We've seen many stylish women's clothes that have come from the talented needles of the mantua-makers in the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg. Whether a ball gown for Lady Dunmore, a pink silk gown copied from a portrait, or the everyday block-printed cotton gown for a fashion-conscious apprentice, these replicas of 18th c clothing have been impeccably cut and sewn by hand, exactly as their Georgian predecessors would have done.
But while fine ladies, women of the middling sort, and shop owners represent the most style-conscious women of the American colonies, there were plenty of other women – tradeswomen, servants, the wives of soldiers, farmers, and others of the lower sort – who also needed clothes that suited their lives. Recently the mantua-makers were delighted to create clothes for a new member of the historic trades program. Aislinn Lewis, left, is the newest blacksmith's apprentice at Colonial Williamsburg. She's not there just to fulfill an equal-opportunity clause; there were documented women silversmiths, tinsmiths, whitesmiths, and blacksmiths working in 18th c. Britain and in the American colonies. (For more about these women, see this article from the CW Journal.) Aislinn is an accomplished ironworker, too, a graduate of the American College of the Building Arts who specialized in forged architectural ironwork.
Shown here at work in the forge, Aislinn's new clothes show what an 18th c woman engaged in physical labor would have worn. Unlike the fitted gowns of the middle and upper classes, Aislinn wears a short red wool bedgown, a loose-fitting, T-shaped garment that allows plenty of room for movement. The bedgown wraps in front and is pinned in place, and is further secured by the strings of her checked linen apron. Her matching red petticoat and underpetticoat are also of wool, and around her throat is a blue linen neck handkerchief. Her hair is covered with a ruffled linen cap, not only for modesty and a bit of style, but also for protection. In fact all the fabrics of her clothes serve this purpose. While many modern synthetic clothes use fibers and dyes that are highly combustible, a spark that lands on wool or linen will smolder first, and are much safer for the wearer – especially a wearer who works around an open fire.
Photographs courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.
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.