Our group portrays events involving the English settlers in Plimoth Colony between the years 1620-1645. Clothing in the group is “best effort” and our philosophy is inclusive.
New members may rely on borrowed clothing, when available, for their first events. You can purchase some items from merchants who cater to the reenactment market, commission clothing from others knowledgeable in historic tailoring, or make your own. For our portrayals, we are looking at average people here in the colonies, not at high status lords and ladies in England. These guidelines are intended to help you select styles and fabrics that will help you with that. If you have any questions, check with us before making a major investment.
The basic garment for a man is a shirt. The shirt of this time is quite long, about knee length, and it served as all-purpose underwear and nighttime sleeping wear. For people in that period, a fresh shirt was critical to feeling clean. It absorbed sweat and body dirt, and was washed regularly, unlike woolen garments that are not normally washed, being typically brushed, aired, and spot cleaned. Like the smock for women, it would be made of the whitest and finest linen that a person could afford. It is a simple shape – there are no yokes, and it is all straight lines.
Cuffs and collars were primarily joined by ties made of cords which were pushed through eyelets on either sides of the collars and cuffs. The collars and cuffs often seen on the outside of doublets are mostly separate pieces, often made of nicer linen, that are discussed in the section on “Ruffs and Cuffs.”
Photo: Boy Peeling Fruit, Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. Longhi Collection, Rome, 1592-1593. The youth in this portrait wears a moderately loose fitting linen shirt. Note the long front slit. The slit could be joined by a cord passed through eyelets on both sides of the collar.
The term “hose” in this period does not only refer to stockings, but to everything a man wore from the waist down, including his pants. There were numerous words for various styles of hose – galligaskins, round hose, venetians, etc. In the 1620s, the style was for full breeches. They could end just above the knee or below it. Sensible working people like the Pilgrims would have worn middle of the road styles. The look that came into style in the 1630s was a longer, slimmer type of breeches, clearly coming below the knee, with very visible fly buttons. Before that, the style was generally fuller, shorter, and fly buttons are not very noticeable.
Men’s breeches were usually lined with linen of a utilitarian type, and had outer fabric that could be various types of wool, linen, hemp, or thin leather. They might also be interlined, having a layer of clothing between the outer fabric and the lining, for extra body.
All men’s breeches had pockets. The pockets were shaped like a square bag, attached to the waistband between the outer fabric and the lining, with a slit that was stitched to an opening in the outer layer of pants. Pocket bags were sometimes made of chamois leather.
Photo: A suit of wool serge, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1625-1635. This suit is an excellent example of middle class clothing from 1625-1630. Note the short-waisted, six tabbed doublet, and full breeches.
The doublet was a fitted short jacket which buttoned down the front and at the cuff and was worn by men over their shirts. They came to the natural waist (about the level of the bottom of your rib cage) with shoulder wings, and a peplum of small tabs around the bottom. They did not have yokes over the shoulders as are sometimes seen on modern interpretations. They could be made of wool, linen, hemp, or leather. They were interlined with linen which had a layer of springy wool pad stitched to it over the shoulders for shaping. They were lined with linen. Their sleeves were generally permanently sewn into the armscye. Doublets have a sturdy strip of linen worked with eyelets sewn to the waistline inside the garment behind the tabs. A critical aspect of doublets and breeches throughout the first half of the 17th century is that they are attached together at the waist either by laces or hooks. This attachment was very important to keep doublets from riding up and breeches from falling down.
Photo: A bricklayer’s leather doublet worn by jurist Hugo Grotius on his escape from prison in 1618. Rotterdam Museum, ca. 1610-1620. It is typical of the sturdy garments made of thin leather worn by laborers.
Hose are stockings. For men, they would be thigh-high, and might be pointed (tied) or even temporarily sewn onto the breeches. Garters are worn to keep them from sagging and bagging. Knitted stockings began to be worn in the second half of the 16th century. Before that time, and for some time after, stockings made of wool cloth cut on the bias (diagonal) for stretch were common. Knitted stockings cost about twice the price as those of cloth, and often retained the characteristic back seam and triangular gores at the ankles common to cloth hose. Wool twills are ideal for cut cloth stockings because they have a lot of natural stretch. Stockings are in solid colors, not in stripes as sometime seen at re-enactor merchants.
Photo: Detail of a man’s knitted hose showing the triangular gusset. Although this painting is from earlier than our period, this style of hose persisted to at least the middle of the 17th century. Military Company, Dutch, 1586.
Shoes are the same for men and women. They are made of leather, typically brown or black. Common features of the era included a rounded, slightly almond-shaped toe (which gradually became more blunt as the 17th century wore on) and a very low heel or none at all. Right and left shoes are the norm for this time for people across social classes. (Straight lasts came in with higher heels.) They had a pair of straps which met over the tongue at the instep and were joined with a lace or cord. They featured a small decorative hole set into the side seam. These holes tended to be around the size of a quarter to half-dollar. In the 1620s they became very large in fashionable circles.
In England, boots were uncommon for daily wear amongst regular people, except for certain occupations such as sea boots for fishermen, and low boots (like a work boot) for countrymen and farmers. Riding boots are mostly the properly of gentlemen and military cavalry. Boots of any kind are hard to document for women. The situation in Plymouth Colony seems to have been a bit different. William Mullins’ will from 2 April 1621 indicates there were definitely boots in the colony from early on, “Alsoe I have xxj [21 pairs] of shoes, and thirteene paire of bootes wch I give to the Companies hands for forty poundes at seaven years and if thy like them at that rate. If it be thought to deare as Overseers shall thinck good.” Many men’s probate inventories list a pair of boots along with one or more pairs of shoes.
Fine white linen at the neck and wrist was a point of pride for most people in the period. Possibilities varied by social class, but people of the middling sort would have worn the best that they could afford. Elite people could afford very fine linen with lace edgings. The average person would have something plain and undecorated.
Ruffs were very common in the 1620s for both men and women, but became rare in later decades, except among the Dutch. There were several styles. One style is a “casual” sort that was pleated tightly into a band and left to drape. This same ruff could be heavily starched and set with a hot iron to make it quite stiff. This treatment kept a band clean and firm for a long time. When it was dirty, the starch would be washed off and the ruff or band re-starched and set.
Both men and women might wear “cuffs”, a small version of a ruff worn at the wrist. They could also wear “hand falls,” which look like wide shirt cuffs but are separate pieces. These might been pinned to the wrist of a doublet or jacket or temporarily stitched on.
Photo: Detail from Constantine Huygens and his secretary by Thomas de Keyser, National Gallery, London.
Men wore narrow belts, or “waist girdles,” over their doublets, along the seam where the body of the doublet and tabs are attached. Because they were worn on the outside of the doublet, waist girdles were not used to hold up the breeches. They could have specialized fittings meant for suspending a sword carrier. A small pouch might be carried on the belt but for the most part men put small objects into their breeches pockets.
Up to about the 1620s, swords were carried on a hanger that hung from the waist girdle. After that time, baldrics began to be used more commonly for carrying swords. Initially the baldrics were relatively narrow, not more than 2” wide, and usually divided into two straps which held the sword.
Photo: Detail of a waist girdle in a portrait of a tailor by Giovanni Battista Moroni, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1565-1570.
Both men and women wore hats. They were blocked from wool or fur felt, were high-crowned (six inches tall or more), and typically featured a moderately wide brim. Colors could range from pale browns to dark natural shades almost to black. They would usually feature a hatband and might be lined. Hats were valuable and the lining helps the hat to last longer. There are surviving bills for hats sent out to be perked up with brushing and new linings.
Flat caps, also known as “statute caps,” were worn by men. They were knitted from wool yarn, and shrunk (fulled) to make them more weatherproof. Under an English law of the period, passed to support the wool industry, by statute (hence the name statute cap), men were supposed to wear this type of hat every Sunday.
Photo: A knitted flat cap, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, English, 16th century. This cap is identical to those that would have been worn in the 17th century.
There is a surviving cap in the Monmouth Museum in Wales, which may be of a type referred to as a “Monmouth Cap,” that was issued to soldiers and recommended for new colonists. It is similar in appearance to a modern beanie or toque. A type of knitted cap shaped more like a hat with a wide brim are found in surviving examples from Denmark.
Mariners from across Europe wore thrummed caps, which were produced by working short pieces of wool roving back through the weave of a knit cap, then fulling it to produce a waterproof and warm shell of strands. There are no known images of English women wearing knit caps in the period.
Photo: Knit cap, Monmouth Museum, Wales, ca. 17th century.
Jerkins are frequently found in records for men. They followed the general form of a doublet with skirting, shoulder wings, and a collar but might or not have hanging sleeves (sleeves which were partially attached, sometimes with the ability to put your arms in them and sometimes without). They often buttoned up the front and could be made from wool or leather. Leather jerkins are very common for working or military men.
Wool coats could be worn in the cold weather over the doublet and jerkin. They were somewhat loose-fitting and ended between the thighs or hips. Voluminous knee-length cloaks might be worn in the cold weather wrapped around the body. They had collars but not hoods. Short hip length cloaks worn draped over one shoulder were an elite status item.
There was a kind of cloak/coat hybrid over garment known variously as a casaque, mandillion, riding cloak, or cassock. It had a trapezoidal body with trapezoidal arms. It fastened with small buttons down the front and on both sides, front and back of the arms and could be buttoned either as a cloak or as a coat with arms.
Just to be confusing there was another garment, also known as a cassock, with a trapezoidal shaped torso and attached sleeves. It was a common mariner’s or working man’s over garment. It would usually be made to be pulled over the head and fastened at the neck slit with a button or eyelet. Based on sailor’s wills, they often were found in pairs.
Photo: Riding cloak (casque) of Ernst Casimir of Nassau-Dietz, Dutch, in or before 1632.
Men might wear mitts for cold weather or for agricultural tasks. Mitts could be made of leather or knitted wool. Embroidered leather gloves were worn by elites but serviceable leather gloves might be worn for military pursuits such as handing the pike. Gloves could also be made of knitted wool.
Photo: A fulled knitted mitten and knitted gloves with thrumming on the cuffs, Danish Museum Collection, Copenhagen, 17th century.