While visiting with tailor Mark Hutter on my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I spotted these curious trousers, left, lying on the shop's counter. They looked thoroughly modern to me, more like the break-away warm-ups worn by N.B.A. players than anything from the wardrobe of a proper Georgian gentleman.
But according to Mark, that's exactly where they would have belonged. They're called sherryvalleys, a curious word that is traditionally considered a French garbling of a Turkish term – though as Mark pointed out, there's a certain phonetic similarity between sherryvalleys and chevalier, a French word with an early definition of horseman, so perhaps the garbling is more English from French than French from Turkish. From about 1750 through the 1830s, a gentleman's wardrobe would definitely have included a pair of sherryvalleys, especially if his day included riding.
Sherryvalleys were customarily made of heavy linen, cotton, or even leather, with rows of metal or horn buttons down each side to join the fronts to the backs. They were worn over breeches and stockings to protect these clothes from the dust and general splatters of riding as well as the smell of leather and horse. Much like an overcoat, they would be removed at the rider's destination. Any English or American gentleman riding on horseback from one country house to another (including all of Jane Austen's gentlemen) would be sure to wear his sherryvalleys, or risk offending the ladies at the neighboring tea-table.
Sherryvalleys were also worn when riding through rougher terrain as a kind of heavy-duty working pants. According to Mark, these sherryvalleys are a copy of a surviving pair that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who wore then when surveying the wilder regions of his Monticello plantation.
But sherryvalleys weren't limited to country gentlemen. There's documentation of cotton duck sherryvalleys being a practical part of the uniforms worn by cadets of the United States Military Academy, West Point, in 1814. In a way, they're another variation of gaiters, buttoning over shoes and legs, and of chaps, worn by later cowboys to protect their legs and clothes.
Now, if someone would please tell LeBron James the proper name for what he's wearing when he leaves the locker room....
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.