One of the questions we get the most often from members of the public is “Where do you get your clothes from?”.
It’s an understandable question – we’re not exactly wearing things you can find on the high street! They say clothes maketh the man and with historical re-enactment it’s totally true, the period clothes that audiences know us for are the cornerstone of what we do and transform us from 21st Century to 17th Century people. So making sure that what we wear and how we wear is correct, or as near as we can get, is of vital importance. To ensure we look our best, there’s an entire small (and not so small) industry of clothes-makers, blacksmiths, milliners, cobblers, and artisans who spend their time recreating the look of the English Civil War for our members.
So we thought it would be fun to bring you an irregular series called “Where do you get your kit from?”, where we talk to some of the suppliers who make The Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote look so good.
The first business we’re featuring is that of Ian Dicker, Helen Harwood Smith, and Barbara Robinson – The 1642 Tailor.
What kind of kit do you provide?
Anything soft basically: shirts, smocks, drawers, falling bands and band strings, caps and coifs in linen, doublets, breeches, coats, monteros for men and petticoats, waistcoats, bodices etc. for women.
Where are your customers from – are they mostly re-enactors or do you supply to museums?
Our customers are mainly reenactors but we have recently taken an order for Sittingbourne Museum.
Why did you decide to begin making period clothing for sale?
Because I had so much goodwill from my 1642 Tailor blog, where I post original source material about clothes of the period, I thought it was worth seeing if selling the clothes through it would work. And it did!
How much research do you do into how clothes were made?
We do as much research and look at as many original pieces in museums as we can, study images (lots on The 1640s Picturebook), and read books – the V&A dressmaking series, Janet Arnold and Mathew Gnagy’s Modern Maker Doublet book in particular.
How do you source your materials?
Fabrics are sourced from reenactors’ fairs, drapers that I know, and mills that still weave fabrics in the old fashioned way. And the Internet, of course.
What’s the big difference between modern clothes and clothes of the 17th Century?
The big difference is the fabrics – linen and wool aren’t very popular these days. Lots of our wool clothes (coats and caps for instance) utilize raw edges rather than hems. Handsewing makes a big difference too. I make monteros, which are a soft hat whose top brim can be pulled down to form a kind of balaclava. Mine are vastly different to the kinds you normally get from 17th Century traders; the usual method relies heavily on machine stitching and you get a very different product, but ours are all handmade.
What the latest fashion for the chap (or lady) about town in the 17th Century?
For the man about town in the 1640s we have been researching a garment for a newly formed troop of dragoons who wanted a long or riding coat made from broadcloth. We trialled several patterns and the one we liked copies an example in the V&A which flares from the waist for comfort in the saddle and style on foot. The buttons are made from wooden beads wrapped with linen thread to copy those found on a coat in Colchester Castle Museum.
Many thanks to Ian for his time. You can visit the sign of the 1642 Tailor at their website, complete with guides on how to dress in the 17th Century, or pop by their Facebook page and see their latest creations being put together and then tested.