As James Baker, noted Pilgrim historian, points out in his recent article in the Mayflower Journal, there is a major image problem associated with what clothing and apparel the Pilgrims wore. The image of black clothing, buckles and blunderbusses persist in the public mind. To overcome this misperception and to assist in this effort to change public perceptions, the donning of appropriate garments representing what the Pilgrims actually wore is a major objective for the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. We the Mayflower descendants need to Dress Like a Pilgrim and wear Pilgrim Appropriate Apparel (PAA).
So, what did Pilgrim men and women wear?
The basic apparel for Pilgrim men would have consisted of a 1) shirt which also served as underwear; 2) doublet; 3) breeches or slops; 4) stockings; 5) latchet shoes, and 6) a hat (brimmed, flat, or monmouth cap). Slops were commonly used in addition to breeches in the 1620s. Slops were full, with lots of gathered fabric around the waist and legs and ended just above the knee. Both breeches and slops were worn high; your waist size should be measured at the bellybutton. The seam of the doublet (not including the skirting) should sit at the bellybutton.
The basic apparel for Pilgrim women would have consisted of 1) a smock, which, like a man's shirt, served as underwear (today, the smock is often referred to as a shift or sometimes a chemise); 2) a petticoat or skirt; 3) a waistcoat (some vendors refer to the waistcoat as a bodice); 4) stockings; 5) latchet shoes, and 6) coif or cap. Women also wore brimmed hats, the same as men.
Converting Chukka Boots into Latchet Shoes
One of the challenges that we face in dressing like a Pilgrim is finding latchet shoes that fit. There are several vendors that can provide 17th century reproduction latchet shoes, but they often do not have the size or color that you desire, and can be expensive. Some are also very uncomfortable, especially if you are going to be marching in them. An alternative is to convert desert or chukka boots into latchet-style shoes. With a little leather work, you can have an aceptable and often very comfortable set of latchet shoes that will work just fine.
We have prepared a video that demonstrates the process of converting chukka boots into Pilgrim latchet shoes.
In 17th Century England and in the Netherlands, there were two basic fabrics that were used for clothing: wool and linen. Silk was also available and used for fancy wear. Light leather was used for men's clothing in doublets and jerkins but was not used in women's wear. There was combination of wool and linen known as fustian corduroy that was also used; however, finding this fabric today is almost impossible. A type of brushed cotton moleskin is available in some fabric stores online. Some vendors also offer a cotton canvas. Cotton, while available, was very rare and very expensive in the early 17th century.
We know that the Pilgrims wore a variety of colors in their clothing from probate records where the color of various clothing items were mentioned, including violet, blue, and green. The color red was also listed; however, the reds that were used in the early 17th century were more of a brick red or a madder red, which is a little more orange in nature than modern reds. What was considered black in the early 17th century was a little different than what we think of as black today. Very dark greys, greens and blues might count as poor versions of black, and natural black sheep's wool was also available. The deep, rich black was broadly expansive and was the opposite of demonstrating piety in the early 17th century. Thus, a true black would not have worn by our Pilgrim ancestors.
GSMD has launched an initiative to assist members in their efforts to participate in living history and to start to Dress Like a Pilgrim!
Dress Like a Pilgrim Procurement Guide
To assist members who wish to Dress Like a Pilgrim, the Mayflower Guard has prepared a procurement guide for those individuals who are considering becoming part of living history programs and activities of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants or of their individual partner societies. The information in this guide is based on research and interaction with reenactor groups such as the New Plimmoth Gard. We have identified vendors where you can purchase period appropriate gear at reasonable prices. Each of these vendors have been used to purchase Pilgrim Appropriate Apparel by members of the Mayflower Guard. The guide will be updated periodically as new vendors are added and additional resources identified.