Pilgrim Clothing

By Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD

The following article was featured in the Fall 2001 Junior PA Mayflower newsletter.

With Halloween arriving soon, why dress up like a ballerina, cowboy or space monster and look like everyone else? Why not dress up like your Pilgrim ancestor! You will not see anyone with a costume like yours. You will not find the costume in a store, but with an adult's help, you can make your own costume. It is not difficult or expensive, and it will be fun. This article describes how to make your costume.

Pilgrim men did not wear black breeches, square white collar and cuffs, wide buckled belts, black steeple hats with a buckle, nor did Pilgrim women wear full black skirts, white aprons and dark capes. Puritan adults in Boston may have worn these clothes on formal occasions after 1632, but in 1621 the Pilgrims wore entirely different clothing. Pilgrim adults and children wore bright solid colors since their religion did not object to colorful clothing. They had many dyes so that red, green, beige, burgundy, blue, violet, as well as brown and black were worn.

Faux Pilgrim Clothing

Women and Girls Costumes

Clothing girls

17th Century Womenswear

Girls wore ankle-length full skirts of a solid color similar to that their mothers wore. Since the Pilgrims did not have looms, they made their clothing from cloth brought from England. Some dresses were a single piece consisting of a full skirt, gathered at the waist and top with long sleeves. Other women wore a bodice and skirt of perhaps different colors. Women wore bonnets, called coifs and biggins, to keep their hair clean. Women also wore aprons, with or without a bib, when working. At times the women and girls wore a floppy felt hats like the men's hats. In the summer they would wear cool straw hats to shade them from the sun. Their hats were worn over their bonnets. To make a costume you will need a solid color long full skirt with a long sleeve top, and a bonnet. If you want to wear a floppy hat. Follow the instructions for men and boys.

Men and Boys Costumes

Boys wore clothing like their fathers. Their clothes were of solid color similar to the colors worn by women. Men and boys wore long sleeve shirts buttoned down the center or loose fitting blouses similar to loose-fitting sweat shirts. You will need an adult's help to make the pants, called breeches, worn by the men and boys. Breeches were baggy garments, secured at the waist with a belt and gathered below the knees with garters tied in a bow. Both men and boys wore stockings of solid color. The colors of the tops, breeches and stockings can be the same or all three can be of different color. Both men and boys wore hats. Some hats were similar to stocking hats you might wear in the winter, or they might be large floppy felt hats.

Clothing boys

17th Century Menswear

To make a floppy hat, visit a thrift or Goodwill shop and look for women's wool or felt hats. Remove the decorations, cut if necessary and reshape to resemble what you see in the pictures. You can also reshape a man's felt fedora hat. Remove the band, soften it by pulling and tugging it. Steam may also help. If you soak it in water, it may soften but it will also shrink. However, a smaller size may fit better. You may not find fedora hats with wide brims but felt cowboy hats would have the wide brim you want.

On special occasions men and women might wear a lace collar (ruff) and cuffs. For this, cut up your mother's old white curtains. Women might also wear a fitted jacket (waistcoat) and a skirt. On similar occasions men might wear a linen shirt under a close-fitting padded doublet. A doublet and waistcoat are complicated garments to sew and you might wish to skip making them. In Winter, both men and women wore capes and loose-fitting coats as outerwear. Shoes were made by hand and totally unlike anything people wear today. If you can, wear black or brown shoes.

Since all of you are junior members of the Society, I believe it would be fun to dress-up as your ancestor. Wear a sign on your costume. Then when you visit a home and the owner asks who you are, you can tell them that you are dressed like your many times great grandfather or great Grandmother who sailed on the Mayflower. Your mother or father may even know some interesting facts or have written material describing your ancestor. Shown below are the names (and ages) of the children in Plymouth that survived the first winter.

Mary (4), Remember (6), and Bartholomew (8) Allerton
Francis (16), and John (11/14) Billington
Wrestling Brewster (6)
Mary Chilton (15)
John Cooke (13)
Humility Cooper (8)
Samuel Eaton (12)
Samuel Fuller (8)
Giles Hopkins (11)
Desire Minten (15)
Richard More (6)
Priscilla Mullins (18)
Joseph Rogers (10)
Henry Samson (17)
Elizabeth Tilley (13)
Resolved (5) and Peregrine (1) White