Fur and Leather Garments in 18th and 19th Century New England

Margaret Bruchac, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

In 21st century America, the wearing of fur and leather runs the gamut from practical outerwear to extreme fashion statement. Depending on the style, a pair of high leather boots may be crafted to preserve one's feet from cold or proclaim one's wealth; a pair of trimmed leather gloves might be made from extremely fine leather and fur, or crafted of vinyl and fake fur to imitate the real thing.

During the late 18th and early 19th century, fur and leather garments in New England exemplified the intersection of Native American Indian and Euro-American material culture and fashion, in ways that crossed and blurred categories of class, wealth and ethnicity. In medieval Europe, fur garments and leather gloves had been the province of the nobility; in colonial America, they were available to anyone who traded with the Indians. In early 19th century markets, imported leather from Spain was an expensive luxury, but deerskins and buffalo robes were commonplace. Fur garments also went full circle ~ fashionable English top hats made from beaver fur found their way back to the heads of Indians who had taken to wearing European garments, albeit in Indian fashion. Following is a brief overview of fur and leather in New England, with a special focus on hand, head, and foot coverings.

 

Date Posted: 12 December 2016