The Cultural Costume of Pilgrims




Turkeys, family gatherings, Black Friday…there are many things that come to mind on Thanksgiving, but one that is a part of the legacy are the Pilgrims. For those not familiar with this cultural group, they were a religious sect of Puritanism who were early settlers of Plymouth Colony. The story of how they survived by the grace of the local Native American community has become legend, with revision, in U.S. history. However there’s another interesting history that is associated with the Pilgrims, their clothing.

The Pilgrim Costume

There is a common understanding that the Pilgrims wore simple black and white clothing only accessorized with big gold buckles, pointed collars, caps for women and top hats with a squared crown for men. For the shoes, the men continued the buckle motif that was placed on top of squared toe shoes. It has become so iconic that shoe designer Roger Vivier dubs his famous wide buckle looks as the “pilgrim.”

Although a clear and concise historical costume reads well, the myth of Pilgrim costume is not true. Buckles didn’t come into fashion until the late seventeenth century, and men and women wore earth tones paired with colors like brick red and blue than the expected black and white. Also worn in everyday wear were undyed clothes in whites or grays.

The reason to why the Pilgrims are represented in art, and as a result in our public minds, in a dark, somber image is due to formality. For portraits and important occasions, Pilgrims would wear their finest, black clothing. Solid black dye was a rarity, so the color was only reserved for the most special occasions.

The Modern Pilgrim

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Image by Indigital.tv via Vogue.com

The stereotype of Pilgrim costume has inspired a number of fashion designers. The trend of squared toe shoes and wide buckles appeared during the 1960s and has made a reprisal in the aughts. For Saint Laurent’s Pre-Fall 2016 collection, then creative director Hedi Slimane included wide belt buckles, pointed white collars, and all-black outfits that intertwined French luxe with Pilgrim-inspired accessories.

For more on the Pilgrims, check out the Pilgrim Hall Museum. 

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