We're a day behind here on Closet Histories, but you can't blame me for wanting to post about Puritans on Thanksgiving! Lets take a short look into the wardrobes of those more pious ladies of the 17th century shall we?
For a bit of context, I am referring to the differences of dress for the Puritan movement at large, not specifically the American pilgrims. The puritans began to emerge as a faction soon after the accession of queen Elizabeth I in England. Essentially started by John Calvin, puritanism became a form of activism within the Church of England. They believed that the Protestant Church of England was still tainted by echos of Catholic rituals and symbols. Some puritans became so dissatisfied with the Anglican Church as to break off and seek asylum elsewhere, first in the Netherlands and eventually in colonies in the new world. The puritans believed in moral purity to the highest possible degree and condemned excesses in life and in dress. The colonies in America went even further, banning Christmas celebrations and most other festivities including games of chance, maypoles, and theater. Doesn't sound very fun does it?
In general, the puritan costume we see today (lank black dress, big white apron and collar) is not necessarily accurate or inaccurate. You could argue that it is a very commercialized and generalized amalgamation of the many 17th century portraits portraying ladies in black gowns with large white linen falling collars. These ensembles did exist, but what modern costume companies seem to be forgetting is that these black gowns were worn for portraits because they were the sitter's Sunday best, not necessarily their everyday clothing. Black fabric was very expensive to make and the color once achieved tended to fade fast. Still, such a luxurious color was indeed worn by pious Puritans of the time, but only by the very richest ones!
Puritans, especially those in America who took everything a bit too far, did indeed wear more conservative clothing than their more secular (or royalist) counterparts. You wouldn't have seen a Puritan in the relaxed off the shoulder, low cut, and spangle embellished gown like those popular at court. No silver tissue dresses for the Puritan! Still, that didn't necessarily mean they wore only rags either. The Puritan idea was to wear simple and modest clothing, but of a quality worthy of one's rank. Since wealth was believed to be ordained by God, to dress below ones station would be highly incorrect.
|(fig. 1) (fig. 2)|
Look at these two ladies for example, quite the contrast no? The first portrait is of Catrina Hooghsaet (painted by Rembrandt in 1657), a Dutch mennonite. She wears a black gown and crisp white linen accessories, like our modern puritan costumes today, but notice the cut of her gown still follows fashion even without the low neckline of her contemporaries. The second portrait of Princess Mary Stuart painted in 1652 shows how the other half was dressing; with metallic silver woven fabric at her neck and peeking out from her gown's skirt, a rather full puffed sleeve, gold trimming at her hem, and of course the wide low neck so popular at the time. Comparing an English princess with a Dutch mennonite might not be very fair, but they each show the styles of their time and sect so very well I couldn't resist.
|(fig. 3) (fig. 4) (fig.5 )|
For more about Puritan dress, check out these links I found while researching this post!
-Shedding Light on a Dark Era: Baroque, Cavalier, and Puritan Fashions
-Portrait of a “puritan” – Dutch Mennonite
-Puritans Beliefs About Dress Codes
-1600–50 in Western European fashion wiki
-Puritan on Wikipedia
All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!
Thanks for reading!