Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Drawers for Men and Women

"Four Yellow Love Drawers" - 1685

I have thought for sometime on how to broach the topic of underwear as I have found out the hard way that there are many established ideas on what was and wasn't. However, the story of how "underbeeches" and what were later called drawers came to be actually reflects just how human we all are.

When Wina who was from the province of Horn in the Netherlands arrived in America, she was a whip of a business woman. She had to have known her market as she arrived with an extensive list of exotic goods from the east. She opened her shop right next to her husband's doctoring practice. With side by side storefronts, everything in their lives seems to have been intimate. Her wares were so numerous they spilled over into his office with porcelain stacked on shelves on the walls. Wina's wardrobe was no different as it included 5 work day suits, a fine suit in silk and a number of calico gowns plus over 50 fontages and headbands. But it is the four yellow drawers in silk that let us peek into the lives of those in 17th Century New York. Her husband an apparently reserved person in comparison only owned 2 capes, 2 black or gray suits and a dressing gown... plus 7 pairs of drawers that range from linen to silk. In one chest, there was even a blue and white feather. The couples of New York even if reserved on the outside as was Wina's husband, or spectacular on the outside as was Wina herself... all seem to keep something special and dare I say flirtatious in the marriage.

Wina and her husband were not alone, while most of the 112 drawers that have shown up in the the 28 inventories referenced are linen, there is also the saucier side.

Due to the PG nature of this blog we'll have to skip the naughty bits... but I am looking forward to my presentation at Boston History Camp this Saturday.

[ Since publishing in the last few weeks the number of drawers has gone up to 128 from 33 inventories during the same time period 1630-1720s. These were men's clothes inventories, windows are doing a great job of keeping any and all their clothing out of inventories. July 18, 2018 ] 


  1. Tara,

    I love your blog, with its peek into what people really wore, ate, drank, and did in New Netherland, beyond the vital records which too often are all we can get. I was able to learn, from her list of children, that my ggg grandmother had an illegitimate daughter in 1798. That's a bit late for New Netherland, but she listed her children in a Dutch New Testament printed in Amsterdam in 1743, and her list was in a mixture of English and Dutch. She was 17 when this daughter was born. I wish I knew the circumstances of this birth. She did name the baby after the father's mother, the "proper" name using the naming conventions. But if she thought it would make him marry her, she was wrong, because he married someone else between the birth and the christening. I read somewhere that in 1800, 1/3 of the women in NY were like my ancestor, and had a baby without being married. One reason may have been the lack of dominees to marry couples, as my ancestor was 3 months pregnant when she married a different man four years later. What is especially interesting is that at the same time, in New England, the statistics seem to have been quite different, with few premarital pregnancies. So we can't blame it on the climate!

    It's also quite fascinating how free women like Wina were in New Netherland to own businesses, own land, use their own names, etc. I wonder if that's connected with the rate of premarital sex? When England took over, all of that gradually went away.

    That's off-topic. I have a question for you. What's a "fontage?" Presumably it's an article of clothing or adornment, but what exactly? Do you know?


  2. A Fontage is a headband, with lace that is directed up like a tiara.

    Wina's time, was after the English took control. They received ownership and sovereignty in 1667 (they landed in 1664).

    I don't know the rate of premarital sex in Europe or America. I do know a number of guys were made to marry their pregnant girlfriends in 17th Century NN. My impression of 17th Century men in the Dutch region of Europe, NN and NY is that they were having to impress the ladies, which put the ladies in a position of power.

    From what I see in primary sources the culture is consistent for everyone from popper to working class to middle class and small merchant from when the families started arriving through and including the last French and Indian war in the 1750s'60s. The English culture had an effect on the wealthiest mostly, everyone else stayed fairly true to the prevailing culture.