Mayflower Costuming for the 400th Anniversary

This year we celebrate 400 years since the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock.  Many will be celebrating this year and next year, the 400th anniversary of the first Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving.  My daughter and I were invited to ride on the Mayflower float in the 2020 Rose Parade.  We needed to wear period-appropriate pilgrim clothing.  This led me down a somewhat crazy path learning about historical clothing from 1620.

The head costumer for the Mayflower float created a set of really good resources for Mayflower costuming.  Below are the elements we used for our costumes.

A word of warning, for any pieces being sewn, historical patterns are not great.  Sew at least one mock-up using cheap fabric first.  The size may be way off, instructions may be missing, or often both.  Look at pictures of what the finished pieces should look like.  Aim to follow the picture more than the instructions.  Linen can also be more difficult to sew than cotton.  Pre-wash it, since it can shrink considerably.  Consider pulling threads to get straight lines.  Finish the edge first with a line of stitching to help it keep its shape and prevent excessive stretching while sewing.  Wool is also a historically accurate material for the outer layers.  Colors should come from natural dyes; see the resource guide above for color options.

Woman’s Costume

  1. Smock – pattern from Margo Anderson, Elizabethan Working Woman’s Wardrobe; white linen cloth 3.5 oz/sq yd from  The pattern sizes run very large.  I took a pattern size 2 even though my measurements according to the pattern instructions were more like a 12.  Cutting the fabric larger isn’t usually a problem, but here the neck loses too much fabric if you cut a bigger size.  Also, add a couple of inches of fabric above the nominal bust line and maybe an inch to the shoulders.
  2. Partlet – pattern from Margo Anderson, Elizabethan Working Woman’s Wardrobe; same white linen cloth 3.5 oz/sq yd from  Again, this was a strange pattern.  My size was about a 2 at the sides, a larger size at the collar, and inches past size 24 for the length.
  3. Stockings – Townsends Wool Stockings, color Navy.
  4. Garters – Townsends Leather Garters, wear just below the knee to keep those stockings up.
  5. Latchet shoes – Boots by Bohemond Mary Rose Tudor Shoes. I would recommend getting the crepe sole and insole inserts.  The shoemaker stretched them for my wider feet, which worked great.
  6. Compression underlayer – Middle- and lower-class women like those at Plymouth likely didn’t wear the boned “pair of bodies” like the upper classes.  The pair of bodies is an earlier version of the corset, giving the cone-shaped silhouette that was popular at the time.  A compression sports bra will do.
  7. Petticoat – instructions from the head costumer; Tawny Port linen 5.3 oz/sq yd.  Knife pleat from the front to the back, with an inverted pleat at CB.  CF has a 5″ slit closed by three sets of hooks and eyes and cording through two eyelets at the waistband.  The closure gets covered by the apron.  Length at the ankle, short enough to step up stairs comfortably.  Sewn by a seamstress.
  8. Waistcoat – pattern from Tudor Tailor, Pattern for a Tudor Woman’s Waistcoat; main color 100% European Medium Weight Linen Light Pink, lining Natural linen 5.3 oz/sq yd.  With optional collar.  Sewn by a seamstress.
  9. Apron – pattern from Margo Anderson, Elizabethan Working Woman’s Wardrobe; Natural linen 5.3 oz/sq yd.  Add length to make just a couple of inches shorter than petticoat; recent research shows this is more likely historically accurate.  Make sure wide enough to have fabric past the waist drape nicely.  See the width (not length) of the Couture Courtesan’s apron photos from Late 16th-Early 17th Century Waistcoat.
  10. Coif – Linen 16th Century Coif and Forehead Cloth Set from CenturiesSewing on Etsy.  Mine was larger than the typical pattern.
  11. Pouch – Boots by Bohemond Berengaria Medieval Leather Belt Pouch for Women.  This is fantastic.  It has plenty of room for a phone, keys, and cards.  It hangs from a modern belt that is covered by the bottom of the jacket.

Girl’s Costume

  1. Smock – pattern from The Tudor Child by Huggett and Mikhaila, p. 77-78; white linen cloth 3.5 oz/sq yd from  My nine-year-old fit the pattern given in the book, with seam allowance added around it.  Use 1/4″ twill tape for closing at neck and cuffs.  If you add the ruffle at neck and/or cuff, there should just be the ruffle, the piece the ruffle attaches to, and then the body of the smock.  Don’t add the band also.  The ruffles should have a tiny turn-over, 1/8″ folded down then turned over.  Don’t add 1/2″ seam allowance to the outside edge of the ruffles, like I did at first.  Add maybe 1/4″ to 3/8″.  It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it is.
  2. Kirtle – pattern from Tudor Tailor, Pattern for Tudor Girl’s Kirtles & Petticoats; Meadow linen 5.3 oz/sq yd.  Sewn by a seamstress.
  3. Apron – same pattern and comments as above.  Fabric in white linen cloth 5.3 oz/sq yd, thicker than for the base clothing layers.
  4. Coif – Linen 16th Century Coif and Forehead Cloth Set from CenturiesSewing on Etsy.  Hers was the standard size.

The full girl’s costume includes wool socks, garters, and latchet shoes as for the women’s costume.  My daughter’s feet didn’t show on the float, so she just wore black Mary Jane-type shoes and white socks for a modern substitute.

For both costumes, a hat could be added over the coif.

Wearing the clothing of a time period helps bring a connection to that time that reading about it doesn’t quite convey.

Happy 400th, Mayflower!


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