J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

What to Wear to a Riot in 1765

Ten years can be a significant time in the changing fashions of clothes. Ten years ago, there was still hope that Croc shoes would be a passing fad. Teen-aged boys had not yet received the mass text message telling them to stop having haircuts for several months. And the clothing industry hadn’t determined that what American men really wanted to wear was gingham, leaving no other type of dress shirt on store hangers.

Fifteen years ago, volunteers working with Minute Man National Historical Park came up with scrupulously researched clothing guidelines for the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Those guidelines continue to be updated with additional information. But they don’t necessarily apply to 1765, ten years earlier.

For the upcoming sestercentennial reenactments of the Stamp Act protests in Boston and Newport, Hallie Larkin and Stephanie Z. Smith of At the Sign of the Golden Scissors prepared guidelines for dressing in New England in 1765. That document can downloaded from this page at the Newport Historical Society.

It’s a big download: a 31-page P.D.F. file with lots of illustrations. There are many upper-class portraits, of course, but also images and other documentation about the clothing of middling folks and workers.

From eyewitness accounts of the Stamp Act protests we know the crowd was mixed. In Boston the daytime crowd included both men and women, as well as “two or three hundred little boys with a Flagg marching in Procession.”

After nightfall, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote, the effigies were paraded around town by “Forty or fifty tradesmen, decently dressed,” followed by “some thousands.” Gov. Francis Bernard later declared those leaders were actually gentlemen disguised in middling dress; friends of the royal government never let go of the idea that political opponents in the elite were manipulating popular opinion rather than that the populace might have political initiatives of its own.

(Image above from a reenactment of 1770 recorded on the website of Nick Johnson.)

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