Men's Clothing

Before and During the Republic of Texas

presented by John Baker
research and source article by Jerry Tubbs

(Ed. Note: This is a work in progress, and we are looking forward to being able to update this article.)

Little, if any, has been written on the subject of men's clothing before, and during the early years of, the Republic of Texas. I am not saying what I present is indisputable fact, but merely a guide to what may have been worn during those days. As with most things, it's best to start at the beginning, with the arrival of a gentleman in Texas.

The Wealthy

A man's clothing would have reflected the social position of the person wearing them. Not all arriving were dirt-poor farmers, but just the opposite. Many were businessmen looking to invest in Texas lands. Some were lawyers, some doctors, and others opportunists trying to make a fresh start. These gentlemen of financial means would have been wearing clothes of fine fabrics. They may have possessed a large and varied wardrobe. With them they may have had cotton shirts as well as shirts made of linen. These shirts would have had ruffles at the neck and sleeves. Their waistcoats would have been made from silk damask or embroidered silk satin, rather than from wool, cotton, or linen. Their boots were made from the finest leather. Only the wealthiest could afford the lxury of having enough shirts to set one or two aside to be worn as a "night shirt".  Most shirts would have been worn during the day and then worn to bed that evening and still worn the following day.

The Common Man

The clothing of men for everyday use would have consisted of a linen or cotton pullover shirt with full sleeves, deep-buttoned cuffs, a large collar and very long tails to be tucked into the trousers. Since underwear was seldom used, the tails of the shirt helped protect the wearer from the scratchy wool of the trousers. The pants had straight, slim cut legs and a flap, which buttoned to the waistband in the front. The width of the flap, or fall, determined whether the trousers were called "broadfalls" or "narrowfalls". Although going out of style by the early 1790s, the farming class in rural Pennsylvania was still using fly-front breeches (knee-length pants), which were developed around 1650.  A wrapped cloth, known as a "cravat", covered the neck. A waistcoat (vest) covered the shirt, and a Frock, Tail, or Dress Coat covered the waistcoat. Both the waistcoat and frock coat covered the galluses (suspenders) that held up the trousers. Belts were not in general use, and when used, did not hold up the trousers.

Coats and Waist Coats

Coats came in several styles. The style worn by a person depended on several things, among which were age, occupation, and social status. there were "tail coats" which were waist length in front, the back hving a single pleat on each side of the center back vent, with tails of thigh length. A "frock coat" was tight waisted, full chested, and was made with a thigh- length "skirt" all around, narrow or moderately full. Coats could be single- or double-breasted, and the collar, which rose to the chin, were cut so the waistcoat could be seen beneath them. The frock coat was worn in a variety of shades, green, brown, olive, or the more common black or navy. Coats were fully lined, with the type of material varying. Coats were manufactured from wool, linen, or cotton, depending on the owner's ability to pay. Weather was also a consderation in the material chosen.
 Waistcoats were an important part of a gentleman's wardrobe. They were made short, and square in appearance, with wide, rectangular welt pockets. Made of wool, silk, or cotton, the waistcoat most often was elaborately embroidered. It could be single- or double-breasted, and there could be a standup collar, shawl collar, or no collar. Popular in the early part of the century were solid shades, and many were striped horizontally instead of vertically.

Buckskin and Broadcloth

Life on the Texas frontier was a mixture of the crude and the educated. Clothing ran the whole spectrum from fine broadcloth to rough buckskins. While coming to Texas clothing fell victim to many factors, including brush patches, wet weather, sorching heat, and freezing cold. A person's sweat alone was enough to decay clothing. The long trip to Texas, and then life on the frontier, left most clothes torn and worn thin. As clothing wore out it became necessary to cover oneself, and one's family, in buckskins. Buckskins is a term denoting clothing made of tanned leather, from whatever animal source. Since the male deer was a primary food-and-clothing source, that name - buck-skin - stuck. The same hazards reduced shoes to worthlessness also. When shoes became no longer repairable, moccasins became the comon replacement. Loose fittin leather shrts replaced cloth ones. They sometimes were no more than two tanned hides sewn or laced together, with openings for the head and arms. Buckskins may give a romantic impression in books and movies, but in reality they can be fairly hard on one's skin. Once wet, they must be worn until dry or they can become so stiff as to be unfit to wear. Francis R. Lubbock, twice Comptroller of the Republic of Texas, learned after becoming drenched in his buckskin suit during a rainstorm, that a person does not dry oneself by a fire while wearing them. His britches shrunk to the point that he had to have them cut off of him. The older colonists knew better than to dry buckskin near a fire, but figured it best if Mr. Lubbock learned this lesson on his own. Texas colonists  continued to wear buckskins on hunting and fighting expeditions throughout the Republic period.
 Not all garments were made from leather. Heavy coats and shirts were made from wool blanket material. The "blanket shirt" was preferred over a coat by farmers and the like because it allowed ease of movement while working. Linen, wool flannel, and cotton shirts became available once settlements were established. Pattern fabrics were simple in design with up to three colors printed on the material. Colors were not as bright as we see today because of the types of dyes available then.

References: Buckskin and Homespun, Frontier Texas Clothing 1820-1870 by David Holman and Billie Persons, publ by Wind River Press, Austin 1979. Out of print.
Source for leather:

Notes on John Baker's presentation, TLA Pilgrim's Camp, Jan. 2004
by George Rollow

Texas as frontier varied from U.S. styles. Cruder, more creative. Lack of factory cloth, abundance of game (especially deer) led to abundance of leather "buckskin" clothing. Texas Army fared no better (possibly worse) than general citizenry.
William Ward, comanding Fort Milam (1836): "Men cannot nor will not fight without money or clothes..."
Valentine Bennet, Texas Army quartermaster, on the subject of what uniform was worn by Texians in the revolution: "rags, sir, just rags; nine out of ten soldiers wore the same uniform".
Buckskin outlasted any other available material, was readily available "on the hoof" and could be processed with equipment at hand (brain-tanned). Texas buckskinners included farmers, surveyors, hunters, soldiers... anyone who would be in the wilds on a frequent or long-term basis.
Cloth and other dry goods expensive (hard money was scarce at the same time) and stores selling same were usually far from individual settlers.
Buckskinners also known as "leatherstockings" (as in James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking" stories: The Pioneers, 1823; The Last of the Mohicans, 1826; The Prairie, 1827).
Friendly Indians would barter, common to barter white man's goods (including clothes) for buckskin attire.
Buckskins prone to shrinkage if dried too fast, also prone to staining.
Hunting shirt also known as: hunting smock, hunting frock, wamus; may be to knee length, may have broad collar or cape, usually self-fringed on sleeve seams and bottom of cape (provides leather "whangs" (thongs) for clothing/moccasin/saddle repairs or what-have-you). Cinched at waist with a broad leather belt which held pistol, knife, ammunition pouch...
More buckskin jackets (coats) survive than shirts or moccasins, but it is because they were seldom used. Climate the accepted reason.
Buckskin trousers made on cloth trouser patterns, plus fringe on outside and sometimes also inside leg seams.
Cloth pants could be "foxed" (reinforced) with buckskin at seat, inside of legs (like cavalry pants?)
Leggins: leather "pants legs" from knees (above or below) to ankles; occasionally open in back, fringed same as trousers; some tight against legs (similar to 1770s "gaiters"?)
Caps: "coon" or other animal skin hats prevalent: foxes, bears, squirrels; close-fitting, warm, do not blow off easily
Moccasins: soft or hard soled, flat heel (slipper style). Leather shoe heels get caught, and hard leather soles get slick (and slippery) from leaves & grass. Mocs were dominant item of buckskin for women, children, though other items of skin clothing were known to be worn by women/children. (cloth more feminine, easier to cut/sew, cooler in summer and near hearth)
Homespun: rougher weave than "factory" cloth.  Cotton/wool "linsey-woolsey" (linen/wool?) common. Cotton seed had-picked (few available cotton gins). Wool common. Flax (linen) available. Natural dyes, both yarn-dyed and after weaving.

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