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Plymouth Colony Clothing

The clothing brought by the Plymouth colonists was typical of that worn by all English yeomen in the early 17th century. Primarily it was fashioned from wool and linen cloth, with some leather. There was a much wider range of colors than exists in the modern image, including reds, yellows, purples and greens as well as black and grey. Some of these colors had social significance:black was indicative of solid respectability, blue was frequently worn by children and servants, and russet (reddish-brown) was a countryman's color. The manner in which an individual dressed was reflective of their station in life: the richly ornamented satin gowns of a noblewoman were considered highly unsuitable for wear by a merchant's wife (even if she were wealthy enough to afford them, as was frequently the case). The trends set by the nobility quickly trickled down to lower classes, and all would have felt their influence. The first step, therefore, in determining what was worn in Plymouth Colony, is to establish what was worn by the colonists contemporaries in England.

Unfortunately, this is a great deal easier said than done. The "common folk" of England, unlike the Dutch, were rarely depicted in the paintings of the period. Details, therefore, were gathered from woodcuts and other engravings, as well as portraits of the well-to-do; surviving garments in museum collections; and a variety of documents from diaries to tailor's manuals. Once the information for England was gathered, evidence for early Plymouth Colony could be examined and placed in perspective. The sources which were used are: the "provisions lists" (documents containing recommendations for items to bring to the colonies); references to clothing in primary sources such as Bradford's history of the colony and early letters written by visitors to Plymouth in the 1620s; archaeological evidence from local sites; and the wills and inventories which provide actual period descriptions of the clothing owned at death. The familiar black-garbed bebuckled Pilgrim, with his steeple hat and square white collar and cuffs disappeared under this scrutiny. Rather, the individuals who appeared were largely the same as their English counterpartsout of the main stream of fashion, but nonetheless lesser representatives of it.

The clothing for a typical English yeoman of the early 17th century consisted of a number of garments, mostly still recognizable today. The basic garment was the linen shirt, which was considerably longer and looser than its modern counterpart. Breeches were designed in a variety of styles and fabrics, from elaborate trunk hose to plain knee-length. Stockings were tailored of cloth or could have been the relatively new knit type. Shoes were the most common sort of footwear, but boots had become fashionable as a result of Charles I's fondness for them. A doublet, close-fitting and padded, was the usual upper garment. Capes and loose-fitting coats were the usual outer-wear for men and women. There were many styles of hats and caps which were worn inside and outdoors.

The English women also had a basic undergarment much like the shirt, which was called a shift. Over this she wore her stays (corset) and petticoats. The outermost clothing was either a gown or a waistcoat (fitted jacket) and skirt. Most adult women wore a linen cap called a coif covering their hair. Their shoes and stockings, capes, coats and hats were much the same as the men's. Aprons protected the skirts from the myriad chores of the day.

Children, both boys and girls, were dressed in similar fashion until approximately seven years of age. At that time a boy would be "breeched," that is, dressed for the first time as a young man in scaled-down versions of adult clothing.

Until that time, both sexes were dressed with shirts/shifts, an ankle-length gown, generally fastened in the back, a biggin (a close-fitting cap tied under the chin) and an apron, sometimes with bib. Their shoes and stockings were virtually the same as the adult's, and they also wore capes, coats and hats as outerwear. The point is not as clear-cut for the transferring of girls from a child's gown to a young woman's clothing, but it was probably by the early teens.


Understanding the Pilgrims - The Scrooby Separatists - Life in Holland & Departure to New England - The Mayflower Voyage - The First Winter - The "First Thanksgiving" - Plymouth Colony:1622-1626 - Pilgrim Clothing - 17th-centuryWampanoag Clothing



Plimoth Plantation
P. O. Box 1620
Plymouth, MA 02362
(508) 746-1622

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