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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Saturday, January 09, 2016

Making and Wearing Leather Breeches

There appear to be a lot of changes happening at Colonial Williamsburg now. Some pandering (Halloween celebration, skating rink), some ordinary revamping (new restaurant at the Lodge), and some just puzzling.

In the last category is the change of the site’s magazine from the Colonial Williamsburg Journal to Trend and Tradition.

The last, and first, issue of Trend and Tradition includes an article by Ben Swenson on Colonial Williamsburg’s leather breeches initiative. Unfortunately, this is not one of the articles that can be accessed through the history.org website because I think a lot of folks who make reenactment garments would find it interesting.

The major points:
  • “Leather breeches were as common in the 18th century as blue jeans are in the 21st.”
  • “The modern tools that now exist to re-create 18th-century costumes on a large scale can’t accommodate the properties of leather.”
  • “all the breeches produced in the 18th century were made from the hides of deer or other wild game, which were processed differently from shoe or belt leather.”
  • “The leather is similar to other fabrics in some ways, but there are just enough differences to throw you off.” —artificer intern Emma Cross
  • Good leather breeches are “snug at first, but are pliable enough to stretch, giving everyone’s moving parts a range of motion.”
  • “They could resist the punishment of a snag or repeated wear-and-tear that might rip gentler fabric.”
The article notes several type of men who wore leather breeches, and I’ll add a detail from Samuel Eliot Morison’s biography of his ancestor Harrison Gray Otis. Little Harry came from one of the town’s genteel families and he attended the South Latin School in the 1770s. He wore leather breeches, too: “Every year, on Guy Fawkes’ day, a new pair of leather breeches was given him, and reserved for ‘best’ so long as the breeches of the previous vintage held out.”

Here are a couple more articles about leather breeches from Two Nerdy History Girls and Making History, which is also the source of this handsome image.


RodFleck said...

well that was actually a fascinating side bar. Also, interesting your comments on the change at CW...they have a great podcast and it went silent for a long while...wonder if there was an effort within their marketing community about that. Thanks for sharing this.

Chaucerian said...

I would have thought that it was common knowledge in fundraising/donor-connection literature to put the name of your organization in big letters on the front of your magazine. Last evening I saw a copy of the new CW magazine and thought, "I wonder what that is," rather than "Ooh! They've updated the look of the CW magazine!" I know, the CW name is indeed on the cover -- but it's in weentsy-teentsy letters --

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

As always, John, many thanks for linking to my posts.