The Putnam House was given to the Danvers Historical Society along with many objects and documents whose exact relationship to the house and family have yet to be researched. This article examines four articles of clothing that were part of that donation: a man's printed waistcoat worn in 1797, a yellow gingham man's jacket from 1835-1840, the lining of a cloak collar, c. 1843, and a blue glazed wool dress with leg of mutton sleeves, c. 1831. By combining genealogical information and expertise in the history of American dress, it proposes a plausible history for each.
Can ordinary clothing have meaning for historians? Using footwear as an example, the author argues that in order to understand material culture, historians must learn the language spoken by objects. This includes the physical characteristics of the shoes, the etiquette governing their use and the context in which they were worn.
Essay explains how a knowledge of period dress can be used to date portraits of American women between 1800 and 1840 and includes 12 drawings showing the essential difference in bodice styles for the period. It explains how corseting changed the sitter's posture and therefore what the artist was seeing, and concludes with a case study of Erastus Salisbury Field's painting of Margaret Gilmore.