My first attempt at a basic guide for new members. Let me know what you think. Part two is written, but I need pictures. Watch this space....
In the 1640s, the two fabrics mostly used for common clothes were woven wool, which was felted with a fuzzy nap on the surface and unbleached, natural coloured linen. Both fabrics are, at the time of writing available from suppliers so there should be no excuse for making or buying garments made from anything else. These natural fabrics are practical and hardwearing and will give you clothes that will last for years if you look after them. There were no detergents to wash clothes, and woollen garments were generally not washed at all but brushed occasionally to remove surface dirt. Most clothes would end up with a patina of ingrained dirt from campaigning, though it’s reasonable to assume that linens would be washed on a regular basis. Just make sure you don’t end up with the modern “whiter than white, neatly pressed” look.
The range of colours available was quite broad, but the less well off (actually the best part of a seventeenth century army was less than affluent) made use of very few of them. Their clothes were also often so old and reused that they had faded to dull grey or brown or had been re-dyed several times. For the armies, the regimental colonels chose their soldiers’ coat colours, based on personal preference and whatever was available locally. You can find out from your commander or regimental goodwife which colour is correct for your coat and breeches. The following colours are suitable for general purpose: grey, brown terracotta/brick/russet reds, grey-blue or dark dull blues, dull shades of green, mustard yellow/ochre, heathery shades of purple, cream/undyed (remember it will get dirty and never come fully clean).
Bright colours, plus black and white, are generally excluded for the lower classes as clear dye-shades cost more. Home-dyed cloth was muddier in tone and less colourfast than bought fabric. The most expensive colours were purple, royal blue, scarlet and black. Almost-black cloth was cheaper, but turned brownish in sunlight. It is better to avoid black altogether. Modern white cloth is too bright, due to the chemical bleaches used, so cream looks closer to 17th Century bleached wool and linen.
If in doubt on any of these points, ask your commanding officer or goodwife for advice. It’s better to ask than buy the wrong kit and waste your money on something that is wrong.
Part One: Women
Over the smock you wear a SKIRT or PETTICOAT, made of wool or linen. If your cloth is thick, full and heavy enough, you can wear a single petticoat, though often more than one was worn, especially in winter. The length should be about a hand’s breadth above your ankle. Most women wore relatively short ones to keep hemlines well out of the muck.
The fabric of the petticoat should be gathered with cartridge pleats into a waistband. This will provide more than enough fullness for a seventeenth century shape as long as the wool used is thick enough. The petticoat can be fastened either by a plain round metal or cloth shanked button, a large hook-and-eye or laces (through lace-holes or fixed at either end of the waistband). The bottom edge should really be hemmed for most roles ragged edges indicate abject poverty. Lots of images show lines of ribbon or braid decoration around the edges as a protection against wear. The choice is yours.
A second petticoat (if you want one) is made identically to the first, though make sure that the top one is of reasonably thick or coarse wool or linen. If you want to lift or tuck this up, you must wear another petticoat underneath to avoid displaying your smock (that would be like going out with your skirt tucked into your knickers).
Over the shift you wear STAYS, sometimes called a A PAIR OF BODIES, what we now know as a CORSET Your costume will not fit properly without them, unless your bodice is fully boned. Contemporary Dutch pictures show women doing strenuous manual work in stays, having discarded their bodice. The outer fabric can be plain/dyed linen or wool. A layer of stiff canvas as an inner lining with boning all round provides stiffening. Patterns are quite simple and can be obtained from various sources.
Back-laced styles can be tricky to lace up by your self. Front-laced styles are easier to manage. Shoulder straps can be either integral to the stays or separate pieces/tapes laced in when worn. Stays are not meant to be uncomfortable they should just provide the outline, not constrict your breathing. Tabs at the back and side are tucked under skirt to take weight off your lower back and spread it through the boning.
Over stays, a BODICE is worn. If you prefer, you can wear a boned bodice instead of separate stays. Both are made of wool, or linen and lined. A simple bodice may have a high or medium neckline, with full or close-fitting sleeves and tabs below the waistline. It can be fastened with buttons, tapes or laces. Some styles show the stays underneath or are laced over a STOMACHER, a flat boned panel that covers the stomach, made of the same or contrasting colour. If you wear a bodice over stays, you only need to bone the front edges to prevent puckering when you lace it up. Otherwise full boning needs to be sewn into the lining of the bodice.
JACKETS are more old-fashioned, but common in contemporary paintings of lower class women from the 1640s. They are tied up the front by buttons, ribbons or hooks-and-eyes. Sleeves can be full or close fitting as for bodices. Jackets may have been collarless, they also generally accommodate the fullness of the hips by adding triangular gores, rather than the separate tabs used in bodices. The front edges can be boned or stiffened with a double thickness of heavy canvas strips sewn into the lining.
You cannot go into or through public areas or the battlefield with only a smock covering your upper body (this is the 17th Century equivalent of going out wearing only your bra), so you must wear at least a bodice or jacket.
An APRON should be worn for general work. This consists of a simple rectangle tied around the waist. Posh ones can be decorated with braid or ribbon, but for the majority of living history tasks, plain linen or wool is fine.
WOOLLEN SHAWLS or CLOAKS can be worn in cold or wet weather. Cloaks are probably less common than shawls among the poorest people, and some travellers may have worn leather ones. The simplest cloak is a semicircle of woollen cloth, worn around the shoulders with no fixing.
The remaining bits of the costume are more or less out of sight. You can buy or knit your own woollen HOSE. An acceptable modern substitute is plain woollen tights or unribbed knitted stockings in any of the colours mentioned earlier. Shaped linen or cloth hose are also worn. Hose should be held up by cloth GARTERS or strips of cloth.
Information from “The Textile Group”. Thanks for all the help guys. Images courtesy of Rusty Aldwinckle and John Beardsworth. Women's shoes made by Sarah Juniper