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Wenches, Wives and Servant Girls

Society of 18th-Century Gentlemen


There are many surviving examples of fancy “court” dress in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, and Linda Baumgarten has written several very nice books detailing items from that collection. See the links section for vendors who carry these books.

Everyday dress did not survive as well, yet it was far more common. Several of the great 18th-century artists like Gainsborough, Copley, Wright of Derby, Reynolds, Hogarth, and Chardin, to name a few of the most well-known, often painted their subjects in less formal settings and postures, and we can gain some excellent ideas for replicating period dress from their works (see below or some examples).

Since our little Society was first begun in 2001, it would seem that there are every increasing numbers of good period clothing makers, many of whom may be found among our links. Unfortunately, clothing purchased “off the rack” rarely fits like it should. This is no fault of the makers of 18th-century costume or patterns, as they do their best to design and build garments with an acceptable fit for the masses. However, 18th-century clothing was almost always custom-fitted to the wearer, and the proper look can only be obtained from hiring clothing custom-made or you. If you are inclined to make your own clothing, or know someone who is handy with a needle and thread, the following guidelines may prove helpful:

Small Clothes

The Eagle’s View waistcoat and breeches patterns are a very good starting point for making your small clothes. These patterns are very easy to use and, unlike some patterns, the clothing made from them fits well in the sizes indicated on the pattern. Note that this pattern makes a waistcoat that tends to have a bit of a “hump” between the shoulders. You may want to pinch this in and trim it away in both the lining and body of your waistcoat before sewing it up.

The Eagle’s View breeches are a little snug in the groin area (see the NWTA web page for hints on remedying this minor fault) and it tends to be a little too short in the knee, which is easily fixed by cutting across the pattern and adding a few inches in length to the center of the thigh.


Most commercially-available patterns are for military and/or formal dress coats which are not designed to be buttoned up and therefore are not appropriate for less formal, everyday dress. A military coat pattern can be modified by adding a few inches to the front and straightening the curve slightly, but this is best done by someone with some sewing experience. Finished coats similar to that worn by Mr. Poyntz (see below) can be had from several of the vendors found in the links section. In particular, see Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc. and Bradley Company of the Fox.

The gray coat worn by Mr. Andrews (below) is very similar to the double-breasted Jacket offered by Kannik’s Korner, but to replicate the coat shown you will have to add some length to the body and attach a collar at the neck. The collarless, cuffless coat worn by Mr. Poyntz is very similar to the sleeved waistcoat pattern offered by J. P. Ryan.

We have been very pleased with the service we have received from “The Emporium,” (Edward and Marilyn Peterka) who offer a very broad selection of period-correct patterns. They are reached at Route 1, Box 363 Ava MO 65608-9726, (417) 683-2764.


Your standard, buckle-variety shoes are the most versatile option. The Fugawee brand has been around or quite some time and continues to offer good quality at a fair price. We have been very pleased with the Walrus brand shoes available through Bradley Company of the Fox as well, though if your size has to be custom-ordered you might wait a while. Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc. also offers a good line of shoes.

There seems to be a sudden surge in the popularity of low, half-boots or “buskins”— often erroneously called “hi-los” or “trekking boots.” Though buskins certainly existed I feel that buckle shoes worn with spatterdashes were not only more common, but offer the modern gentleman far more versatility. Still, if you must have buskins, Smoke and Fire Company is a good source.

Riding boots are also an appropriate choice for the gentleman, although, as with clothing, they need to be professionally fitted if they are to look right. Again, see Smoke and Fire Company.


Wool and linen were the most predominant fibers in the 18th century. Cotton was available but tended to be expensive and was not very widely used for small cloths or coats.

Wool is the best material for coats, waistcoats and breeches. Buckskin breeches are also a good choice for hunting or traveling attire. Judging from the examples below it would appear that a Gentleman’s everyday outfits rarely matched. The small clothes may be of one color and the coat of another, or the coat and breeches might be one color and the waistcoat different. Or, all three; waistcoat, coat and breeches, might be of entirely different colors or even fabrics (see James Shuttleworth, below).

William Booth, Draper offers an complete line of clothing-related books and notions, plus quality, period-correct linen and wool fabrics essential for clothing the 18th-century gentleman. Other good sources for period-correct fabrics can be found through these links.

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Period Examples of Gentlemen’s Clothing

Two Bowles and Carver woodcut illustrations (c. 1760-1780).

These sportsmen wear a round hat with a broad brim, a full length, skirted coat with collar and cuffs, breeches and spatterdashes. The coats and waistcoats are apparently trimmed with a lace binding. The top figure wears both a waistbelt (supporting a game bag on the left hip?) and a powder horn. The bottom figure wears a hunting pouch or game bag suspended by a thin shoulder strap on his left hip (he may also have a waistbelt).

Note the dogs! A good hunting dog is essential for successfully flushing birds -- though owning and training a hunting dog is a HUGE commitment in both time and money. Spaniels were popular in the period, as were other types of both flushing and pointing dogs.

Detail from the Thomas Gainsborough painting
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews
(c. 1748-50).

Mr. Andrews wears a short gray, double-breasted jacket with a green collar, a matching gray untrimmed waistcoat, black (or navy blue) breeches and white thread stockings. His hat is a silver-laced tricorn. He has kidskin gloves and wears a mesh game bag on a leather belt around his waist.

Again, note the dog complete with leather collar with a brass plate I.D. tag.

The Third Duke of Richmond
out Shooting with his Servant

Johann Zoffany (c. 1765).

Charles Lennox, third Duke of Richmond is wearing a matching outfit in brown, black canvas spatterdashes or half-gaiters, and an oddly-shaped gold-trimmed, tri-cornered hat. Over the right shoulder he wears (presumably) a hunting pouch and horn on a leather strap, and over the other hangs a large mesh game bag. Note the servant's dress; blue velvet coat trimmed in red, red waistcoat and buckskin breeches.

Note that the dog, a small, tri-colored spaniel, has his tail docked -- still a common practice for this breed today.

William Poyntz
Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1762).

Mr. Poyntz is wearing a drab-colored collar- and cuff-less coat with a tan waistcoat and breeches. He has black half-gaiters and a jockey-style black cap trimmed with a black bow at the back. The leather strap over his left shoulder holds a game bag or hunting pouch (what appears to be a hunting pouch here is actually part of the log he leans against).

Another Spaniel!

Fleetwood Hezketh
Joseph Wright of Derby (1769)

Mr. Hezketh wears a beautiful, full skirted, collarless madder red coat. The cuffs are unusually large for this period, as is the length of his finely laced dark velvet waistcoat. He also wears matching madder breeches, a plain, black cocked hat (worn at a jauntily rakish angle), and black canvas half gaiters. In his pocket is a pressed horn flask with what appears to be a short, brass charging spout. His fine fowler rests against the tree behind him — the trigger guard is barely visible below his left knee.

Detail from James and Mary Shuttleworth...
Joseph Wright of Derby (1764)

Mr. Shuttleworth has a gorgeous long scarlet waistcoat under a heavy, blue velvet coat that has both a collar and cuffs and closes brass or gilt buttons. His button holes are trimmed with gold thread. He also wears buckskin breeches and ribbed woolen stockings. His heavy black hat is uncocked but turns up a bit at the brim. Over his right shoulder is a brown leather belt with a plain buckle, probably holding his hunting pouch.

Very stylish!

Note that this outfit is very similar to the Duke of Richmond’s servant (above) and is almost identical to the Markeaton Hunt livery (c. 1762-63) worn by a fox-hunt club in Wright’s home town of Derby.



Thomas Nuthall and Hambleton Custance
Francis Hatman (c. 1748)

Mr. Nuthall (1715-1775) and his friend Mr. Custance (17??-17??) relax at a tavern after a days hunt. Nuthall (at right) wears a long, fawn colored wool coat with large cuffs and fabric-covered buttons. He also wears a light colored waistcoat and scarlet breeches. His cocked hat is untrimmed. A large blue-gray greatcoat hangs on the wall behind him.

His friend, Hambleton Custace (1715-1757) wears a green sleeved waistcoat trimmed in gold braid, buckskin breeches, buckle shoes and a trimmed cocked hat that he is wearing backwards.

(Tate Gallery, London)

Thomas Nuthall


Thomas Nuthall with a Dog and Gun
Nathanial Dance-Holland (c. 1770)

Mr. Nuthall (see above) was also an enthusiastic huntsman and was Ranger of the Enfiled Chase. Here he wears a more formal-looking matching green wool suit (possibly the "uniform" of his position as Ranger), tall boots and a slouched black felt hat. Of special note are his boot garters and white cravat. Also note the comparatively long cuffs to his coat. This portrait is also from the Tate Gallery, London.

Thomas Nuthall

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