What Kind of Clothing Did a Blacksmith Wear in the Colonial Days?
The American Colonial Period started in the early 17th century and continued until the American Revolution in 1775. The most common reference to Colonial times refers to the period beginning in 1607 with the founding of a British colony in Virginia.
The blacksmith was considered to be among the most valuable of the craftsmen in the colony due to the variety of skills (i.e., metallurgy, carpentry, glassblowing, iron monger) he possessed. As most artisans, the blacksmith wore noteworthy clothing while plying his trade.
According to Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles and Costumes at Colonial Williamsburg, the blacksmith would wear a long-sleeve linen shirt, coarsely woven and unbleached. A very common fabric made from the flax plant, linen was a popular textile for clothing due to its durability and coolness in hot weather. It is also stain resistant. The shirt would be a pullover and reach to the top of the thighs. He would also wear a waistcoat, a vestlike accoutrement, Baumgarten said.
Like most men of that time, the blacksmith would wear knee breeches. These could be made of coarse linen, deerskin, worsted or a fabric mixture like fustian or linsey-woolsey, Baumgarten said. Deerskin leather was popular in the Americas due to its toughness. Worsted yarn clothing was lightweight yet resilient and conducted body heat well. Fustian is a heavy, twill woven fabric made of cotton. Linsey-woolsey is described as a fabric with a linen warp (or thin strands of material) through which is woven a woollen weft (or thicker strands of material). Linsey-woolsey was an important fabric in Colonial America due to the relative scarcity of wool in the colonies, Baumgarten said.
For footwear, the blacksmith would have knitted or cut and sewn fabric stockings. Over these he would wear leather shoes with inexpensive buckles or possibly laced ties, depending on the time period, Baumgarten said.
The blacksmith would also wear a cap made of cut and sewn linen or a knitted stocking cap. Some might own a felted wool hat or one made of beaver, Baumgarten said. Felted wool is still popular as a hat fabric. Fedoras are one modern example. Beaver was a very popular hat material. The tricorner and top hat were examples of beaver material hats.
A coal or coke fire forge can reach temperatures of about 760 degrees C. To protect himself from this heat and the hot metal he fashioned, the blacksmith would wear an apron. This apron covered the blacksmith's shoulders, chest and extended past the abdomen to about the knees. Some were made of thick wool, but most protective aprons were made of heavyweight, full-grain leather.