Season 1, Episode 5
A Living Historian on Moravian Clothing
Jacob Crews is a living historian who has been researching Moravian clothing for four years, and he participates in living history events at historic sites such as Historic Bethabara Park and Fort Dobbs. Crews joins Maizie and Casey to discuss some of the history behind the Moravians’ clothing choices between the 1700s to early 1800s. How was their clothing unique? What was the typical Moravian wear like for men and women? Was their clothing practical? Jacob answers these questions and more.
Announcer: James Landolf
Transcript for A Living Historian on Moravian Clothing
Announcer: This is Moravian Mornings. A podcast discussing the history surrounding the Moravians who settled in Wachovia.
Casey: Today, Maizie and I are here with Jacob Crews who is going to tell us about Moravian clothing. We originally wrote a script, like we have for some of the previous episodes, kind of like a lecture format, and Diana, the Education Director at the park, told us to get into contact with Jacob. A series of emails followed, and Jacob presented a ton of information we didn’t know. We were really blown away, and it led to the decision to have him on to discuss Moravian clothing for a two-part episode. We know a little about Moravian clothing, but we’re really looking forward to learning more. Before we get started, Jacob, would you tell us about yourself?
Jacob: Alright, my name is Jacob Crews. I am a high school English teacher at Mount Tabor High School in Winston. Go Spartans! I just got married last month! My wife is actually an ex-employee of Bethabara. She was a tour guide. She’s now a full-time teacher as well at West Forsyth. She’s going to be teaching there, teaching some Native American studies. She’s really excited about that. She’s going to kill it. I’m also a living historian. That’s kind of my side hobby. I do a lot of living history events for state historic sites like Fort Dobbs and also, of course, at Bethabara, and I really like being outside, so a lot of mountain biking, backpacking, and stuff like that too. I’ve been researching Moravian clothing for about four years now.
Casey: Yeah, Jacob has a video. Historic Bethabara Park has a virtual field trip series that’s on their website. He actually has a video, so after this episode, you could go watch that video. It’s like five minutes?
Jacob: See me in my sweet, sweet, sweet green suit that my good friend, Drew Neal made. I got into Moravian clothing – actually it was a very selfish purpose. I was actually doing research for something completely different and started running into all these tailor accounts and accounts of people going to buy cloth and clothes from Bethabara, and then, of course, I had visited Old Salem and Historic Bethabara. My fiancée worked, at that time fiancée worked, at Bethabara, and I knew that they wore something very different than what the rest, you know, typical Scotts Irish, or British, or English, or whoever colonists in North Carolina were wearing. I got a little interested in that. One thing led to another, and there was another gentleman named Drew Neal who was doing a lot of research with Moravian tailors, and we kind of worked together to figure out some more. Then I really dove into what a typical 18th-Century Moravian looked like, and that’s how I got here.
Maizie: Alright, so Jacob, do you mind telling us a little bit about Moravians thoughts on clothing or the reasoning as to why they dressed the way they did and sort of the differences in Moravian clothing?
Jacob: Yeah, for sure. Really, to understand Moravian clothing, I, and other historians who have looked at this – this is really true of any German speaking sect of people up here in North Carolina – you actually have to start in what is now Germany, what was then the Holy Roman Empire to understand why they are kind of odd. There are different kinds of laws and things in Europe at that time that tell you what you can wear and what you can’t wear. They’re called sumptuary laws. It’s based off your wealth and your social status. To us today, it’s like a really weird – the idea that what you wore shows your social status is not foreign to us obviously, right? But the idea that that was actually regulated by law is a bizarre thought.
When you start thinking about this idea that Moravians had – what they called “tracht”, which just means costume – when you start thinking about this idea that they had a really certain set of rules governing what they wear, to us that seems weird. To them it would just be normal. They’re kind of just basing them off those sumptuary laws. What they’re really doing is what we would consider today antifashion, so the exact opposite of whatever is trending is what the Moravians start adopting. There’s a story, it’s recounted in some of the early letters in the church. It’s kind of a little fuzzy as to whether it’s 100% true or more of like an anecdote. There’s a story that one of the women church is walking around Herrnhut – the Moravian headquarters in Europe – and sees a peasant girl and thinks “wow, her clothing is so simple, yet so neat and proper. It’s very clean and crisp lines. I like that. What if we all adopted that?” You see them start to adopt antifashion then, and Count Zinzendorf does his thing and takes it to the next level. He adopts, what we know as the Schwestern Haube, the Sister’s Cap, some people just call it the Haube. The Moravians almost always refer to it as the Schwestern Haube until later one when they have problems with it, and then they change the name to something mocking it.
They start having to wear that, and Zinzendorf in his letters kind of compares it to, I guess like baptism, or any other – I’m drawing a blank there – communion, baptism, any other religious ceremony, any other outward showing, any of the sacraments – that’s the word I was looking for, and says that women wearing this certain kind of cap is referencing Jesus’ sacrifice. The Moravians were all about some Jesus’ sacrifice. When you see the Schwestern Haube, you’ll see that there’s a band around it. The Moravians add that. They see it as one of the bandages of the wounds of Christ. Zinzendorf lays that out in his letter like why it’s expected of women to wear that. So, they achieved two things with their clothing: One, they looked different than everyone else so when people see them, they know something is going on with them. Two, it’s set them all socially the same. It’s decided that no matter what level of the Moravian Church you’re in, whether you’re a wealthy Moravian or a poor Moravian, you’re going to be wearing essentially the same thing. At least there in the beginning that’s the idea, and then, of course, there’s some push back about that, but I figured we’d talk about that in a minute.
Casey: Oh yeah, I can’t wait to hear about the pushback. We read a little bit of it in the Records, and it was just interesting. Before we get to that, could you explain the typical Moravian wear for the women and men?
Jacob: Yeah, so I will say that it seems – right now, my research is showing that it’s really really unfair between the two. Women have a very certain expectation for what they’re allowed to wear, and men very quickly start breaking the rules and bending them. They seem to get away with it more than the women. Typical women’s dress in the 18th Century, the basic parts are the same for the Moravians as everyone else. You’ve got what’s called a “shift,” which is going to be your undergarment. It’s going to be the garment that’s actually making contact with the skin, typically made of linen, closed at the cuff with either – what we would call cufflinks today, they’re called shirt buttons or shift buttons in the period – three-quarter-length sleeve, linen so it’s breathable. Over that they’re going to wear some kind of support, whether that be jumps or stays. Now with Moravians, it gets a little complicated. There’s some belief that maybe their jackets – which is the next part I’m going to talk about – were bones, so they didn’t have to wear that stay undergarment. Probably stays are still happening is my guess. By the time they’re in North America, there’s definitely stays in the States. The conjecture is in like the 1740s, 1750s, kind of like the high point of Moravian culture in Europe.
The next thing is a jacket. It’s going to be upper-body garment. What’s really interesting about Moravian jackets is that it’s definitely fashion from the 1710s and 1720s that they’re still using up until essentially the 1770s. It’s like a garment from old that they kind of latch onto. They make some adjustments to it. A lot of them lace in the front. You know, like the Moravian portraits that we all know, and love and think are so cool. Some of them definitely don’t lace in the front and actually pin in the front. There’s a couple of pictures of, or there’s least once one image that comes to mind of a Moravian woman, her jacket actually meets in the center front. One or two petticoats. Actually, almost always two petticoats. That just kind of helps with the figure. Stockings of course. Shoes. There’s not a lot known about Moravian shoes, if they were wearing a certain kind of shoe. At that point, square-toed shoes were really common in Germany. We can assume, maybe, that was going on in the Moravian church. Men are definitely wearing square-toed shoes in the 1750s.
Last but not least, kind of your adornment, I guess, would be the Schwestern Haube, which is a tight-fitting cap that comes to a point at the front. That’s why later on, they start mocking it and calling it the “Schnabel Haube” which means “beaked cap.” It’s kind of tongue and cheek. It really shows their disdain for the cap and when it kind of starts. By 1810 that has taken over, and the cap is out. That kind of different thing that we don’t really see in anything else, that piece going around the cap. Some kind of handkerchief covering the shoulders, and all of that good stuff. Now, typically handkerchiefs are really weird. You see most of them are going to be a 36-inch square that’s actually folded in half and tied or pinned. You see a lot of them being pinned. The Moravians, it kind of seems like might have made an even bigger one cause I’m sure you’ve noticed before when you’re looking at those Moravian portraits, it almost looks like the handkerchief actually goes all the way down really to the top of the petticoat. It’s kind of serving what would normally be a stomacher which is like a bone piece that kind of closes the front of a jacket or a gown. That is missing in all those Moravian portraits, so probably a giant handkerchief which would be nice, you know, plenty of places to wipe your hands, I guess.
Casey: Could you say the hat again?
Jacob: Yeah, the Schwestern Haube or the Schnabel Haube so “Sister’s Cap” or “Beaked Cap.” Schwest-
Maizie: Listen. We have so much trouble pronouncing German names or just words on this podcast, and you’re coming in here and just showing us all up.
Casey: I’m learning so much from this. You said that typical Moravian wear, the men basically broke rules?
Jacob: They don’t seem to be as held down by the antifashion. In fact, Zinzendorf, he makes this weird reference to how the men are already showing their allegiance to Christ in other ways, so their clothing isn’t as important for that. I don’t really understand what that means. There’s a lot of Zinzendorf’s letters where you’re like “Oh ok, that’s useful historiography,” but for me, understanding what the heck he’s actually thinking, that does nothing. So, he talks about that and it seems like, if you look at, there’s a really famous set of etchings from the 1750s. I sent some of them to y’all. There’s one that actually shows a lot of the couples getting married in what’s called “the Grand Ceremony” before they’re coming down and spreading out in Bethlehem. All of the men in that are wearing what would be considered fashionable in Germany at the time. Their coats are really well-fitted, cut away. They’re closing with hook and eyes. They’re really fashionable. They’re wearing nice hats, cocked hats. What people typically refer to as a “tricorne,” that’s called a cocked hat in the 18th-Century, really nice tall, cocked hats, very formal. It seems as if men, at least in the early times, get away with it as long as they don’t push certain boundaries. Now, by the time you get to the 1780s, the men do start getting in trouble.
Casey: Could you tell us a little bit about the practicality of Moravian Clothing?
Jacob: All of the practicality gained is lost. The jacket is a really relatively inexpensive garment to make so plus, I guess that’s a checkmark. Especially here in North America, if you look at the Clothing Conference records from Bethlehem, especially once they’re trying out how to heck they’re going to send clothes down to North Carolina. They were not expecting everyone to show up without clothes from Herrnhut. They were expecting everyone to show up with clothes. These people show up and are like “hey, we need clothes,” obviously to go down in the wilderness and like oh problem. You see a lot of the same colors for everything. They’re making the same garment out of the same cloth out of the same color. Now, where a lot of that practicality gets lost though, is that, at least early on, the women are expected to wear certain patterns and colors on certain days. We know about this because we actually have the letter where they’re complaining about it, about having to do laundry once a week or even more.
I mean, 18th Century, people are concerned with cleanliness, but it’s a whole different problem when you have to wear the same thing every Sunday. You have to make sure it’s laundered, completely laundered and dry by the next go-round. That’s driving the women insane. It’s not like with ribbons where it’s ever really laid out piece by piece or not that I’ve found yet as to what they’re expected to wear when. If you start looking at a lot of the portraiture, you do see a pattern, like with Moravians who are seated around Christ in portraiture. There’s a lot of white and a lot of white with blue stripes. That is one that I know, they were expected to wear that during Easter celebrations, that white with blue strip jacket. Of course, the women are like “this is insane. We have to wear certain things on certain days, and no one else does. We also have to do the laundry for most of everyone else.” They’re definitely not pleased with it, and it seems like by the time Moravians are arriving here in North America, there’s just not a lot of cloth. Especially, there’s a huge linen shortage in Bethlehem when the new Moravians arriving. Big complaints there.
There are orders that go out that say that “Alright so sunup to sundown, you’re expected to do your job, but when you get home, you need to be spinning flax. If you can walk, you can spin flax.” In North America, the rules quickly get changed just because, that’s ridiculous, you can’t have that much cloth available all the time. The ribbon that ties the Schwestern Haube shows their status, but even here in North America, we don’t see all of the ribbon colors. In fact, there’s at one point that Zinzendorf recommends a black ribbon for women who have – putting this tactfully – a questionable past when it comes to their profession who join the church. Yeah so he wants that. It seems like it was on a knives men who just shuts that down and is like “no, no, no. That’s not going to fly.”
Maizie: It’s like the Scarlet Letter or something.
Jacob: Which also surprised me because I was like how many prostitutes are coming into the Moravian Church that they have to have their own ribbon color? That was a whole other thing. I was like one day I’m going to research that. Are they intentionally recruiting? I don’t know. I wouldn’t pass Zinzendorf. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Casey: That’s something we need to have a later episode on.
Jacob: Yeah, for sure. Weird, but the jacket seems to be the same way. Here, once they get to North America, it seems like to all be made of what’s called medley cloth, which is just instead of dying the whole bolt of fabric which is a lot more time consuming – it requires more dye – you just die either the warps or the wefts so one layer of it and then you just weave it in. You end up with blueish or brownish. They talk about how that’s definitely the way to go when it comes to weaving here in North America. The most practical piece is the piece that everyone really really – it sticks out when you look at the portraitures is that giant white apron. That’s definitely, between that and the cap, those are your two really convenient things. The apron, of course, you’re going to be picking up pots, wiping your hands, everything under the sun, and then the Haube is just keeping the sisters’ hair out of their face and keeping it pretty clean. You have to remember that all of your cooking is going to be done on a campfire. Sisters are cooking, tending to the sick, doing laundry, they’re sewing for one another. Those are all kind of dirty jobs, so that’s going to keep their hair clean.
With men, really it seems like anything goes. I’m telling you, when you start looking at the estate records of men versus women, it’s like all of these different kinds of garments with different kinds of clothes, and the women it’s like one trick ponies. You know, you’ve got these two things mixed. Men are going to be wearing breeches, a waistcoat, a shirt, handkerchief again around the neck, or a stock or a roller if you’re a more gentry man. Either a cocked hat, or here in North America, we especially see round hats. You’ve got stockings, shoes, pretty much the typical stuff for the men at the time, and it seems that that’s what the Moravian men are wearing too. Another point in practicality would be that they do have a summer set of clothes and a winter set of clothes. That seems especially important in Bethlehem (PA). The Night Watchmen especially, they seem to have a really hard time keeping them warm at night. They’re getting issued some heavier coats, actually like surcoats – surtouts and greatcoats which is really like an unfitted, giant, wool thing, and then women, of course, there’s the famous sunrise etching in Herrnhut where almost half of the women are wearing short cloaks so women are keeping themselves warm that way.
Of course, that jacket is not the only garment that they wear, but it seems to be the basis for all their other garments, so there would be mentions of young girls who are cold at night needing woolen bed jackets. There’s some speculation to be made there. Is that just a jacket made out of wool or is that actually going to be more like a bed gown, which is more a British, English garment, not fitted at all, really loose, but awesome for working in.
Casey: I’m still stuck on the black ribbon.
Jacob: I don’t know if you’ve read Fashion Passion.
Casey: I have not.
Jacob: Ok, Elisabeth Sommer, she kills it. She talks about, she actually found a list of all the different ribbon colors that happen at one point in time or the other. They get really really weird. There’s like pink with white streaks, and white with pink streaks, and blue with white streaks, and white with green streaks, and green – it’s obvious that Zinzendorf had this idea that there needed to be more ribbon colors, and by the time they got to North America, they were like “meh.”
Casey: This is the end of part one of the Moravian clothing episode. I sure am learning a lot, and we hope you are too. Make sure to tune in next week for part two, so we can all continue learning together about Moravian clothing.
Announcer: This has been an episode of Moravian Mornings, a Historic Bethabara Park podcast. If you have any questions or would like our hosts to discuss certain topics, please email us at Moravianmornings@gmail.com or message us on our Instagram page, also titled Moravian Mornings. Thanks for listening. Auf Wiedersehen.
 Jacob later got in contact saying that he misspoke and that greatcoats are fitted.
On my Way to Work by Lobo Loco (Attribution-NonCommericial-NoDerivatives: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)