E-mail This Article To A Friend

Print This Article Page

Article Page url: http://www.thehistorybox.com/ny_city/society/printerfriendly/nycity_society_fashions_1789_article0006.htm

Fashion Of The Aristocrats in Colonial New York 1789

The luxury and ostentatious display of riches in the city, according to Brissot de Warville, were great and the inhabitants were followers of the English fashions. He considered the ladies to be especially extravagant in their dress. French fashions also were followed to some extent and were described from time to time in the newspapers for the benefit of New York society. Thus, in the N.Y. Gazette of may 15th 1789 several French costumes were described which may have been adopted by the ladies of the city. One was a plain celestial blue satin gown with a white satin petticoat. There was worn with it, on the neck, a very large Italian gauze handkerchief with satin border stripes. The head-dress with this costume was a pouf of gauze in the form of a globe, the creneaux or headpiece of which was made of white satin having a double wing, in large plaits, and trimmed with a large wreath of artificial roses which fell from the left a the top to the right at the bottom in front, and the reverse behind.

The hair was dressed all over in detached curls, four of which fell on each side of the neck and were relieved behind by a floating chignon. Another costume was a perriot made of gray Indian taffeta with dark stripes of the same color, having two collars, one yellow and the other white, both trimmed with blue silk fringe, and having a reverse trimmed in the same manner. Under the perriot there was worn a yellow corset, or shapes, as it was then called, with large blue cross stripes. Around the bosom of the perriot there was pinned a frill of ribbon or gauze cut in points around the edge. The hat worn with this costume was of white satin, with a broad band and two cockades. The newest costume consisted of a perriot and petticoat of gray striped silk trimmed with gauze cut in points.

A large gauze handkerchief bordered with four satin stripes was worn with it on the neck, and the headdress was a plain gauze cap such as was worn by nuns. Shoes were made of celestial blue satin with rose-colored rosettes. Ladies' muffs were of Siberian wolfskin adorned with a large knot of scarlet ribbon. The French gentlemen, far undress, wore very long blue riding-coats with plain steel buttons, scarlet waistcoats, and yellow kerseymere breeches without embroidery. Their shoes were tied with strings, and above them were worn gaiters of black polished leather reaching nearly to the thigh. They wore very full muslin cravats with the ends tied in a large knot in front, and their muffs were made of bearskin with scarlet knots fastened upon them. The muff was probably not used by gentlemen in New York and they adopted English rather than French fashions. The New York ladies' hats were of such huge dimensions that a newspaper writer in 1789 suggested that a larger size of umbrella should be imported to protect them from the rain.

Another writer also ridiculed the fashion of appearing to be dim-sighted and of using what he called a spy-glass at the theatre. The materials used for clothing included wildbores, cordurets, camblets, moreens, taboreens, callimancoes, durants, tammies, shalloons, rattinetts, florentines, denins, velverets, romalls, lutestrings, duffils, fearnaughts, hairbines, osnaburgs, ticklenburgs, ribdelures, honeycomb thicksetts, dowlas, amens, casserillias, and plattillas. The men were more simple in their habits and still despised gewgaws, but at table made up for this simplicity by the use of the most expensive wines. One class of men seemed to be particularly obnoxious to Brissot.

He writes: "Luxury is already forming in this city a very dangerous class of men, namely, the bachelors; the extravagance of the women makes them dread marriage." He also mentions with disapproval the universal habit of smoking; strong Spanish cigars six inches long being the material used in this revolting habit. He had the good grace to say, however, that it had the advantage of accustoming its votaries to practice the virtues of meditation and silence. His statement that an American traveled with only a comb, razor, two shirts and two cravats, was manifestly a libel, as a newspaper advertisement of a trunk lost in May 1789 describes its contents as consisting of a dark green coat with plain silver buttons, a green striped waistcoat, one pair of nankeen and one pair of black satin breeches a pair of silver shoe and knee buckles, seven shirts, seven neck cloths, three pairs of white silk hose and sundry pairs of thread hose. But in spite of this supposed simplicity of men's dress the dandy of 1789 was sufficiently gorgeous in his apparel. John Ramage, the miniature painter, a handsome man of middle age, wore a scarlet coat with mother-of-pearl buttons, a white silk waistcoat embroidered with colored flowers, black satin breeches with paste knee-buckles, white silk stockings, large silver buckles on his shoes, and a small cocked-hat on the upper part of his powdered hair, leaving the curls at his ears displayed. His costume was completed by a gold-headed cane and a gold snuff box. Artificial enhancement of the beauty of men's figures was also widely adopted, one means of which excited the wrath of a newspaper writer in November 1789. In an article denouncing what he was pleased to call a "bishop," this writer says: "The young ladies have totally laid aside all manner of deception; cork and wool are no more necessary in the dress of a fine woman, and, to the immortal honor of the ladies of New York, let it be here recorded that they have adopted the most natural and becoming fashions, this winter, that we have ever seen; whilst the young bucks and petitmaitres are metamorphosing themselves into lusus naturae and their tailors into upholsterers."

John Shepherd, a tailor at No. 23 Hanover Square, advertised cloths of nearly one hundred different colors at 38s. a yard, with the exception of some high colors which were more expensive. Among these colors were bottle-green, batswing, navy blue, parson's gray, changeable pearl, scarlet, light blue, light green, London smoke, purple, mulberry, garnet, sea green, mouse's ear, pea green, and drake's head. Waistcoats were made of muslinet, dimity, cotton, silk, satin, gold and silver tambour muslin,satinet, and Princess stuff; the buttons used were gilt, silver, basket-brocaded and spangled. The cloths used were chiefly of English, French and Spanish manufacture, the latter being the most expensive, costing 45s. a yard. Casimirs were worth 18s. and rattinetts four shillings. Nathaniel Hazard, No. 51 Water Street, also advertised "American Woolens from the flourishing Manufactory at Hartford." Edward Moran, a tailor at No. 24 Smith (William) street, was a modest man and advertised that. "As self-applause is commonly the unerring mark of ignorance and consequently disgusting, he declines it and only offers the following most reasonable terms:


Plain coat, 15s.
Fashionable do. 16s.
Lapelled do. 17s.
Waistcoats made fashionable, 6s.
Silk and velvet breeches, 8s.
Jean, Nankeen, Corduroy, &c. do. 7s.
Double breasted surtout, 16s.
Great coat, 14s.
Ladie's Habit, fashionable, 16s.

Black satin breeches and striped silk vests could be bought ready-made for three dollars each. A beaver hat cost eight dollars and a castor hat six dollars. Boots and shoes could be obtained of Thomas Garnis, No. 72 Queen (Pearl) Street between Peck Slip and Cherry Street, who flattered himself that, having been used to work for the first nobility in England, he would be able to give satisfaction to those employing him. Men's boots cost six dollars, and ladies shoes one dollar and a half. Hair dressing, in the day of wigs and powdered hair, was a most important art, and one of those engaged in it was Charles McCann, at No. 40 Queen (Pearl) Street, who sold ladies' dress cushions at 16s., braids at from ten shillings to three dollars each, and ringlets at seven shillings a pair. For dressing a lady's hair every day he charged 15 a year or five shillings a time, while gentlemen were charged 8 a year if their hair were dressed every day, 5 10s. for four times a week, and 4, 10s. for three times a week. The chief perfumery store in the city was that of Nathaniel Smith at the Sign of the Rose, No. 187 Queen (Pearl) Street, where there could be obtained pomade de grasse for thickening the hair, vegetable face powder, almond paste for the hands, essences of bergamot, lavender, orange, and thyme, and nervous essence for the toothache. The best dentist in the city was John Greenwood who in 1789 removed from No. 19 to No. 56 William Street.


Article Information:
Article Name: Fashion Of The Aristocrats in Colonial New York 1789
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina
Source: BIBLIOGRAPHY: The City of New York in the Year of Washington's Inauguration 1789 by Thomas E.U.Smith. Publisher: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co. 38 West 23rd Street. 1889
Article Time & Date Stamp: