Winter is here! It seems that everyone is pulling on their boots, sweaters, parkas, and jackets this week. The weather channel is warning of snow, and, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is clear that the cold weather is here to stay.
Have you ever wondered how people used to stay warm in the winter a hundred years ago? Our New-York Historical Society Patricia D. Klingenstein Library digital archive shows us that people living in New York one hundred years ago not only had similar needs to stay warm, but that many articles of clothing that we wear were worn at the beginning of the century!
At the turn of the century, people who could afford it wore fur coats to stay warm. Furs in the 1900s were almost always from real animals – like beaver, wolf, marten, mink, fox, and lynx. Fur coats have been a popular way to stay warm for centuries and their high demand helped found this country!
French fur trappers (coureur de bois) arrived in Canada and the Northern United States in the 1600s to hunt animals for their fur to send back to the Old World. Nowadays, people mostly wear faux (fake) fur, but in the early 20th century the trend of wearing real fur coats was still very popular.
Mrs. Reiser, in the photo above, doesn’t have a full fur coat, but has a coat with some fur on the edge. Having the bulk of her coat made in a woolen fabric with just a fur accent was a less expensive way for her to keep her neck warm (and stay stylish!).
In the photo above, the women and little girl seated on the porch have fur on their coats and are wearing fur hats! If you look closely, you can see the tails of the animals on the women’s fur stoles. Stoles were furs that were worn on the neck, like an elegant version of a scarf. The perfect hair and poses in this image suggest that this is a special occasion photograph. They probably didn’t wear such pristine coats every day. But what are they holding in their hands? Muffs!
Muffs originated as a hand warmer for men and women in the 1500s. They are padded cylinders with holes on either end for hands, and could be made not only from fur (pictured here) but also silk, satin, and velvet. By the 1700s, it was mostly women that wore them. Women sometimes used their muffs like our modern-day purse and kept small trinkets in them – some women even put their lapdogs in their muffs!
Muffs are beautiful and warm, but they can be hard to carry, especially if you need to use your hands. At the turn of the century men wore gloves instead, and over time women too have opted for mittens and gloves to keep their hands warm. You can see in the photo above that the man is wearing gloves. The baby, you can see, is not wearing shoes but rather oversized and extra thick socks to keep her feet warm. Because she cannot run and play yet, these socks would have kept her toasty in her father’s arms.
But what if you wanted to play in the snow in the 1900s? Children then had to bundle up for the snow just as children do today. The children in the photo above seem to be waiting for first snow on the Lower East Side. In front, one child wears gloves, but the others seem to be making do with what they have. They don’t have snow boots but almost all of them are wearing knit hats. Their wool coats are cuffed, most likely purchased by frugal parents who needed to extend the years of wear by anticipating their children’s growth spurts.
In the photo above, we see that William Hassler has just received a new sled and is dying to try it out! His wool coat is complemented not only by a knit hat and gloves but waterproof rubber boots. Rubber boots, also known as The Wellington or “wellies,” came into being when Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, desired a shorter style of boot rather than the knee-high style popular in the early 19th century.
The style was first made in leather, then, in the mid-19th century, Charles Goodyear of Goodyear Tires patented a flexible rubber. Hiram Hutchinson integrated the two and began manufacturing the rubber boot. Farmers and gardeners loved the boot because it allowed them to keep their dry feet while working outdoors. In the photo, William is able to keep sledding without getting wet feet, though woolen socks would definitely have been needed to keep his feet warm!
Enjoy yourself outside this winter! Oh, but don’t forget your knit hats, fur coats, stoles, muffs, gloves, rubber boots…am I forgetting anything?