Sunday, July 23, 2017

Breech-clouts and Leggins...or...Let's Get the Basics Right!

 "On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggings, made of coarse woolen cloth, that either are wrapped around loosely and tied with garters, or are laced upon the outside, and always come better than half way up the thigh . ."  -J. Smyth,  Tour in the United States of America

"we dressed them uniformly in the Indian manner, with breech-clouts, leggins mockersons and green shrouds . . "  -J. Smith, Life and Travels of Colonel James Smith

"The rest wear breechclouts, leggins and hunting shirts . ."  -Journal of Nicholas Cressell

"instead of stockings they wear Indian leggings . ."  -Travels of Johann David Schoepf

"Deerskin leggings were fastened at the top to a body belt on which the scabbard would also be attached.  The leggings were then tied around below the knee."  -Nathan Boone interview in the Draper manuscripts

"It was the silly fashion of those times for the riflemen to ape the manner of savages . ."
"By-and-by Morgan came, large, a commanding aspect, and stentorian voice.  He wore leggins, and a cloth in the Indian style."  -J. Henry, An Accurate and Interesting Account of the Hardships and Sufferings of That Band of Heroes, Who Traversed Thru The Wilderness in the Campaign Against Quebec in 1775

All of the above quotes are in the context of white dudes in the back country wearing leggings, and several include a breech clout as well.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are TONS of quotes describing this, but my favorite thing isn't to sit in front of a computer and type, so I will hope those quotes will be sufficient for the purposes of this post.
The question that naturally follows is, what exactly are "Indian leggings"?  And what does a correct breech clout look like?

"They go without any covering for the thigh, except that before spoken of, round the middle, which reaches down half way the thighs; but they make for their legs a sort of stocking either of skins or cloth; these are sewed as near to the shape of the leg as possible, so as to admit of being drawn on and off.  The edges of the stuff of which they are composed are left annexed to the seam, and hang loose for about the breadth of a hand: and this part which is placed on the outside of the leg, is generally ornamented by those who have any communication with Europeans, if of cloth, with ribbons or lace, if of leather with embroidery and porcupine quills curiously colored."  -J. Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768

"Above the moccasin all the Indians wear what are called leggings, which reach from the instep to the middle of the thigh.  They are commonly made of blue or scarlet cloth, and are formed so as to sit close to the limbs, like the modern pantaloons; but the edges of the cloth annexed to the seam, instead of being turned in, are left on the outside, and are ornamented with beads, ribands, &C., when the leggings are intended for dress.  Many of the young warriors are so desirous that their leggings should fit them neatly, that they make the squaws, who are the tailors, and really very good ones, sow them tight on their limbs, so that they cannot be taken off, and they continue to wear them constantly till they are reduced to rags.  The leggings are kept up by means of two strings, one on the outside of each thigh, which are fastened to a third, that is tied around the waist.  They also wear round the waist another string, from which are suspended two little aprons, somewhat more than a foot square, one hanging down before and the other behind, and under these a piece of cloth, drawn close up to the body between the legs, forming a sort of truss. The aprons and this piece of cloth, which are all fastened together, are called the breech cloth."  -I. Weld, Travels through the States of North America

I'll start with the breech clout.  A strip of wool stroud (a decent quality broadcloth is a great choice for the modern living historian), historically about 8 to 12 inches wide and somewhere around 50 ish inches long.  Adair says they are " a quarter of an ell wide, with an ell and a half long . ." which comes out to 11" by 68".  This is much longer than other descriptions and period images of them, as well as all original examples I am aware of.  In period imagery they seem to end around mid thigh on front and back both.  Some shorter than that, very few longer.  Blue predominates the color choice.  Red comes in second.  But basically strip of WOOL that goes tucked between the legs, up over a waist tie of some sort, then hangs over like an apron in front and back.

 A quick word about "hourglassed" breech clouts - don't do it!  For what ever reason it's become popular in the living history world to cut the middle part of breech clouts into an hour glass shape, tapering in a semi circle shape on either edge.  I suppose the idea is to do away with extra material and make them more comfortable.  This extra material gets tucked up around your junk though, and keeps everybody from seeing more than they want to.  So don't do it!  Not cause it's farb (it is) but because I don't want to see that much of any other dude.  Also, stick with wool.  Broadcloth.  Stroud with a list if you can afford it or have the fortitude to make it yourself.  Stay away from linen.  Good wool.  (I've rocked my wool clout more than once in 100 degrees plus and high humidity for days on end and found it rather pleasant.  You can too!)

Leggings.  Another piece of clothing, much like a breech clout in that it is incredibly simple - but so much wrong in the world of living history.  Imagine a rectangle of wool, once again broadcloth or stroud, or BRAINTAN (german tan doesn't cut it, it looks like german tan, not Indian dressed skin) that will be folded in half hot dog bun style, and the leg of the wearer slipped down it it.  It goes from the ankle to anywhere from just above the knee to mid thigh.  It is sewn with a running stitch down the outside of the leg.  Sewn with a running stitch TIGHTLY to the leg.  Baggy leggings scream 1990's bad reenacting.  So sew them tightly.  A good way to do this is sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front, put the wool around your leg and either staple them down or make a chalk line.  Then go back and follow the staples sewing and pulling staples as you go, or follow the chalk line.  I leave about a 6 inch section at the ankle not sewn so as to be able to slip them on and off.  If sewn tight all the way down, they can be all but impossible to put on and take off.  Hooks and eyes down there is a way to close them (and historically correct!) as is wrapping with wool tape or a braintan wang.  I wear my moccs flaps up so that takes care of the opening for me.   The leggings should retain a flap around 4 ish inches that run down the outside of the leg.  They should also be worn with garters.  (Garters are a whole other subject, but stick with wool tape, brain tan wang, or correctly done finger woven ones.  Thick wool yarn is a huge red flag so don't do it when it comes to garters.  I'm unaware of a single pair of quilled garters that are original to the 18th century)  Garters should be tied above the calf, below the knee.  Not above the knee on the thigh.  (Why do I even need to say this?  Because I've seen the facebook pictures . . )  Leggings also have a strip or strap (or two in a y shape) that goes up from the top, along the outside of the thigh and ties to a belt or waist thong to help hold them up.  Wool colors are once again - blue.  red.  green.  white.  And a few other weird ones but not as common as those.

Last but not least, a smattering of period images of Indian leggings and breech clouts, a long with a few original examples.

-Matthew Fennewald-


  1. Excellent job and good details ! This answers all my earlier questions about this. Now, to find out if this was practiced in New England, especially colonial Maine. I am interested in eventually doing a French Milice impression as well. Thanks !

  2. By the way, do you have more pictures of the full kit of your top photo? Thanks.

  3. Any links to other reenactors or units doing the same ? Please contact me. Thanks

  4. Barry, if you click on a few of the other blog posts, you will see Matthew's full kit.

  5. Great info thanks for sharing

  6. Nice informative article, are the Caldwell clouts indicative to the width of stoud ? With the worm shown at both ends it would make me wonder. If so then the length may/would/could be determined by the piece of stroud and the width by,?? The Caldwell leggings are also a great example. The leggings from the Foster collection are similar but have fancier ribbon work and are late in the century.

  7. Excellent read. Thank you for posting.

  8. Is there any documentation of brain tan leggings with fringe down the side in the East? Not long fringe but maybe 2 inches long?