Thanksgving, Fashion, and Feathers

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving and fashion? Probably the stereotypical pilgrim’s outfit: black and white clothes with a big collar, gold buckles on shoes, belts with buckles, and hats. Well, this outfit is very much so an example of what they wear, however, their main everyday outfit consisted of a variety of colors. From violet waistcoats, blue aprons, and red petticoats to green gowns, green pants, and red caps, the Mayflower fashion was consisted of a plethora of colors.

A woman’s outfit started with the undergarment. It was an off-white linen short sleeve shirt they called a “shift”. It was ribbon-tied at the collar with cuffs at the front. Petticoats were also worn underneath the skirt, which was ankle length. The top consisted of the bodice and waistcoat with buttons all the way to the top as the final layer. If a woman worked, she wore an apron.

The typical man’s outfit consisted of a short sleeve linen shirt with a collar as the undergarment. The second layer was a “doublet”. A doublet had buttons down the front and usually contained padded shoulders. On the bottom half, men wore breeches. They were always rather baggy with buttons at the front and only extended to the knee. From the knee down, men wore wool stockings held up by garters. And sadly, they didn’t always wear buckles on their shoes. Their feet were protected by leather shoes or boots most of the time. Depending on the age of a man, they would either wear cloaks or full gowns to the ground. Younger men wore the cloaks while older men wore full gowns.

All children wore gowns until age 8, no matter male or female. As children grew up, they began to copy what their older figures would wear. Younger men wore what the adult man would wear, and younger women would wear what the adult women wore.
A second myth about the pilgrims was what they ate at the first thanksgiving. Without any understanding of the first thanksgiving, many would assume that hey ate turkey. However, that most likely did not happen. They at a bountiful meal of deer, seafood, nuts, bread, berries, vegetables, and porridges. However, it is very interesting to see the affect that birds that we may eat also be used for areas of fashion and home décor.

For a long period of time, people slept on feather pillows and mattresses. They served as a necessity for many people. However, what was once a food and then a necessity for sleep was also fashion statement.  Millinery became very popular in the 1800s. In the 14th and 15th centuries, hats used to only be for men. However, as time went on, the idea of hats became popular among women. It came to the point where it was inappropriate for a woman to go out of the house without wearing her hat and gloves. Hats became more complex with added accessories such as bows, frills, and feathers.  Unsurprisingly, the increasing demand for hats with feathers led to a decrease in the supply of birds available. By 1886, more than 50 species were endangered after many were slaughtered for feathers. One bird, the snowy egret, was in terrible danger of becoming extinct. Women used the bird’s feathers, wings, and sometimes the entire bird after it went through a taxidermy. This shows the extent to which people went for the sake of fashion. The wisp of the egret’s feathers in wintertime made them especially desirable among all milliners. In London, an average of 130,000 egrets were used for hat production in one month.

The Migrate Act was passed by congress on March 4, 1913 by Congress to end the market trade and interstate transport of birds. This act would not have passed if it weren’t for two women, Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall. They were two Boston socialists in a fight to end the feathered hat era. In 1896, Hemenway read an article about the bird’s plume and its use for women and men’s hats. She was moved by the message it gave and contacted Boston’s social register, the Blue Book. With the help of her cousin, Hall, they were off to end the bird trade. Eventually, Hemenway and Hall gained the joined effort of 900 women to end it for once. She ended up forming the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Their society then spread to more than 12 other states to one day be popularly known as the National Audubon Society.


As Thanksgiving approaches, there are a lot of things to be thankful for. We can be thankful that the staple at thanksgiving, turkey, has not gone extinct from the plume trade. If it wasn’t for Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hale, we may have only have been apple to eat mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, and pumpkin pie on the fourth Thursday of every November. It just wouldn’t be the same. The fashion of the Mayflower pilgrims in the 17th century not only gave us something to study, but their way of life and how they dressed created a new tradition for all Americans alike. Their fashion choices are now a symbol for the holiday, and the symbol will most likely continue for years to come.

Souder, William. “How Two Women Ended the Deadly Feather Trade”. Accessed on November 19, 2018. Retreived from
“Clothing”MayflowerHistory. Accessed on Novemeber 18, 2018. Retrieved from

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