Party like it is 1620 – A Mayflower Passenger Style Costume and NO it isn’t black and doesn’t have big buckles

Like many people who like to make historical costumes, I also like history.  I like the stories of the people who have lived in the past, and when we do research on them, it sort of feels like I bring them a little back to life—remembering the past is key to our future.  Well, my love of history has also caused me to research my own family history digging into old books and records to learn the story of as many of my people as I can.  Researching my family led me to joining some lineage societies—as they are genreally chock a block full of people who like history.  As I was working on one line involving a revolutionary war soldier, I decided to buckle down and work even harder and to try and figure out the last name of his wife to attempt to uncover more about her story.  Lo and behold, I discovered her last name was Church, and that led me right to the discovery that she was descended from Mayflower Passenger Richard Warren’s daughter Elizabeth, who married a man named Richard Church.  I already knew I had early american ancestry, as my mom’s lines go back to even before the Mayflower crossed the ocean (they were in Jamestown) but I had no idea my dad’s lines could be traced to the Mayflower.  I did my papers and became a proud member of the Mayflower Society.  This meant that I decided to go to their triennial meeting—and, of course, the first event of their meeting is a parade through Plymouth and ceremony honoring the Mayflower passengers in 1620 costumes!!!  Most people rent a costume (yes in Plymouth for events where there is a ceremonial parade you can rent a costume; they have a parade every thanksgiving) but of course this was just a chance to create!  I also told one of my friends who was going to the meeting that I’d make her a costume, too.  I mean as long as I was at it . . .

First, of course was the research part.  Now I know what you might be thinking Mayflower costume – sure the stuff you see on cards for thanksgiving and for Halloween costumes.  Black.  Big white collar.  Big buckles.  Shudder. That imagery was created in the 1800s.  Here is what actual pilgrim/English 1620 clothes look like: 

Replica clothing from the museum in Plymouth

And here is a photo from the Plimouth Plantation living history museum that I used for inspiration (I was going to post a link to the page where they had discussed this picture, but I can’t for the life of me find it).  

Their clothes were mostly made of wool, with linen for their shifts, aprons, and caps.  Because the Mayflower event is in September, wool can be blistering hot, so most of the costumes are of linen or linen blends.  Gives the correct woven fabric look, without sweltering in the heat while parading outside.  I looked for patterns to make the bodice or top of the outfit.  I found several that were promising.  The pattern from the Tudor Tailor looked the best, but it had to be shipped from the UK and I didn’t have that kind of time.  Here is their beautiful pattern—which reminds me, I do want to order one of these patterns for a future project!

Doesn’t this look lovely?

The reconstructing history 1630 pattern also looked good  from the cartoon drawing, but I hadn’t ever used one of their patterns before.  Since I was making one for a friend that lives in another state and was just going by her measurements, I was worried about fitting it.


I decided to start looking at a modern pattern that I could tweak and get the pilgrim look, but be reliable on sizing.  I find that on modern big pattern company maker patterns, if you look at the finished measurements/size of the garment, and use the measurements of a person, they fit pretty reliably.  Yes, one has to tweak if someone is not evenly or standard proportioned, but I knew for my friend and I that we wouldn’t have that issue.  I also decided to not do a closure on the front of the jacket for my friend until we met up.  If it was a perfect fit, I could do hidden hooks like the Tudor Tailor pattern.  If too loose, I could move them over.  If too small, I could quickly change it out to be ties to give a hint more room.

So a pattern searching I went, looking for jackets with a peplum and a cut where I could do hooks up the front.

McCall’s 6902 the right silhouette .

It didn’t take long to find what I thought to really be an almost perfect pattern as a starting point.  Sadly, it is now out of print, but there were some inexpensive copies available on Amazon Prime when I was going to use it, so it came quickly and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Bonus that it is an easy pattern!  For the skirt, I didn’t need a pattern, it just needed to be full.

I bought some solid linen and linen rayon blends at JoAnne’s fabric and was ready to get creating.  

My friend wanted blue, and I had enough of the blue to make the skirt and top (or petticoat and body or waistcoat) of the same fabric for a “suit.”  And I had just enough red to eek out a top for me and then to use the brown linen for the petticoat.  I decided to trim them with piping to give it a little something extra.  For the petticoats, I used a ruffler/pleater foot and just pleated fabric until it was the right dimension for our respective waists.  To be period correct, I would have done ties, but I just did a waistband.  I left the side opening open, so that one could still use a pocket under one’s skirt.  I was going for a period correct look— not perfection.  I ran out of time to make shifts, but instead did a strip of white linen that could be tucked in around the neck opening to give the look.  We didn’t need aprons for the parade and to go to the meetinghouse, because one wouldn’t have worn an apron to church.  I knew linen caps could be purchased for $8.00 at plimouth plantation museum—which was well worth the convenience of a ready made cap!   I also knew that wonderful period correct hats could be had there as well to complete the outfit—and I so wanted one of the hats!  So off to Plymouth I went, packing and putting the costumes in the suitcase.  Here are the final costumes:

I don’t normally sew for others, but I am making these as a fundraising project for the Mayflower Society towards their purchase of the church in Plymouth.  In fact, I have a couple of orders and now that the Kentucky Derby is over (see earlier posts), It is time to get sewing.  I plan to work on one this weekend.  Fingers crossed that I will get around to it!


7 thoughts on “Party like it is 1620 – A Mayflower Passenger Style Costume and NO it isn’t black and doesn’t have big buckles”

  1. Thank you so much, Vicki… I couldn’t be happier with my Pilgrim clothes! Thank goodness they wore colors!

    1. Hi, Vicki, I read about your dress fundraising project and think it’s wonderful. Yes I would be interested in a pilgrim dress, as well.
      Violet in color, if possible, for the 2020 reunion.

  2. I would like to get a costume made, Mayflower Pilgrim. I have many I made them myself, starting with the black and white typical but not authentic enough for the 2020 events.
    Let me know .
    I like the pictures you showed.

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