Friday, November 12, 2010

Under Jackets (Pennsylvania Gazette, 2-11-1752)

Richard Dennis offered a pro-rated reward for the return of his runaway apprentice in 1752: three pounds if he was captured within forty miles and five pounds if he was found farther away. The apprentice was Thomas Barlo, a 21- or 22-year-old American whose only peculiarity was "a hair-mole on the left side of his chin, if not cut off, of a dark complexion." Dennis kept Barlo busy sawing wood, and he was "used to country work" before he struck out northward towards New York.

Barlo took a fascinating variety of garments with him when he ran off. These included three hats (a linen cap, another of worsted wool lined with cotton, and an old beaver felt hat), two plain white shirts, and two pairs of the buckskin breeches favored by manual laborers for their durability and flexibility. Barlo also took a pair of "sailors trowsers" with him. In the 1750s, when even poor men wore breeches, long trousers were still something of a novelty associated with the mariners who would eventually popularize them. He also had two pairs of stockings, one of brown wool ("yarn") and another of blue/grey "milled" wool (referring to a process of fulling knit goods).

Barlo also had three jackets, again something of a rarity in the middle of the century. One was "a new blue grey jacket, lined with blue and white strip'd linsey woolsey, with brass buttons." This was probably not unlike the close-cut, tailed "sleeved waistcoats" mentioned elsewhere, and the mixed fiber lining of Barlo's coat was probably woven locally. His two "under jackets" are equally interesting. In other instances, this term might lead a reader to picture a light jacket or even a sleeveless waistcoat. Here, however, Barlo is wearing yet another sailor-fashion garment, the "pea jacket." This may be an early reference to the tailless short jackets which would become increasingly common among workers in the second part of the eighteenth century. One of Barlo's was blue with flat metal buttons, and the other featured a "cross-bar" lining, with stripes running horizontally.

Thomas Barlo was a man whose clothing marked him as a common worker. And yet, in another light, his wardrobe was also remarkably progressive, foreshadowing the changes which would take place in menswear over the next fifty years.


  1. When did peacoats become popular in everday fashion, and how did the form evolve between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries?

  2. As a civilian fashion piece I don't believe they came into vogue until the 1960s. Coats similar in silhouette are seen in the later half of the 19th century, but have clear differences from pea coats.

  3. And, as demonstrated by ads like this, the term was apparently applied to sailors' jackets for at least two hundred years before the cut became similar to what we would recognize as a modern peacoat (before the Second World War).