In 2010 I was appointed company goodwife of the group I belong to in the Sealed Knot Society. I set about trying to discover if what I thought I knew about the clothes from the period was actually correct. My task was to go back to primary sources and to differentiate between reenactor assumptions and the truth. This was to prove a much harder task than I thought as the remainder of original clothes, datable pictures and documentary evidence from this period is surprisingly small.
Initially I set up an email discussion group of people who I knew would share my enthusiasm, impart their knowledge and join in the discussions of what I had found and what was available online. From the beginning we set a framework for the project that gave us a structure and pointed us towards further research. The edited results of the discussions were posted on a blog called Ready to Wear 1640s Style and formed the beginnings of The 1642 Tailor on the internet.
As the same time, I was beginning to make my own clothes and undertook research trips to various museums where original clothes were available for examination on appointment. Notably I visited the V&A in London, Colchester Castle Museum and the Museum of London. It was becoming even more obvious that I had much to learn. Whilst the clothes I was used to wearing as a 17th century reenactor were pretty close in cut and style to the originals, there was a lot more to the clothes than I had anticipated. They were much more like real clothes and a lot less like fancy dress than I was used to.
For instance, doublets were all tailored to fit, lined and stiffened – so much so that they had a weight and heft to them almost previously unknown in reenacting circles. I also looked at a coat in Colchester that had come to light in the 1940s, having been concealed for 300 years. Some of the stitching is very rudimentary and it is obvious that the edges of the coat were left unhemmed – a period technique of which I was (at the time) completely unaware. The buttons I was looking at too were unlike any I’d seen before; beads wrapped with threads in varieties of intricate patterns and attached with thread shanks.
I was also collecting a series of images from sources on the internet – trying as far as possible to only include pictures from the years 1635-1655 and solely from the British Isles. I shared this on another blog – the 1640s Picturebook – which started in 2011. It is still available online and provides a searchable database of over 400 paintings, etchings and woodcuts. As I amassed the pictures I began to form a general picture of the styles worn throughout the period – particularly the coats and breeches of the soldiers from the wars. By really looking closely at these pictures you bring up details in construction and style that lead to more accurate replicas.
In 2012 I felt confident enough to compose a guide to what to wear in the period for reenactors. This took a great deal of drafting and rewriting. Eventually, I felt I had a document that was clear and concise and worth publishing – first in the Sealed Knot’s in-house magazine Orders of the Day, and later on my new blog The 1642 Tailor.
It was the goodwill generated through the reaction to my guide and the number of hits we were getting on the picturebook and the new blog that led me to think about starting a business of sorts. Three of us in the first instance were ready to start making the clothes to order to my specifications and The 1642 Tailor was born.
Almost immediately we had some interesting projects. Aston’s Dragons – a group based in Cheshire – had access to original documents on which to base their reconstruction. We were asked to make ‘jump’ coats for the regiment. From the descriptions and amounts of wool etc originally provided, we came up with a short buttoned coat in unhemmed blue broadcloth to be worn as a ‘uniform’ coat over a civilian doublet and beeches (a layered style which I now knew was common in the 1640s).
From the coat in Colchester Museum, the many woodcuts of soldiers in the picturebook and documentary evidence of issues during the war, I designed our new soldier’s coat. This was lined with linen but still used the raw edge construction I had seen on the original – mimicking the visible sewing and simple buttonholes used by its maker 300 years ago. This is a popular design. We have made many now with optional variations in decoration – but all basically the same shape and construction.
Our monteros were designed with care and it has taken several years to reach the final pattern. The Tailor’s montero cap is comfortable, reliably sized and actually follows the design of the original pictures. As there are none left to copy, images were all I had to work on. Our monteros follow the shape like no other. Notice that the line of the peak extends around the crown. Seemingly no other maker has noticed this detail in the pictures or tried to recreate it in their caps.
If you engage the Tailor, you get clothes based on the latest research. Our doublets, for example, are made from the inside out. They are stiffened, interlined and pad stitched over the shoulders. A girdlestead is standard so you can attach your breeches by means of hooks and eyes. We will talk to you about buttons. Pewters can be used but our new line of thread-wrapped buttons is recommended. You can have a fashionable four tab doublet with no waist seam or several mini tabs as per the common man’s fashion that lasted from the early part of the century right up until the restoration. It’s not fancy dress. It’s as close as you can get to 17th century clothing in the 21st… The 1642 Tailors.