Miniature Models – Dressing Children in the 17th Century

As the school year quickly shifts into high-gear and stores advertise their latest sales on backpacks and sneakers, the staff at Pennsbury can’t help but notice the differences between modern life and childhood back in the 17th century.  We spent the summer posting on children’s daily lives and education, so maybe it’s time to feature what they’d be wearing! 

Pieter de Hooch – A Women with a Baby in Her Lap, and a Small Child (Detail) -1658

“Dress to impress”  is surely a phrase we’re common with this day in age, but not something you would necessarily abide by in William Penn’s time. In 17th century England and the colonies thereof, clothing was expensive. With the majority of the common folk working solely to survive, the average household could not afford to pay as much attention to fashion as their modern counterparts. 

What was purchased and worn had to be durable enough to endure the work they’d be doing – silk brocade mantua gowns and embroidered coats were not going to cut it!  The secondhand clothing found in the markets of the day actually became a great source among the working class for affordable and up-to-date options for dress.

A portrait of a commonly dressed mother with her child. Adriaen Jansz van Ostade – “Mother Holding her Child in a Doorway” -1667

However, this lack of emphasis on fleeting fashion does not to diminish its true importance of clothing. “What people wore defined their social position and every colonial government tried with sumptuary legislation to keep class lines clear.” In 1619 in Massachusetts, legislation was passed “against excess apparel” among plain people . The court ordered that offenders be fined by local priests. Nevertheless, the lines blurred in many cases and it became sometimes difficult for guests in well-to-do families’ households to distinguish between the lady of the house and her servant!

Children of the time followed the same standards as their parents. “Dressed as miniature adults from the time they could walk,” children always knew their families’ status in society and were direct representations of such status. “Wives of the well-to-do imposed standards of proper dress on the children” and likewise, if you were from the country and a farmer’s child, the same aprons, straw hats, and patterns your mother wore would also be your attire. 

A prime example of a miniature adult of the upper classes. Gerard Terborch -“Helena van der Schalcke as a Child” – 1644

In the 17th century, what you wore was much more telling of who you were then in our modern society.  In our world, many people can afford even the cheapest imitations of the season’s latest fashions, and children of all families are often dressed up like dolls!  But for the Penn Family, their clothing would have reflected their social position and their Quaker beliefs.

Although a man of power and money, William and his family would have dressed in the best fabrics and high-quality materials, but their religion would have demanded the fashionable embellishment and frills be left off.  This was sure to define the family in a rather unique way, in comparison to their Protestant and Anglican English counterparts of equal social rank. 

Written by Mary Barbagallo

Edited by Hannah Howard

 

Further Reading: 

 Everyday Life in Early America, David Freeman Hawke, Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. 1988,  New York, NY.

The Criers and Hawkers of London: Engraving and Drawings by Marcellus Laroon, Standford University Press, Standford, CA,1990.

A Posting on Possets!

Our fellow museum bloggers over at Winterthur just posted a great article on the popular Posset Pot, a commonly-shared drinking vessel which had its own unique beverage concoction.

A couple years ago, one of our interns posted a Collections Featurette on one of the posset pots in the Manor House, so I was excited to see more examples from the Winterthur collection, which is located just outside Wilmington, Delaware.  Some look very similar to ours, but there some feature amazingly detailed and ornate decoration on the sides and lid.  They also posted a recipe for the posset, which might be worth a try!  Visit their blog post at the link below to learn more about this fashionable 17th-century tradition:

http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2012/08/24/a-good-sack-posset/

Invitation to Share

This summer a young friend attended summer camp at Pennsbury Manor, and during the course of the week she formed some opinions about my job as the Museum Educator.  She told me that I have the coolest job in the world because I get to “take care of the animals, give tours, and drive the golf cart.”  Well, maybe my job isn’t quite as simple as that, but it is pretty cool! 

Without question, my favorite part of the job is talking with visitors.  I get to learn where they are from and what brought them to Pennsbury Manor, hear their questions and discussing answers – because history is rarely made of pure facts.  Most of all, I love that moment (especially transparent in children) when an idea catches hold and true learning takes place.

Every day, all sorts of people (including you!) visit our blog.  I often feel like I am missing out because I can’t have the same conversations with you as I do with the people who visit the physical site.  But lately we’ve been having some great discussions with our readers and volunteers.  We’d like to encourage everyone to feel they can participate, with questions, comments, and experiences of your own!

Below each blog article, there is a comment section for anybody to post their responses.  If you are shy (like me) and don’t wish to post a public response, please email us at willpenn17@aol.com.  We’d love to know what your interests are, and what you would like to hear more about!  I’d like to know what questions you have about current or previous posts.  Finally, I’d like to hear about YOU.  Where are you from?  How did you come to love history?  What experience at a historic site or museum truly moved you?

Go ahead, make my day and shoot me an email or comment.  I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Mary Ellyn Kunz

Museum Educator

French Cuisine – The Height of English Fashion

Last month our Open-Hearth Cooks demonstrated the cooking traditions of the Netherlands, previewed in an article we posted about Dutch foodways

Now we turn our attention to another highly influential culture, one that has been closely intertwined with the English for centuries: France!

A French maid peeling potatoes in the kitchen. “The Kitchen Maid,” Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1738

For many years England and France shared many of the same trends and traditions, from food to fashion.  This began to change around the mid-17th century.  Many in England began looking to the French as the trendsetter of the age, mostly for the upper class.  Even as their countries waged war against each other, the English were often reluctant to give up French trends in the name of patriotism!

A typical kitchen filled with all varieties of meats, which were the most popular feature at any table. “Kitchen Scene,” David Teniers the Younger, 1644

French cuisine began to move away from the heavily spiced and sweetened meals they had long enjoyed, and began returning to a focus on the more natural flavors of produce and meats. All varieties of salads and sauces appeared during this time.  Salads featured the fresh vegetables and flowers of the season, and were often dressed with toppings including various meats, eggs, and oil.  Check out Colonial Williamsburg’s recipe for a “salmagundy!”

Notice how the table is filled with all sorts of dishes, instead of places being set for different courses. Hosts aimed to provide a variety of dishes to please her guests, so there would always be something to their taste. “Wedding Dinner,” Jacob Gerritsz van Hasselt, 1636

The new trend in French cooking also spurred changes in table etiquette.  Meals began to be served in courses, rather than platters being laid out on the banquest tables for immediate consumption.  The use of utensils also became more common place, along with the use of more restrained table manners.  Though the French remained a small minority in colonial Pennsylvania, their influence on English culture translated into an influence on the population of William Penn’s colony. 

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

 

Come visit Pennsbury Manor next Sunday, September 16th to watch our Open-Hearth Cooks making authentic French cuisine

Confessions of a Costumier: Dressing the Tradespeople

Following our 17th-century Fashion Show last spring, I posted an article highlighting the Laborers and their clothing – next up are the Servants & Tradespeople!

These men and women did not have to break their backs in the fields or peddling wares on the streets, but they still lived a humble life.  Perhaps they performed a trade, like turning table legs in a Joyner’s shop, or worked as a housemaid on a large estate like Pennsbury Manor.  Perhaps after saving their wages, they would have enough to purchase a small farm or open their own shop.  They had enough to live on, but their modest clothing reflected their lower station in society. 

Pennsbury volunteers Valerie and Joseph Long are pictured here modeling appropriate ensembles.  Valerie is wearing the latest in 17th-century gowns: the Mantua (featured in a previous post).  Her gown is a modest cut and color, and the fine wool fabric would last a long time.   Her serviceable coif may not have been the latest style in caps, but it kept the hair off her face while she worked. 

Just like his wife, Joe’s simple linen waistcoat and justacorps (also featured previously) was fashionable yet serviceable.  Linen is a hard-wearing fabric that would last, which is important when every piece of clothing you buy is an investment.  Tradesmen like Joe would dress informally when working in their workshops – shops were for manufacturing, not selling; that would happen at a store or at least a separate room at the front of the building.  But when walking through town, he would still want to look like a man of business and stature. 

Notice this housemaid’s appearance – her clothing is made of high-quality fabrics but in a simple style, and she obviously keeps them clean and in good repair. John Roley, “Bridget Holmes, a Nonagenarian Housemaid,” 1686

A person’s outward image was a reflection of their status in society and served as a walking advertisement to others on how to treat you.  Earlier in the 17th century, English law actually restricted what people could wear based on their social class.  But as the gentry class increasingly sold their clothes to secondhand shops in order to fund their new, more fashionable wardrobes, the lower classes began to buy those high-quality garments.  In wearing these gently-used pieces, just a fraction of the price for new clothes, they started looking just as nice as their employers.  The gentry were NOT HAPPY and wrote in their letters and journals how frustrating it was when the maid looked just like the mistress!

Marcellus Laroon, “Old chairs to mend,” published late 17th-century.

 

Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator & Costumier

 

**You might be wondering why our models don’t have any shoes on in these pictures?  That’s because we haven’t been able to afford any.  We are fundraising to purchase reproduction shoes, since a costumed interpreter in sneakers ruins the whole atmosphere…  To help out, you can visit our official website www.pennsburymanor.org and click the “Donate Now” button at the bottom.**