Dressing for Success at Daggett Farm

As I announced recently here on Extreme Ancestry, I’m getting ready for my new role as a historical presenter at Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford museum, Dearborn, Michigan. There’s some serious preparation for this experience and that includes being dressed for success by Katie at the Greenfield Village Studio – the museum’s amazing period clothing shop.

Everything you see at the Daggett Farm is historically correct to the food being cooked, the furniture you see and how the reenactors are dressed. That’s why experts like Katie are on hand to help dress the men and women at the farm so visitors feel like they walked back in time.

So when I first met with Katie, she fitted me with period clothing from the inside out in order to get the look Deborah is wearing here – what a woman would wear on a farm in 1760 Connecticut.

The everyday look for women at Daggett Farm.
The everyday look for women at Daggett Farm.

First comes the linen shift or chemise. This was the garment that women wore next to their skin – day and night, winter, summer, spring and fall. It was the foundation of every colonial outfit. And so it is with mine.

My colonial shift.
My colonial shift.

The next mandatory layer for women was a pair of stays. Think of this as the wonder bra of the 18th century. They were the early version of a corset and come in two pieces that lace together in the back and the front.

But unlike a corset that’s designed to cinch in the waist for an hour-glass look, stays were made to mold a woman’s torso into a cone shape. A woman at the Daggett Farm would have worn stays all day, every day.

And yes – they are snug!

stays
Me wearing stays for the first time. And by the way, this is the only time you’ll see me in my underwear on this blog!

Next comes the petticoat which is what we would call a “skirt”. Katie fitted me with red and blue linen petticoats. Depending on the weather, a colonial woman might have worn several petticoats at one time. During the summer, I’ll wear just one along with an apron (that’s the navy and white checked cloth in the picture).

Every woman back then wore an apron – not only to keep her petticoats clean but to create a little insulation between her clothing and stray embers from the hearth where cooking was done. Colonial fire insurance is how I look at it.

My red petticoat with blue and white apron.
My red petticoat with blue and white apron.

Women usually wore a jacket over their petticoats. The style I’ll be wearing is called a “short gown”. It’s pleated in the back, ties up the front and is made out of linen, which you might notice is a recurring theme.

Because the cotton gin hadn’t been invented yet, cotton was more expensive and less available in colonial times. Instead, linen and wool were the fabrics of choice for the average person. Silk was available but way too impractical for a middle-class woman living on a farm, like Mrs. Daggett.

Colonial women's jacket called a "short gown".
Colonial women’s jacket called a “short gown”.

The finishing touches to my costume will be a neckerchief for modesty and a white linen cap. Like stays, colonial women wore a cap from sun up to sundown.

I think there’s a future blog post in me about keeping clean in the 18th century but, suffice it to say that, women didn’t wash their hair as often as we do these days. Hair was tucked up into a linen cap which provided protection from the dust and soot that was in every colonial home, especially the kitchen.

The yellow bag in the picture below is my haversack. I confess, the thought of not carrying a purse back and forth to the farm was a little unnerving. Face it, I’ve become my mother – attached to my purse. So the haversack was Katie’s solution for this little insecurity of mine.

Thank you Katie!

My linen caps, neckerchiefs and haversack, which was something like a purse.
My linen caps, neckerchiefs and haversack, which was something like a purse.

Keeping warm means a woolen shawl, like the blue one below or in really bad weather – a full-length red woolen cape. On the days it’s pouring rain, I may have to head out to Daggett Farm looking like Red Riding Hood. No umbrellas back in those days, you know.

And there weren’t sunglasses or sunscreen back then either, so this large straw pancake hat will be my protection against the gamma rays.

If I need to warm up, here's my blue woolen shawl. And since there's weren't any sunglasses - a big straw hat  will work just fine.
If I need to warm up, here’s my blue woolen shawl. And since there’s weren’t any sunglasses – a big straw hat will work just fine.

And finally because I’ll be on my feet a lot as a presenter at Daggett Farm, I got myself a good pair of not-so-cute, comfy shoes that are as historically correct as I could find. Katie gave me three pairs of colorful cotton stockings and I’m good to go.

Not my favorite shoes but they are as historically correct for the 18th century as a modern-day shoe can be.
Not the most beautiful shoes in the world but they are as historically correct for the 18th century as a modern-day shoe can be.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering when you get to see me in my Daggett Farm colonial costume. That comes later this week.

Stay tuned.

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