Most surviving examples of clothing from the past belonged to the wealthy upper classes. The clothes worn by ordinary folk were usually worn out, not preserved for posterity. There aren't many written descriptions of how milkmaids or blacksmiths dressed, either, especially not compared to the detailed reports of this duke's waistcoat or that princess's gown.
So since we've already discussed a cocked hat of an 18th c. gentleman, today we're featuring a hat popular with men who worked hard for their livings. This woolly hat (worn left by Andrew De Lisle, a journeyman wheelwright with Colonial Williamsburg) is called a thrum, or thrummed, cap, and in a cold winter wind, it couldn't be beat. The base was knitted of wool, and extra pieces of yarn or fleece were thrummed into the surface – either knitted in or woven in afterwards – to make the shaggy surface. Then the whole thing was fulled (much like felting) in hot water to shrink the knitted stitches, secure the thrums, and lock the wool's fibers together. The result was a dense, sturdy, windproof hat that resembles fur (or the 18th c. version of dreads.)
The same technique was also used inside mittens and carriage blankets when extra warmth was needed. The more a thrummed piece is used, the more dense and warmer it becomes; thrummed goods are sturdy, and can stand up to hard use. There are surviving examples of gauntlet-style thrummed mittens that were worn by 19th c. stage drivers who likely also welcomed the wind-proof warmth.
Thrummed caps were especially popular with English sailors from Elizabethan times onward (see the fellow to the right), and working men in general. They also made a wild-man fashion statement that must have had a certain appeal to men like sailors who proudly lived on the edges of respectable society. Personally, we think it's a style worth reviving, and not only because it's the warmest had imaginable. To this end, here's a link to download directions for knitting one for yourself, or any other wild-man of your acquaintance.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Woodyard. Below: Detail of an English sailor, illustration from Habiti Antichi e Moderni by Cesare Vecelli, 1600.
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.