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.