Season 1, Episode 6

A Living Historian on Moravian Clothing Pt. 2

In the second part of the Moravian clothing episode, Crews continues his talk on the history of Moravian clothing, discussing how certain dressing practices changed throughout the years, some Moravians’ reactions to newer fashion trends and what these trends were, and his current research on the garment called a “contusch.”


Casey Landolf

Maizie Plumley


Jacob Crews


Announcer: James Landolf



Transcript for A Living Historian on Moravian Clothing Pt. 2


Announcer: This is Moravian Mornings. A podcast discussing the history surrounding the Moravians who settled in Wachovia.


Maizie: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Moravian Mornings. This is part two of our discussion with Jacob, and we also wanted to let you guys know that next week we will be taking a break, so our next episode will be released on September 24th.



Maizie: Alright, let’s get started. So, from the research we have done on Moravian clothing, we know that the Moravians had some things to say about the presence of more fashionable clothing that began to appear in Wachovia. Can you talk a little bit more about the Moravians’ reactions to newer fashion trends in Wachovia and other areas and why they reacted this way?


Jacob: I’m going to blame it on what I blame most things. As someone who does most of my living history as a Loyalist when it comes to the American Revolution, I’m going to blame it on the American Revolution. I try to do that with most things. You really see this, well there’s really two events. They’re both wars. The French and Indian War, you end up at one point with 200 non-Moravians with about 60 Moravians living in Bethabara, and when you have that much culture, cause you’re looking at Scotts Irish, and German, and English, when you have that much culture all mixing together, there’s going to be some fashion carrying over. Now, what’s really interesting is you don’t see the complaints then that you do after the American Revolution, so after the American Revolution, and this is kind of true of fashion in general, there’s kind of like this very American fashion that comes out of it, out of the Revolution.

That seems to kind of spread to the Moravian Church a bit too. You see people start getting in trouble. Well, you see the Elders in the Elders Records start making rules about what not to wear. I, and a lot of other living historians, get really excited about that because that means if they’re saying you can’t wear it, that means someone tried to wear it or successfully wore it. One of the interesting things is women are told that can’t wear shoes of a certain height. Now, I will tell you from speaking with other living historians that when shoes do get to a certain height, especially like straight-lasted living history shoes, they do get a little bit more complicated to walk on cobblestone streets and things with. They limit that, if I remember right, there’s one about the color of shoes saying that shoes don’t need to be red. There’s one for men, which has caused a lot of debate over the years. It kind of reads like the length of sleeves. It doesn’t make sense. Sleeve length kind of stays the same during the time period. If you went back and looked at the original translation, myself, and my friend Drew Neal, and he came out with the idea, and I support him 100%.

What they’re actually talking about is skirts on waistcoats. If you’re familiar with a men’s waistcoat from the 18th Century, it’s like a vest today, but it has skirts that go down different lengths. They kind of get shorter as the 18th Century goes on. In the 1840s[1], they were like knee-length. By 1760s, they’re getting kind of like mid-thigh. By the Revolution, there almost either just a few inches or what’s called a roundabout which is cut at the man’s waist. There seems to be this concern with Moravian brothers’ flies showing or in this case, they’ve actually stopped wearing breeches with flies. They’re actually wearing breeches with what’s called a “flap” at the front. Much more I guess like overalls today. There’s not even really a good comparison. There’s just a flap with two buttons. It seems like the Moravians are seeing it as obscene or inappropriate that the flap is showing on these men’s breeches.  They do list and say like “hey, stop wearing short waistcoats. They need to be full length.” Which is really interesting because that’s one of the first times that we see the men getting called out for things whereas the women are pretty much called out incessantly for breaking the tract of the dress code.

In the 1780s, around 1785, the Elders kind of try to crack the whip again. I think they see it like “the war is over. It’s time. We let some things slide because a war was literally happening in our backyard, but now, it’s time to get serious again.” You do see this weird resurgence in being strict with the rules. It doesn’t go over well. Of course, by the 18-teens, up in Pennsylvania, there’s a full-out uprising by Moravian women against the Schwestern Haube. which at that point, like I mentioned earlier, they’re calling it the “Schnabel Haube,” kind of like poking fun at it. By, I think it’s like 1815, the Elders up in Pennsylvania decide that the Schwestern Haube is no more. They allow Moravian women to start wearing a more – it’s still like a regulated thing. They all have to wear the same one – but they allow them to wear one that’s much more stylish. I kind of look at 1815 as the end of the Moravian very strict dress pattern. You’ve got to admit, they do it for almost 100 years. It’s like 80 years that they do have these rules, so I guess good on them for that for lasting so long, but it kind of seems like a weird hill to die on for them.

Well, and I’ll tell you, It’s really interesting, especially looking in Wachovia at estates for women, so when a woman passes away, they do an inventory of all of her possessions. Most of those possessions are clothing. It’s really interesting how many, how much a Moravian woman’s personal possessions are clothing. It’s really really cool because by the 1770s, you’re starting to see them playing with kind of cool colors and different fabric mixes and some prints and stuff, which you definitely don’t see in the 1750s and 60, where the coloring is actually being made by the choir and distributed. It’s also interesting that you start seeing a new garment. This is the research that I’m doing right now that I haven’t really shared with anyone, so y’all are the first.


Casey: Yes!


Jacob: Found it first here. There’s a garment that they start mentioning in the late 1760s, and it’s called a “contusch.” Sometimes with an e on the end. I don’t know why the e is there. That garment has perplexed me, because the first time that I ran into was for the Tailor’s Records in Christenbern. An enslaved Moravian woman comes and gets this garment for a different Moravian. There’s a lot of things where we’re like “woah, woah, woah. Weirdness.” One, that tells us the garment is not super custom because someone else can come order it and pick it up for you, so that kind of tells me that this isn’t a super fitted garment like you’re seeing with a jacket. Also, that is a Tailor’s Record, and tailors did not make clothes for women typically, but here is this tailor making clothes for Moravian women, and it’s listed as a “contusch.” A lot of research led me all around the world. That word actually comes from Poland. In Poland, it’s this like really swanky dressing rope, typically completely lined with fur. I mean, it’s just like what? Like when you’re like a famous Polish war lord, it’s what you get your picture in. Like, that’s most of them that you see.

It’s like, pretty sure that’s not what these Moravians were wearing in Salem in North Carolina in the summer, so followed it a little bit further and ended up finding a female tailor in Germany. There’s an etching of her wearing, and it’s one of those cool prints where everything is labeled like the sheers and the basket that she’s carrying. The garment she’s wearing is a contusch. It’s really weird. It’s essentially, like they’ve cut it on a t and just put a single pleat in the back. It’s kind of a cousin to a bed gown, what we would call an English bed gown. It’s also somewhat similar to what is called a “short gown,” but 1760s is way too early for short gowns. Surviving short gowns don’t start showing up until the 1790s. The first short gown in Wachovia that we have record of is in 1801 in an estate.

It seems like what they’re doing is having, that is their undress garment, if that makes sense. If you’re working around the household or you’re amongst other sisters in the Single Sisters’ House, it’s ok to wear this garment, and it’s going to be loose-fitting. It’s going to let you move around however you need to, doing the work that you need to do. That’s their undress. Really, contusch, jacket, that’s it. That’s the two upper-body garments that you’re seeing up until the 1800s in Wachovia, which I thought was really interesting. I assumed that by the 1790, they would be breaking the rules a little bit more, but it seems like in the backwater, it kind of lingers.


Casey: Are there any strange facts or anything else you find cool that you wanted to share?


Jacob: Now, what I find really really interesting is, there’s a lot of cool stories and cool information that come out of all of these– you know the married couples that end up in Bethabara? – well, they come from Hernhutt, and then they get married in Bethlehem. Some of them are from Hernhutt. Some of them were already in Bethlehem, and then they come down, and none of them have clothing. I’ve always found it really really interesting that, it’s one of the first time that they pull a bunch of women into the Clothing Conference. They sit them down, and a lot of your main leading women in the North American Moravian Church are there. They get to talking about where they can cut corners and stuff. There’s a lot of what’s called “reversing coats.” You know, flipping coats. They’ll take it apart and sew it back together inside-out. What was the inside facing the lining is now the outside.


Casey: It’s like the reversable coats that you technically have today where you can just flip it around?


Jacob: Yeah, except they’re actually taking it apart, and flipping it around, and remaking it. There’s a lot of that going on. There’s a lot of really, really, really terrible dye practices going on like I was mentioning with you’re going to do the warps or the wefts, so you’re going to end up with a medley cloth which is pretty common. It’s just cheap. A lot of linen, there’s this linen panic which I found fascinating. They end up buying a ton of linen from Philadelphia, so the idea that Moravians were kind of completely self-sufficient at least in that moment is not true. It’s not until later in the 1770s that you see them, late 1760s, really pumping out clothing. The other thing that I find really, really interesting, Moravian men, at least, really, really seem to kind of embrace local fashion faster than Moravian women.

There’s the famous – I don’t know if it’s a watercolor. I don’t know the medium exactly – of Salem in the background, and then there’s a Moravian farmer. The artist has painted or drawn himself into the corner. If you notice, they’re both wearing trousers instead of breeches that end at the knee. It’s like open bottomed, closer to pants today, and round hats, and a summer jacket, which you know isn’t as big or kind of as fitted – well, sometimes it’s fitted – but not as big or as long of a garment as a coat, which shows that Moravians, like everyone else, are really adapting to the heat. As someone who has worn a jacket and trousers in the heat and someone who has worn breeches, and stockings, and a coat, and a waistcoat, it’s way cooler. Just like everyone else, the Moravians are allowed to kind of cut corners for necessity, but it seems like the women aren’t really allowed to do that quite as much, which I’m sure was not fun for them.

Oh, it seems like there’s a sister who is in charge of making all the other sisters’ clothing. That was always a big question. We know that there are all these tailors who are selling all this clothing to non-Moravians and to Moravians. Well, it turns out in several records, it mentions the “Sister Tailor.” It seems like there is someone who can make clothing from a pattern, probably a draft pattern, so not really a seamstress, like a true tailor in the Moravian female’s choir who is doing all of the female clothing. At least up until – the last mention of one that I know of off the top of the head comes from when they’re leaving Bethabara and moving over to Salem. They say like “oh, she needs to stay as the Sister Tailor for Bethabara.” At least until like 1766, there’s still a dedicated woman making the clothing for the rest of the sisters. My assumption is that it probably falls apart with the Oeconomy falling apart, because there’s not that charge system anymore.

It is really cool to look at tailor’s records, and you see the price recorded for what things cost, and that’s just the tailor recording – that’s his proof of work. He’s not really making any of that money because the church is paying him what he needs. I’ve always thought that was really interesting to look at how he values his time.



Maizie: Thank you Jacob for joining us and giving us the rundown on Moravian clothing. Let us know what you all think of this week’s episode, and again, if anyone has any questions on Moravian clothing they’d like us to answer or forward to Jacob, email us or message us on our Instagram.


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 or message us on our Instagram page, also titled Moravian Mornings. Thanks for listening. Auf Wiedersehen.



[1] *Jacob most likely meant 1740s.


Music (

On my Way to Work by Lobo Loco (Attribution-NonCommericial-NoDerivatives: