Thursday, July 15, 2010

Keeping Cool(er) in Hot Weather

Thursday, July 15, 2010
Susan reports:

Much of America is currently sweltering in July heat, and there are few places with a richer claim to swelter than Williamsburg, VA. Despite my inclination to whimper and cling pitifully to the air conditioner, I'm still venturing out to gather fresh blog-material from Colonial Williamsburg.

At this time of year, I often think of the early 17th c. English settlers who landed in the northern colonies (aka the Pilgrims), and how they were much more fortunate than those struggling to make their way in hot, humid, swampy, fever-ridden Tidewater Virginia. By the middle of the 18th c., life in the capital city of Williamsburg had progressed to a pleasingly cultured existence, but the merciless summers continued to be a fierce enemy.

Yet 18th c. Englishmen wished to remain civilized Englishmen, even in a climate bearing no resemblance to London's.  How to stay stylish without keeling over from heatstroke in the middle of Duke of Gloucester Street?  This gentleman that I spotted today shows how it was done.  While his clothes follow the latest fashionable cut, they're made not silk or wool, but linen, the coolest and lightest of fibers. His tailor has done away with heavy linings, and his coat is about as insubstantial as it can be. His stockings are white cotton thread. He's even traded in his usual black felt hat for a white one, a dashing fancy guaranteed to turn the ladies' heads.


ConnieG said...

These may be cooler clothes than they usually wore in Georgian times, but this man still looks pretty hot to me. Poor guy!

Chris Woodyard said...

Linen was also believed to have healthful properties as it drew sweat, dirt (and evil humours) away from the skin. The V&A senior costume curator, Susan North, will be speaking about linen and health at the accessories conference next March at Colonial Williamsburg.

Bearded Lady said...

Now we know why heart throb Ben Franklin made all the ladies swoon. Love the costume posts!

Rowenna said...

The single most common question I get as a reenactor is "Aren't you hot in that?" The answer, of course, is yes, but not nearly as hot as I probably look--your body tends to adjust to wearing more clothing. And a fan, a shade tree, and a damp washrag do wonders :)

Pauline said...

The ones I always feel sorry for are military officers, whose uniforms did not change due to climate until well into the 19th century. I'm brought to mind of Hornblower in Haiti ignoring the sweat trickling down the back of his neck while wearing his wool uniform coat.

Finegan Antiques said...

My heart be still. This gentleman is stylish and looks oh so good. Men clothed in 17th or 18th century garments make a dashing presence. Besides that I love linen.


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