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19th Cenutry Working Men--Dressing the Part

A week or so ago, I was participating in my usual monthly living history at Los Encinos State Historic Park ( It was June in the San Fernando Valley, it was around 100 Degrees Farenheit, and I wasn't doing too badly. I reflected on the fact that in my "Ranch Hand" garb, I was wearing probably the best gear any European could wear in the sweltering desert that is Southern California--and I was also entirely historically correct.
Walter at Blacksmith

The attire is as you see it, though out of consideration to the heat, I had partially undone my vest. I also had a different hat with a slightly broader brim and a dirty pink sweat rag around my neck.

Thus arrayed, I was protected from the sun in a way that the Victorians thought important and which doctors today have also come to advise. If you remove the vest you have the absolute essential elements of the working man's attire of the second half of the 19th Century. It is comfortable, easy to take care of, and works in even the hottest weather. It also has the advantage, if you must commute a significant distance to your event, of not looking too odd to the modern eye, so you can pump gas, stop for a hamburger or get pulled over by a cop without coming across as any thing more than a bit Amish.

It does however, has some important differences from modern attire, which distinguish correct from wrong.

The elements of this are the hat, which can be in lots of styles-- though the modern "cowboy hat" is one that is not actually correct; the shirt which is like the modern shirt, but with differences; the trousers which are like blue jeans but have some important differences; and the shoes which are also easy to manage, though modern "cowboy boots" are not usually the best choice.

Add to this accessories like suspenders, a bandana, a vest and a coat or duster and you have the all purpose "git 'er done" outfit for the 19th Century working man.

I will go into more detail on the individual elements in future posts, but give a quick summary of the key elements.

The Shirt: The shirt needs to be a pull-over and not a button down. If it buttons all the way down, rather than about half way down, find another shirt. Here are some pictures from "The Gentleman's Page"

The Trousers: They need to not have belt loops, they should be high waisted and should probably have a tightening strap in the back. Also, they should not have big patch pockets held in with rivets. Modern blue jeans have much in common with the original working mans's trousers with which Mr. Levi Strauss made his fortune during the Gold Rush, but everything changes with time.

The Hat: The best hats are some variation of the bowler, especially those with very high crowns and wide brims, but there are also lots of other styles.


Shoes: Simple boots without pointed toes and frills are good, Civil War "brogans" are good, "engineer boots" with the straps removed are good, Army combat boots are okay and even lace up construction boots are okay.

The essence of all this is simplicity. It's all natural fibers, it all wears well and just looks better with age, and is improved by stains, faded bits and the thousand natural shocks that historical costumes are heir to.

More later.



Related Post: Where to get the stuff