Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keeping Cool in 18th c. Style in Colonial Williamsburg

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week, where it seems as if the Tidewater's usual steamy, sultry summer weather has already descended.

Of course no visit to CW would be complete without stopping by to see our good friends at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop. Here's how the shop's two apprentices - Abby Cox, milliner's & mantua-maker's apprentice, and Mike McCarty, tailor's apprentice - dress for hot weather in 18th c. style. The key is natural fibers in light colors, and eliminating extra layers like linings.

Abby is wearing a short sack, made of a light-weight, high-end cotton in the style of the 1770s. The sleeves are unlined, and the sack's loose-fitting, pleated back gives it an airy feel. Her petticoat is made from a cotton that's woven in a mock quilted pattern, and her apron is sheer cotton muslin. Beneath it she's wearing her usual linen shift, linen-lined stays, and cotton stockings.

Worn over a ruffled linen cap, her extravagant hat will keep her shielded from the brightest sun (and it's so much more beguiling than a baseball cap.) Made of crisp silk taffeta, it has a wired brim to keep its shape - if you look closely, you can see the ridges of the vertical wires (much the same principle as a modern lampshade.) It's a style that's often found in prints and portraits from the 1770s.

Mike is dressed in unlined linen breeches (casually left unbuckled at the knees) and an unlined linen coat, popular attire for 18th c. Virginia gentlemen. His shirt is a fine, lightweight linen, and he's wearing cotton stockings and a printed cotton kerchief around his head. Bright red backless leather slippers complete the look.

To modern eyes, it still looks like a lot of fabric for hot weather. But keep in mind that all that linen worn close to the body absorbs perspiration and carries it away from the skin, while many 21st c. summer clothes rely on synthetics that trap body heat and moisture, or leave the skin uncovered to bake in the sun. Abby swears she's more comfortable in the heat than her modern counterparts dressed in the Lycra-rich yoga pants and tank-top. It's all relative. . . .

A (foot)note: I know readers often pine after the clothes we feature from the Margaret Hunter shop. Alas, everything is made by hand by the staff for themselves, and isn't for sale. But the shoes that Abby is wearing here are: a new collaboration between Colonial Williamsburg and the historical footwear company American Duchess. These black cloth shoes are called the Dunmore, and will soon be available through American Duchess and Colonial Williamsburg.

Many thanks to Abby and Mike.

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


E. Waterman said...

SO excited to join the team this summer! This is a great article to help me stay nice and cool ; )

Sarah said...

Excellent! I always wear long sleeves and a long frock in the summer, much cooler, though the UK isn't exactly as sultry as Williamsburg.
I appreciate that the clothes aren't for sale, but is there any chance some of the patterns might be? even if only scanned to purchase as downloads to print and scale up onto brown paper...

Karen said...

It is difficult for a lot of people to understand that even if you have a few layers of linen you are cooler than people in modern clothes. Linen is the best!

Angela said...

Abby is wearing an oldie but goodie Burnley & Trowbridge textile. I can attest to it's summer coolness!

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