The 18th-century English peasant women dressed for work, not for fun. At least for their daily routine. So, their traditional attire was simple and suitable for work – at least as suitable as 18th-century clothes can be. At the same time, the clothing covered most of their skin and was modest. But let’s look closer at this attire and find out some details, too.
In 18th-century England, haymaking was a community affair. Men, women, and children all helped to harvest the hay that would sustain the livestock through the winter.
Women would wear their lightest clothing – jackets, gowns, stockings, and bum rolls would be all left behind. However, they still wore their stays to support their bust and, as they needed to protect their skin from sunburn and insect bites, much of their skin remained covered.
So, their usual outfit during work consisted of a chemise, a light skirt (made from linen or hemp), an apron, stays, a neckerchief, a bonnet, a straw hat, and shoes. Only the basic and obligatory garments, made from light, suitable for summer heat, fabrics.
Haymaking was hard work. The hay was harvested by hand, using sickles and scythes.
The women would pull their aprons to one side and tuck up their petticoats. This was partly to keep cool, but also to clear their skirts from their lower legs and make work easier.
Large straw hats would keep the summer sun at bay.
The meadows hummed and fluttered with insects and birdsong filled the grasslands. Hay rattle lived up to its name by rattling gently as the women brushed by. The meadows had been a riot of wildflowers just a month before, with buttercups, birdsfoot, trefoil, cranesbill, ox-eye daisy, and other herbs. By July, most of the plants had set seed, so the hay was ready to harvest.
As British people migrated to the New World, they carried with them their agricultural traditions and ways of dress, which may not have always suited the climates. English summers were gentle, mild, and only occasionally hot.