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What did they wear at the first Thanksgiving?

Written by Stephen Hunt

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CLOTHING WORN AT THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

We all know what modern clothes and underwear look like, but did you ever wonder about the clothing worn at the first Thanksgiving? The Native Americans and Pilgrims had to have worn something. Well, wonder no more because here is a breakdown at what was worn at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. 

This article will discuss what was worn by the native Wampanoag people, early English settlers, and a recap of the underwear that was worn (after all, we are an underwear store).  


WHAT NATIVE AMERICANS WORE AT THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving takes place in a colder month of the year, so mantles were worn by both male and female Native Americans in order to stay warm. Think of a mantle as a cloak that was wrapped around the body and fastened at one shoulder. Also often fastened with a belt around the waist, the fur side of the animal skin would be worn closest to the body during cold weather. 

Under their mantle, Native Americans would have worn deerskin leggings. Women’s leggings were tied at the knee and covered with a skirt, whereas men’s leggings tied at the waist into their breechcloth.  

Speaking of breechcloths…

The most basic garment that Native Americans wore was the breechcloth. This garment was often made from a soft, pliable deerskin and was worn between the legs with each end tucked under a belt. The ends would hang over the belt and lay as flaps over the groin and buttocks. Men, women, and children all wore breechcloths and it was basically their equivalent to modern day underwear. Men would wear it as outerwear and women would wear it under their skirts. 

As for shoes, moccasinash were worn for warmth as well as to protect one’s feet on rougher surfaces. Nowadays, people typically say “moccasin”, but this is actually the Wampanoag word for a single shoe; “moccasinash” refers to both shoes. These shoes were made from animal skin, typically deer, moose, or elk, or from the hides of other larger mammals they would have encountered whilst hunting. 

All of these garments were frequently decorated with porcupine quills, feathers, shell/glass beads, or jewelry made from bone/copper/stone/shells. Some would wear breastplates, headdresses, or other adornments too. Body decorations included red/yellow/black/white face paint made from natural materials and occasionally tattoos. 

**Please note that young boys wore nothing until around 10 years old, other than the mantles and moccasinash worn in cold weather.**


WHAT PILGRIMS WORE AT THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

Starting from the first layer against the body, the basic garments that Pilgrim men wore were underwear (shirt), stockings, breeches, doublet, and a cap/hat. Breeches were knee length pants and they would be attached to a top called a doublet (which was like a jacket that went on top of the shirt). This combo (breeches and doublet) was called a suit, which was the typical garb of men in the early 1600s. Suits were often made from durable wool or heavy linen canvas. To cover the leg below the breeches, men wore stockings that went above the knee and were tied to the leg with a garter. Depending on the occasion and weather, additional garments could include a waistcoat, cape, or coat.  They also wore low heeled leather boots or shoes. Since the first Thanksgiving took place in a colder month, it is likely that the participants wore capes to keep them warm, as that was what was in style at the time. 

Women’s clothing was a bit more involved, however, the most basic garments for Pilgrim women were underwear (smock), stockings, petticoat (skirt), waistcoat, and a coif/cap. Waistcoats were basically the female equivalent of the doublets that men wore and they would be the outermost layer unless one was wearing a cape/coat. Based on the occasion, they might also wear a stay (equivalent to a modern day corset). In colder months, women would also wear an outer gown, coat, or a cape to stay warm. Similar to men, women also wore low heeled leather shoes, although silk shoes were occasionally worn for special occasions. 

Children above the age of 4 typically wore clothes that resembled what their parents wore, therefore kids clothing will not be discussed in this article, however young children wore long sleeve gowns. These gowns were one piece garments that covered the entire body. 

Finally, although early Pilgrims are frequently portrayed by the media as wearing austere black clothing, black dye was actually a very difficult dye to maintain. Because of this, black clothing was typically reserved for one’s fancier dress clothes and would not be worn daily. If you were to walk the streets back in the early 1600s, you would see that the most common colors of clothing were brown, blue, yellow, red, or gray/white (which was the natural color of fabric before it was dyed). 


UNDERWEAR FOR NATIVE AMERICANS AND PILGRIMS

Let's wrap this article up with some information about the underwear worn at the first Thanksgiving. Although neither group had anything that resembled modern day underwear, both Native Americans and Pilgrims had their own versions of undergarments. 

As mentioned above, Native Americans wore breechcloths, which were soft animal skins placed between one’s legs with the ends tucked into a belt. The ends hung as flaps that provided additional coverage to one’s privates. Men would have their breechcloth exposed as outerwear, whereas women would wear a skirt over theirs. 

Underwear for Pilgrims consisted of a long, loose fitting garment that almost resembles modern day nightgowns. It was basically the same for both sexes, although it was shorter for men so they would be able to tuck it into their breeches. The men’s knee-length version was also open at the bottom sides and was called a shirt. The version for women was calf-length, wider at the bottom, and was called a smock. These undergarments were flowy and typically made from linen. Sometimes the collar and the ends of the sleeves of the shirt/smock would be visible, poking out from under the doublet or waistcoat. 

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So there you go! Hopefully you learned some fun facts about what was worn at the first Thanksgiving, including learning about the underwear worn by Native Americans and Pilgrims.

From everyone at Hunt Underwear, we hope you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!