Proper Mountain Man and Longhunter Attire:
Materials, Patterns and Construction Methods
by Todd D. Glover
When considering the attire of the Mountain Men and Longhunter, we must think in terms individuality, availability and styles of the time. There were probably no two individuals who dressed alike. Those who were fresh from the settlements would of course have items of dress which were long since worn out among those who had spent years in the mountains. A study of trade records however will reveal the extent to which goods were supplied at the yearly rendezvous or brought up river to the Missouri trading posts. Consider also the possibilities of obtaining goods at Fort Vancouver, Taos/Santa Fe, on a trip back to St. Louis, or in later years at Bent's Fort and Fort Hall. Being a "Mountain Man", did not mean decades of total isolation in the mountains.
Although much individuality existed, remember that basic patterns prevailed among clothing and that materials were also pretty standard.
The following is a guideline to help in you in assembling a "period" outfit off clothing. It is not all inclusive, but a good beginning.
Shirts- Among the common folk of the day there was one basic pattern used for making shirts. This was a very simple pattern using a number of rectangles. Most characteristic of this pattern are the use of gussets under the arms and around the neck opening. The shirt was very loose fitting except in the collar and cuffs, and lacked much attempt at tailoring for fit. Individual taste was reflected in fancy stitching on the cuffs, owners initials on the front below the neck slit, or perhaps with the addition of ruffles around the neck slit. Occasionally the front was split open tp allow for a wrap around effect and for ease of wear. This pattern endured until the mid 1800's especially among the rural folk. The 1850's saw introduction of front opening closed with buttons and this pattern didn't come into widespread use until late 1800's. The length of the shirt reflects some indication of time period with earlier shirts tending to be longer. Shirts were often dyed with natural dyes t achieve a pleasing look of to mask stains from use. A neckerchief was commonly wore by working men, cravats and neck stocks by the upper classes. ( See Gehret or Gilgun's books for pattern details.)
Breeches were popular for tradesmen and workers in town. Farmers and rural types may wear breeches, trousers or flops. Breeches were usually made by a tailor and constructed very well. Loose fitting in the rear and smooth in the front. Often tied rather than buckled just below the knee for lower or working classes.
Trousers - trousers were built like breeches but hung loose down the leg and ended at the ankle.
Slops - worn over breeches to protect them, very loose fitting and ended at the knee.
Pantaloons - More form fitted than breeches or trousers, a strap under the foot to hold them straighter.
Leggings/gaiters - Made of leather, buckskin or heavy linen or wool to protect the leg and under garment.
The Primary style for the pants above were the Narrow Fall, Broad Fall, or French Fly
Vests, Weskits- Most men wore a jacket or waistcoat while outside. When doing physical labor the weskit may have been removed, but was promptly put back on when work was finished or if someone came calling. It was the manner of the day. Again length was indicative of time period, the earlier the longer- 1750's Knee length, 1770's mid- thigh, 1800 just below the belt.
By the 1820's there were a variety of styles in vests rather the only a basic weskit pattern. Shoulder seams slopped off the shoulder toward the back rather the running straight off from the neck to the point of the shoulder. Mostly made of wool or heavy linen.
Footwear- Moccasins were by far the most common footwear as shown in paintings trade ledgers and journals. However they weren't the only choice.
-Side seam, The style of the Northern plains tribes. The type you'd likely purchase from the tribes of the region.
-Center seam, An Eastern style, either made through your own knowledge or learned from Iroquoian tribesmen among the trappers.
-Puckertoe, Same sources as the centerseam
-Shoe pacs, a white style, probably derived from an attempt to make moccasins more durable. Sort of a cross between moccasins and shoes. This pattern was probably general knowledge to trappers who grew up on the frontier.
Boots- available in St. Louis, Taos or Santa Fe. Perhaps replaced at rendezvous or during a visit to the settlements
Shoes, brogans - Same as boots, more widely worn that commonly thought.
The image of the trapper in quilled or beaded moccasins is highly suspect. Perhaps if one married into an Indian family he may wear fancy footwear at a rendezvous, but it certainly was not common.
Stockings - Stockings are usually of wool(yarn), linen(thread) or silk. Either hand knit, loom made, or cut and sewn from fabric. Held up at the knee with woven or leather garters. Once again the use of stockings would have been less common the longer one remained in the mountains or away from the settlements. A soft inner moccasins could serve the same purpose.
Coats- Coats were indeed worn by the trappers and seem to have followed the basic frock coat or Great coat pattern, being rather long and loose fitting, constructed similarly to the basic shirt pattern. A "match coat" could be made by using a blanket and blanket pins (See Baker video series vol. III).
Capotes were a popular outerwear garment but generally lacked the fringe, hoods and tailoring so popular today.
Blankets were frequently employed in the place of a coat.
Most common materials were heavy wools, blankets and leather.
Headgear- The common wool felt or fur felt flop hat was the most widespread type of headgear among the trappers of the far west. The romantic and popular use of furs for hats, while not being non-existent, were exceedingly rare. Avoid their use. Hand spun , hand knit woolen caps were popular especially among the French and British trappers and voyagers. A number of Miller paintings depict trappers wearing a type of hat apparently made from blanket material and resembling a large hood. Straw hats were popular among the working classes and may have found their way west. The use of the "Panama" style palm leaf straw hats has become way to common at modern rendezvous.
Linen- "Flax was the principal fiber used in America from the time of the earliest settlements. Almost every farmer grew some, and the whole family took part in the processing." The most common fabric used.
Tow Cloth - from short flax, a coarse plain weave used mainly for men's cloths, sacks and wrapping cloths.
Osnaburg - A staple cotton cloth today, was an unfinished linen. From city of Osnabruck. Used for clothing and sacks. Some reportedly mad of wool and cotton.
Tecklenburg - Another tow cloth along with Virginia cloth, used for servants clothing.
Cabric - From Cambrai, France a lightweight linen in great demand.
Linsey Woolsey - Linen warp, wool weft. Stretch scarce wool material, warmer, very common.
Checks- Were popular as they didn't show dirt as much and were easy to weave.
Linen was the fabric up until the 1820's when cotton rapidly grew in availability and popularity and soon replaced linen as the common cloth. A transition period of 20 years when both were common.
Wool- "The variety of wool fabrics used in colonial America was very great". Most early wool was imported. The colonists did produce an inferior product. About 1830's domestic production increased along with quality.
Shag, duffel, baise - coarse long napped wool brought to the New World to trade.
Flannel - Made at home and taken to a mill for finishing.
Swanskin - Thick white wool flannel
Fearnaught - A heavy coating that stood against the worst winter storm
Serge - A worsted twill (serge de nimes of cotton became denim)
Many other names of woolen fabrics with printed patterns and woven ribs included.
Cotton- Much less common that linen up until the 1820's. A coarse cotton cloth was available in the colonies, both domestic weaves or imported from England. The nice cottons came from India and were thus more expensive and less available to the common folk.
Fustian - Cotton/linen blend was very popular
Veleret, Thickset - used for heavy work clothes
Calico - originally a plain weave cotton resembling linens of the time. Came from Calicut on the coast of India. Latter picked up it flowery nature and patterns.
Chintz - Made in India, a mordant and resist dyed material. The English called it calico.
Dimity- First from India, latter a staple home loomed cloth. Heavy, sometimes twilled.
Nankeen - A popular yellow cotton twill. George Washington wore nankeen breeches.
Silk - Silk was originally a heavy cloth but became lighter as cotton became competitive.
Bengal - with a stripe used for womens clothing, came from India.
Sarcanet - firm but thin for lining, came from Persia.
Mantua - from Italy became a general term for silk fabric.
Hemp- Hemp was widespread and grown by almost all farmers. Used by Indians for cordage and nets. Used mainly for ropes and heavy fabrics, some hemp was refined enough for use as clothing.
Buckskin- Very common as cloth wore out, and as outerwear. Used by colonists early on but quickly replaced in settled areas by fabrics. Became a sign of the frontier and poor people. Used extensively by rivermen and trappers. Was available for purchase in St. Louis, so many left the settlements already dressed "Indian Tan".
Leather- Tanning was a large industry in both the old and new worlds. All manner of leather was available. Vegetable tan and Alum tans for clothing, Bark and Oil tans for utilitarian uses.
Must remember that the sewing machine was not invented or widely available until the middle of the 19th century (1850). Therefore tailors and housewives did it all by hand!!
If cotton cloth was not widely available neither was cotton thread. Use linen or silk. Or use real deer or elk sinew. Get rid of the artificial sinew, it will ruin all you make with it. Whatever you use it on will never be right. Waxed linen cord is available at Tandy and linen thread is widely available among our listed vendors.
Make buttons of wood, or bone or horn, avoid antler. Pewter and brass buttons were common.
Debate rages on about the use of seed beads and when they were in common use among the Plains and Mountain tribes. Certainly the wearing of apparel with profuse beadwork by the average trapper was extremely limited. One doesn't wear his Sunday finest for daily work. Perhaps if a freetrapper packed along a squaw, he may likely have some beaded ornamentation on clothing in his wardrobe, but this would probably be saved for occasions such as visiting the in-laws of upon arrival at rendezvous. If you feel you would like to fancy up a shirt, moccasins, or leggings, then be safe and use sparingly, stick to simple colors (blue, black, white cranberry red) , and larger beads, size 8 (pound beads).
Quill work was more common early on but the same rules apply. Again simple colors. An Anglo generally had very little quill work, perhaps an article or two for dress occasions. Trappers didn't wear jewelry when trapping.
Trade beads were for trade, possibly worn at a rendezvous to advertise that they were shopping and had money.
Bagnall, William R. The Textile Industries of the United States, Vol I, 1639-1810
New York, A.M. Kelly, 1971.
Chronister, Allen and Clay Landry Mountain Man Clothing Book of Buckskinning VII Scurlock Publishing Co.
Gehret, Ellen Rural Pennsylvania Clothing
Gilgun, Beth Tidings from the Eighteenth Century.
Little, Frances Early American Textiles New York. The Century Company, 1931.
Wilson, Kax A History of Textiles
Craft Manual of North American Indian Footwear.
Clothing of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from "We Proceeded On.
Pioneering: The Longhunter Series by Mark A. Baker American Pioneer Video.