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Summer is, of course, fully upon us and those of us on the eastern seaboard feel its oppressive and sticky heat. Ordinarily, my town isn’t terribly hot and cools off at night, but like everywhere else, this is not the case. Last weekend, I wore wool; technically a wool and cotton blend, but more problematically, burgundy in color. This is the price of gowns inspired by London watercolors.

Summer

This leads to constant questions: Aren’t you hot in those clothes? Aren’t you dying of the heat?

There is an underlying tone that suggests that perhaps the people of the 18th century didn’t know enough not to wear wool, or perhaps they only had winter clothes. I’ve heard “well, they didn’t know any better,” as if they never took their clothes off, and if only they had, 18th century men and women would have promptly abandoned their stays, gowns, waistcoats and breeches for tank tops, shorts, and wife beaters. Of course, history is not a Fiat commercial.

Well, what did “they” do?

Barbara Johnson's book, 1764.

Barbara Johnson’s book, 1764.

They took their trade to James Green and merchants like him who offered “Piece Goods of every kind … suitable for all Seasons, but more particularly for the approaching Summer.” (Boston Post Boy, August 8, 1763.)

And what would be suitable? Cottons, fine linens, light silks, in light colors.

Barbara Johnson chose floral prints on white backgrounds in July and August of 1764, both could be “suitable for summer.”

And as you probably know, the answer to “Aren’t you hot?” depends on who you are, but is often, “Not really. Once my shift/shirt is soaked with sweat, I’m pretty comfortable.” This is true as long as your shift/shirt is made of linen; cotton and cotton/linen blends don’t wick as well as linen.