Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An Unfashionable Waistcoat (Pennsylvania Gazette, 12-28-1785)

Michael Reed was an unremarkable Irish indentured servant owned by Jacob Jeanes in 1785. But when Reed ran away in December of that year, Jeanes immediately placed an ad in the Pennsylvania Gazette. And so we know that Reed was "19 or 20 years of age, about five feet ten inches high, [and] middling well set." He hadn't even begun to shave yet, and "had but little beard." His clothing was similarly plain, although both his felt hat and "lead coloured cloth jacket" were new. Square brass buckled adorned his "new neat leather shoes." Reed also wore "an old patched dark coloured lincey under-jacket, with long skirts." Jeanes was probably describing a linen waistcoat, whose length would have made it notably unfashionable by 1785. Some of Reed's wardrobe testified to his labor, including his "white tow trousers, patched on the knees." It is also interesting to note that Reed's trousers must have been hemmed short of the ankles, as Jeanes noted Reed's "dark coloured stockings, footed with a different colour." In the eighteenth century, stockings could be hand- or frame-knit, or constructed from several pieces of bias-cut fabric. Reed's were probably assembled using the latter method, although multi-colored knit stockings were also in use.
The years following the American Revolution offered unprecedented opportunity for ambitious young men. We can only hope that Michael Reed's coloful stockings didn't give him away as he sought to take advantage of the new country's bounty.

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