Friday, April 12, 2013

Creating an Impression: An 1830s Outfit, Part 2

In the last post I introduced my visual mentor for this project, William Sidney Mount. Once again, I'm just going to be concentrating on his paintings from the mid-1830s, all of which depict "regular" folk, instead of the fashionable sort.

I'm taking all of my images from the page on Mount at The Athenaeum.

First of all, instead of putting all the full images up on this page, let me link to the ones I'll be examining:

Long Island Farmer Husking Corn, 1833-1834
The Breakdown, 1835
The Sportsman's Last Visit, 1835
Bargaining for a Horse, 1835
Courtship, 1836
Farmers Nooning, 1836
The Long Story, 1837
Raffling for the Goose, 1837
The Painter's Triumph, 1838

For a full outfit, I'll need a shirt, trousers, waistcoat, cravat, coat, hat, shoes, and topcoat. Let's start taking a look at what is shown.


All white, except for the red shirt in The Painter's Triumph. I'll be making one based on the directions in The Workwoman's Guide (the Guide also has directions on how to make men's drawers, which I'll also use). The Guide suggests that "Shirts for labouring men are generally made of the stout linen called shirting-linen.... Shirts for men of lighter occupations are sometimes of calico, with linen collars and wristbands. Blue checks, unbleached, and striped calicoes, or prints, are used for that purpose." So for my shirt I'm going to use stout plain white linen. The pattern will be similar to the Regency shirt I have already made.


These seem to come in four colours: buff, brown, grey, and black, some plain and some with pinstripes. Almost all of the examples in the paintings are fall-front trousers, also similar to the Regency trousers I've made. There are a few exceptions: the eponymous Sportsman is wearing fly-fronts, and it looks as though the Long Island Farmer and the Painter are both wearing trousers with enough pleats in the front to think they are Cossack trousers (which also have fly-fronts). I'm going to go with the fall-front trousers, because even at the time W. D. F. Vincent's Cutter's Practical Guide was published in the 1890s it indicates that working class trousers still fastened in the whole fall style.


One interesting thing I noticed is that a good proportion of the backs of the waistcoats shown are red. Even the grey-backed one in Farmer's Nooning looks as though it is lined in red where the lining shows at the bottom and armscye. They tie to fit, instead of buckling, and most are single-breasted notch-collared. The range of colours is greater, but most are brown or black, then some buff and cream, and one red (that Sportsman is throwing things off, with his red double-breasted waistcoat).


Red is the dominating colour here, with black a close second. White and yellow also appear. Some have tied the ends into a bow, and some leave them hanging loose. The Long Island Farmer wears a small cravat, with very short ends.


It seems, through these paintings, that when you're not hot enough to wear no coat at all, you're so cold that you wear a heavy coat with a fur or fleece collar. Seriously, these look like some warm coats. Of course, some are probably topcoats. Black or buff frock coats seem to be the norm, with black cutaway coats being worn by the fancier gentleman in the Sportsman's Last Visit (poor Sportsman looks like he's not fancy enough to get the girl), the Painter, and the fellow who looks like he's having trouble staying upright in his chair in The Breakdown. The cut looks similar to my linen frock coat, but these are definitely all wool.


I'm enamoured of the battered and bashed top hats in these paintings. Even though there are other hats depicted (there's a good range of hats in the Raffle) I'm going to do a top hat and beat the heck out of it.


All black leather, the best picture is from Farmers Nooning. A low boot, very similar to a modern dress boot. I'm not sure what I'll do here to be the most period correct. I know there are shoes for reenactors out there, but I might also get away with a modern boot.


Like I said before, it looks as though there are a lot of topcoats here. There's also a cloak or two, or perhaps an Ulster with a cape.Fur or fleece collars makes them warmer, and the one in The Long Story nicely shows the pad stitching under the collar. Most of the coats are buff, with a brown double-breasted coat with frogs in Raffling for the Goose (along with a red-lined green cloak or Ulster). The coat in Courtship has nice contrast piping on it, and there's a dark cloak in The Long Story. I'll probably go with a buff wool topcoat with fleece on the collar.

Well! That was a lot of words without too many pictures on my part, but I hope you had fun referring to the paintings while I rambled on. Next post will have me actually making something, I promise!


  1. Wow you're putting a lot of thought into this! I think I'm going to have to pay more attention to the clothes next time I go there. But in general, I don't think the men wear cravats and coats at OSV- except when they get dressed up. Yes topcoats/cloaks, but do you really want to go to all that trouble to make one when you won't be wearing it much of the night? Maybe I'll just use my old cloak (or maybe yours since I think it's better than mine- is it still at SL?) just to get from the entrance to the parsonage.

    Maybe you do crazy things like make topcoats, and I do crazy things like knit stockings? You've definitely put a lot more thought into this already than I have!

  2. By cravat I mean neck cloths in general, such as what the men in these paintings are wearing. Here are some images from OSV's web site showing the men wearing cravats:

  3. Having just looked at a bunch of pictures on their site, I will agree with you that many of them are wearing cravats. I just don't remember them wearing them much on a daily basis. Guess I'll need to pay more attention when next there. We've been more focused on sheep and oxen and cookies. :)

    And that second link is an OLD picture! He's aged a bit since then. If you go to image 7 (soldiers) he's 2nd from the left.

  4. What an interesting time and place. Long Island farming style might have differed from Mass. sawmill/grist mill town. Maybe you could be an intinerant weaver or portrait painter from NY who settled down in Sturbridge.

  5. RE: shoes--construction of a high quality shoe (not mass-market shoes, obviously) hasn't actually changed that much since the mid-1830s, which is kind of crazy if you think about it. Different glues, different tanning technologies. There are definitely re-enactor shoes out there, but it's kind of weird, you can either get modern styles in traditional constructions, like the allen-edmonds you linked, or traditional styles with modern construction, like most of the reenactor shoes out there. Unless you have 700$ or more to drop on reenactment shoes!

  6. Kate, it looks at the moment as though the Fugawee Brogans (smooth side out) are the most likely candidate for shoes. Even though they're issued for a later date (1860s) than I'm looking for, unlike other reenactment shoes they have a pointed toe instead of a square one, which is what all the shoes in the Mount paintings have. Bonus, they aren't too expensive. I've seen good and bad reviews for the Fugawee shoes, but most have been directed at their suitability for Civil War reenactment, and I'm not concerned about that.