Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday Videos: How 17th century women, Puritan & not, really did dress

Friday, January 9, 2015
Loretta & Isabella report:

Isabella recently showed us a pretty, but historically fanciful portrait of a 17th C Puritan miss and invited us to point out the inaccuracies.

Today, thanks to Twitter follower Beatrice Bazell, who alerted us to the YouTube clip, I present for your viewing pleasure the one and only Lucy Worsley, properly attired, first as a Puritan lady, then as a lady of King Charles II’s court.

For a less stylish example, check out this Scholastic video, below, from Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum devoted to life in the early 17th c. colony. This interpreter's dress is probably more accurate to what was being worn by the New World Puritans: simple, unadorned, dusty, and limp from everyday wear.

Image: "Ladies' Party from a Gobelin of the seventeenth century," Carl Kohler, History of Costume, courtesy Internet Archive.


AuntieNan said...

My kids' elementary school took them to Plimoth plantation and it was fascinating for them to see how life was lived, especially the clothing and daily activities!

Elizabeth said...

These are both great clips! I think they also illustrate the differences between the continents at the time too. Life was hard in the colonies and thier clothes definitely must have shown it.

Anonymous said...

entertaining videos, but why include the unrelated illustration of 1640s French ladies in an article about English Puritan women?

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QNPoohBear said...

I have studied this subject in-depth and you're closer with the Plimoth Plantation outfit than the all black wealthy English woman's costume. Check out Historic St. Mary's City in Maryland for examples of how New World puritans dressed. This site has a very good brief summary. I have a long list of resources, including some mentioned by the costumer at Plimoth Plantation.
See also Salem

If anyone wants more sources, send me an e-mail at and I will send them to you.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Many thanks for the excellent links, QNPoohBear. There is not enough correct information available on what these early New Englanders wore, which is why the anachronistic examples persist (and, of course, all the awful cartoon Pilgrims that show up every Thanksgiving.)

QNPoohBear said...

We can figure out what people wore by piecing together primary sources. Look at probates, wills and inventories to see who had spinning wheels and looms. Before there were cloth weavers in Boston, people got their cloth from England. We can make an educated guess that people dressed like their English counterparts of their social class. A woman who has slaves or servants to help would dress more like the woman in the first video. A woman who has to do her own chores to survive would omit the ornamentation while still being fashionable. Minister's sermons and other writings also tell us what people were wearing. Here is a good one

Another one I found is

We can also look at the laws. Massachusetts Bat Colony had sumptuary laws - why? Probably because people were not dressing plainly enough to please the ministers. The laws only lasted a short while because they were too hard to enforce. We can look at the court records and see who was in violation of those laws and when.

The Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities also gives some clues.

The best source of English women's fashions is engravings by Wenceslaus Hollar.

Unfortunately he didn't color them but we know from other primary sources what was available in colonial New England. They traded purple cloth to the Indians, for example.

For the later period, we have paintings of wealthy people, including women and children.

Colonial House on PBS had some interesting costumes along with the drama and Oprah sans makeup

Reenactors and costumers build on these sources to create costumes such as this <a href=" woman's working class costume></a> She provides lots of secondary sources. I read What Women Wore and Patterns of Fashion among others.
QNPoohBear, librarian, historian, archivist and New Englander

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