Ghosts of the Northeast

Haunted Inns of New England

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

country for new petticoats and doublets that, when proudly donned, did not seem simple and grave enough for the critical eyes of the omnipotent New England magistrates and ministers. Hence restraining and simplifying sumptuary laws were passed. In 1634, in view of some new fashions which were deemed by these autocrats to be immodest and extravagant, this order was sent forth by the General Court:

"That no person either man or woman shall hereafter make or buy any apparel, either woolen or silk or linen with any lace on it, silver, gold, or thread, under the penalty of forfeiture of said clothes. Also that no person either man or woman shall make or buy any slashed clothes other than one slash in each sleeve and another in the back; also all cut-works, embroideries, or needle-work cap, bands, and rails are forbidden hereafter to be made and worn under the aforesaid penalty; also all gold or silver girdles, hatbands, belts, ruffs, beaverhats are prohibited to be bought and worn hereafter."

Liberty was thriftily given the planters, however, to "wear out such apparel as they are now provided of except the immoderate great sleeves, slashed apparel, immoderate great rails and long wings," which latter were apparently beyond Puritanical endurance.

In 1639 "immoderate great breeches, knots of ryban, broad shoulder bands and rayles, silk ruses, double ruffles and capes" were added to the list of tabooed garments.

In 1651 the General Court again expressed its "utter detestation and dislike that men or women of meane condition, education and callings should take uppon them the garbe of gentlemen by the wearinge of gold or silver lace or buttons or poynts at their knees, to walke in great boots, or women of the same rank to wear silke or tiffany hoodes or scarfes."

Many persons were "presented" under this law; Puritan men were just as fond of finery as were Puritan women. Walking in great boots proved alluring to an illegal degree, just as did wearing silk and tiffany hoods. But Puritan women fought hard and fought well for their fine garments. In Northampton thirty-eight women were brought up at one time before the court in 1676 for their "wicked apparell." One young miss, Hannah Lyman, of Northampton, was prosecuted for "wearing silk in a (flaunting manner, in an offensive way and garb, not only before but when she stood presented, not only in Ordinary but Extraordinary times."

We can easily picture sixteen-year-old Hannah, in silk bedight, inwardly rejoicing at the unusual opportunity to fully and publicly display her rich attire, and we can easily read in her offensive flaunting in court a presage of the waning of magisterial power which proved a truthful omen, for in six years similar prosecutions in Northampton, for assumption of gay and expensive garments, were quashed. The ministers of the day note sadly the overwhelming love of fashion that was crescent throughout New England; a love of dress which neither the ban of religion, philosophy, nor law could expel; what Rev. Solo-

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005