Friday, March 9, 2012

In Search of Clothes

Something that has come to my attention during the research process for habitant clothing is that there are no known surviving examples or artist depictions of habitants in the Illinois Country during the French period.  This makes trying to nail down specifics all the more challenging.  It is important for me to acknowledge the guidance given to me by a couple of friends in the hobby and the contributors at in the Nouvelle France forum.  There is a tremendous amount of expertise and goodwill that has been shared with me in this adventure. 

A great amount of reliance will have to be made upon inventories, lists and descriptions from the time period in and around de Chartres.  Since the target date is 1750, particular attention will be given to texts that predate that specific year.  Some allowance for years beyond the 1750 target will be allowed, to around 1760.  For visuals, portraits and other artwork will be used, however these will be of French canadiens and must be taken in context, since no examples for the Pays des Illinois exists. 

Another research challenge that has been encountered is the aspect of word meaning being “lost in translation”.  The original texts are in the French language and translated into English.  Some words, such as “casket” in English are a derivative of “cassette” in French, which is a small, lockable trunk or box.  Numerous inventories have “caskets” listed within, but it is important to note that the meaning is actually for the small storage box instead of leading to the conclusion that the Illinois French were vampires with caskets in every household!  Some other words that are more “English” in nature, like “great coat” may indeed be “capot” or “surtout” in the original text, but I do not have the original available for comparison.  A little conjecture and reading between the lines will be necessary to make sense of the translations.  

Presently, my focus is on clothing for the habitant for Fort de Chartres, 1750. 

Some of the sources I am using for clothing descriptions in inventories are: 

Brown, Margaret Kimball and Lawrie Cena Dean. The Village of Chartres in Colonial Illinois, 1720-1765. New Orleans: Published for La Compagnie des Amis de Fort de Chartres by Polyanthos, 1977.

Brown, Margaret K.;Dean, Lawrie Cena. The French Colony in the Mid-Mississippi Valley.  Amer Kestrel Books, 1995.

Ekberg, Carl J.  Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier (Second Edition).  Patrice Press, 1996.

Belting, Natalia Maree.  Kaskaskia Under the French Regime (Shawnee Classics).  Southern Illinois University Press, 2003 (reprint). 

It has been important to learn some common French nouns for specific pieces of clothing.   An excellent book to help with this is Suzanne and Andre Gousse’s Costume in New France From 1740 to 1760. 

As a primer, here is a simple list of a common man’s clothing from head to toe: 

English            =            French

Hat                   =            Chapeau
Knitted Hat        =            Tuque
Scarf                 =            Echarpe
Shirt                  =            Chemise
Waistcoat          =            Veste, Gilet, Juste
Capote (Coat)    =             Capot
Overcoate          =            Surtout, Volant
Breeches            =            Culotte
Breechclout        =            Brayet
Stockings           =            Bas
Leggings            =            Mitasse
Shoes                =            Soulier, Chaussure