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Trousers, ca 1793. MMA,1988.342.3

Gentleman can agree to disagree on the attributed date of this garment, just as gentlemen might agree to differ on whether to call these trousers or overalls. It’s all in the crotch length, friends, and we’ll just back away.

But before I return a book of letters to the lender, I wanted to record some of the details that struck me.

Right from the start, the John Buss Letters, edited by Ed Nash, are filled with details. I got excited because, in a slightly random and not at all fabric-hoarding way, I purchased a remnant of grey striped woolen goods from Wm Booth, with the intention of making a jacket or trousers from the fabric.

This notion was rejected by my resident tenant farmer, who has particular ideas about his appearance and the quality of goods which should encase his limbs. Rebuffed from my historic fashion fantasy, I turned for solace to the John Buss letters, determined to make it all up by learning the history of the tenant farmer’s new regiment.

And lo, on page 9, in the very second letter, John writes home to his parents in Leominster, MA on October 1, 1776, saying that “my trowis has got very thin, I should be very glad if mother would make me a pare of striped wooling trowis as son as you can…” My tenant farmer was not impressed by my excitement.

Yes, all my fantasies are documented. But look: John Buss’s trousers are thin, not his breeches. And he’s clear about the difference between trousers, overhalls and breeches. In a February 22, 1778 letter from Valley Forge, Buss tells how he drawd from stores in Bennington “one frock, one Jacket, one Pare overhalls, one of stockings, one Pare of shoes and one shirt. Albany, October 25th., 1777, I drawd a  Red Jacket Quemans Pattern. November 5th., I drawd a pare of Braches and a pare of fresh shoes that was not worth tow shillings.”

Later, Buss requests lining (linen) to make breeches, as he is hot. So he draws clear distinctions between these garment forms. This is a costumer’s dream, really, and for me–oh, those striped wooling trowis! Now I have to make them. Look out, Young Mr…they’re headed your way. And lucky me, I have documentation for that red broadcloth remnant I bought in a random and utterly non-fabric-hoarding way.