Uniforms, clothing, seabags, flags and other items of cloth.
Clothing is the most personal and intimate of artifacts and plays a critical role in the construction of identity. Past wardrobes are a veritable treasure trove for social historians. It is one of the most visible forms of consumption, and has the power to inform us of how people have both perceived their positions in society and how they negotiated the boundaries of status. By studying the clothes from their backs, scholars gain a deeper insight into the lives and times of the people who wore them. Construction details reveal the technology of an era, providing stories about the production and use of materials, as well as the physical manufacture of the garment. Frayed collars, missing buttons, stress marks, and sweat stains all provide evidence of fit, body shape, and lifestyle. Damage and repair, or the lack thereof, signals the personal economy of the individual and the thrift of a society in general. These details take the costume historian beyond the simple question of “what did they look like?” and begin to answer the most important question- “what were their lives like?”
The USS Constitution Museum’s clothing and textile collection contains a number of significant pieces associated with members of the ship’s crew. The Purser Thomas Chew collection contains not only his monogrammed clothing bag, but also three shirts, two pairs of trousers, a pair of moccasins, two sets of suspenders, and a rare pair of men’s stays. There are two clothing bags and a shirt belonging to Gunner John Lord, and dress uniform coat worn by Capt. William Hunter. The embroidered frock and trousers of John Thomas Jefferson, worn in the 1860s, is still possibly stained with his blood. A large portion of the collection is composed of reproduction 19th century uniforms worn by the ship’s crew in the 20th century.