Come to Jamestown — in Costume!
Celebrating historical milestones is something humans have done for millennia. In Scripture, God specifically commanded His people to remember the past, to commemorate what God had done, and to remind their children and grandchildren of victories won and lessons learned. Psalm 78:2-7 says,
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
Americans have a long heritage of celebration and commemoration of God’s hand in the foundation and formation of our nation. From the stirring sermons given in the 1830s and 1850s to the throngs crowding churches for memorial services in the 1900s and 1940s, we have a wonderful tradition of remembering the past and teaching it to the next generation. And part of that remembering involved dressing in period attire to portray the men, women, and children of America’s past.
The photograph below shows a group of people dressed in historical costumes covering the Puritans through the Antebellum era. This picture was taken in the 1920s at Thomas Jefferson’s summer home in Forrest, Virginia.
There is wonderful film footage from the 1920s and 1930s of costumed ladies visiting with Confederate and Union veterans. Stories survive from the 19th century of costumed events held to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and other memorable milestones. Pattern companies began introducing historical costumes in the 1890s, meeting with such great success that they’ve continued up to this day.
1920s "Colonial" costume
1976 Bicentennial costume
Reenacting is a popular hobby today, encouraging thousands of Americans to portray historical events so that future generations will not forget them. But you don’t have to be a reenactor to enjoy dressing in costume for a special event. Vision Forum would like to encourage Jamestown 400 attendees to dress in period attire to help make this celebration particularly special and noteworthy. Men, women, and children can all dress in historical clothing from 1607 to 1807, since we’ll be touring sites related to both Jamestown and the founding era. Come as John Rolfe to see Jamestown fort; come as Dolley Madison to visit the homes on Duke of Gloucester Street; dress as settler children of the 1750s, prepared to face the perils of the western Virginia wilderness. You might also spark conversations with curious tourists and have opportunities to share your thoughts on the providential hand of God in America’s history!
In the weeks leading up to the Jamestown Quadricentennial, Vision Forum is offering sewing patterns to help you reproduce period attire for 1607 through 1807. The patterns below (organized by time period) will help you create outfits for each member of your family. We’ve included links to sites that will help you find fabric as well. Pattern designer Jennie Chancey has also offered to help Jamestown Quadricentennial attendees via e-mail if they need assistance as they work on their outfits. You can reach Mrs. Chancey through the feedback form on her website. In addition, Melissa Keen, who has done extensive research on the clothing of the 1600s, will be available to assist with costume questions at email@example.com. Be sure to watch Joshua Phillips’s Everyday News segment on how to create latchet shoes from contemporary shoes. His instructions are appropriate for both men’s and women’s shoes for Jamestown. Simple ballet flats or Mary Janes will work for the Colonial and late Federal eras for the ladies.
The paintings and photographs on this page will help you see how our ancestors would have dressed for everyday life from 1607 through 1807. They will also give you a good idea of the colors and fabrics used for clothing.
Paintings from the Jamestown Era (1607-1650s)
Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, (attrib. to John de Critz, 1603)
Inigo Jones by Sir Anthony van Dyck
Milkmaid by Jan Vermeer
Lute Player by Gentileschi
Detail from a Tudor scene by Bermondsey
Photographs of Historical Clothing for the Jamestown Era
Woman in everyday work dress Photo by The Tudor Group
. Used with permission.
Young woman in everyday dress. Photo by The Tudor Group
. Used with permission.
Patterns for Jamestown
All-in-one pattern for 1607-1630, with breeches that can also be used for Colonial Era. Copyright Reconstructing History
Boys’ all-in-one pattern for Jamestown through Federal Era. Simply lengthen the breeches to the ankles and pair them with the short jacket for the late Federal Era! Copyright Fleur des Lyse Patterns
Paintings from the Colonial Era
Mrs. John Winthrop by John S. Copley
Portrait of John Philip Haas by Charles W. Peale
Portrait of Martha Washington
Paul Revere by John S. Copley
Patterns for the Colonial Era
Paintings from the Late Federal Era
Portrait of a Woman by Henri F. Mulard, 1810
Rubens Peal with Geraniums by Rembrandt Peale
Self-portrait by Rolinda Sharples
Portrait of a Man by Boilly
Photos of Historical Costumes from the Late Federal Era
Patterns for the Late Federal Era (1790s-1820)
Gents’ Tailcoat can be worn with breeches and shirt from patterns above. Copyright Wingeo Patterns
What about Fabric?
If you do not have fabric stores in your immediate area, you can shop securely for fabric online at the sites listed below. For all the time periods we’ve discussed here, you want to look for all-natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and wool. For the Colonial and late Federal Era, ladies’ fashions were often made of printed or embroidered materials. Gents’ clothing in the Colonial Era was quite colorful and much fancier than the sturdy clothing of the Jamestown Era. Late Federal clothing for gents is more tailored and less fussy.
ReproductionFabrics.com — Hundreds of cotton prints appropriate for the Colonial and late Federal eras for women’s and girls’ dresses
The Fabric Club — Thousands of fabrics at discount prices
fabrics-store.com — Linen at inexpensive prices and in all colors — perfect for Jamestown jackets, skirts, and breeches, as well as Colonial era everyday clothing
Denver Fabrics — All types of wool