The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Clothing the Californio, Part 1 -- 18th century Spanish California background

giving tours at work, with a visiting "Chinese clay soldier".
So, I'm preparing to attend an event with my costume guild (The Greater Bay Area Costumer's Guild) next weekend, and it just so happens to coincide with one of my main areas of costume history research and interest: 18th and 19th century California women.  Since I work at a historic site (History San Jose) that incorporates two buildings that date from that time period, and since I dress in costume for some of my work there, I was asked to write an article about clothing from that time period, for my costume guild's member newsletter.  I'll be posting some of the article here in the following days, as I put together (hopefully!) a new costume to wear to this event.

Clothing the Californio, 1769 to 1848

Alta California territory.  Image: Wikimedia Commons.
The modern state of California, called Alta California almost 250 years ago, was the last part of the Spanish empire to be settled; as the New World frontier, it was far away from most of the cultural and political movements that were current in Spain, and the rest of the Spanish Empire (settled over 200 years earlier).  This distance affected everything in California, from the architecture, economy, agriculture and other trades, to the traje, or dress.  The Spanish citizens who settled this remote land, called Californios, were working-class people, most of mixed race, who came to spend their lives settling the wilderness. Many were soldiers in the army, who were paid, not so much in money (the government didn't want to encourage their gambling habits), as in supplies and the promise of a land grant after 10 years of service.  The Mexican viceroy, on behalf of the King, Carlos III of Spain, funded the whole scheme in order to provide supply ports for the Manila galleons returning from Asia, and a buffer zone of Spanish settlements, between the English, French, and Russian ships in the Pacific Ocean and the rich silver mines in what is now northern Mexico.  The viceroy's goal was to get the most service out of the people and the land at the least expense, so California was never well-supplied by the government in Mexico City, as the letters of the misson padres, the presidio commanders, the local alcaldes (magistrates) and the Governor in Monterey attest.
view of San Jose del Cabo, Baja California. By Father
Ignacio Tirsch, 1762.

California remained a relatively poor and isolated land until 1824, with one or two Spanish galleons
arriving approximately once a year with supplies and news from Mexico City for the Governor in Monterey, the padres at the Missions, and the officers at the presidios.  Other residents could order things from Spain, if they could pay the high taxes and prices, but many ships were wrecked sailing around South America, and many shipments never arrived. All shipments stopped completely after 1810 because of the Mexican War for Independence: all Spanish supply and trade vessels were commandeered for the war effort and not permitted to sail to California, and Spain hadn't extended free trade yet.  Trade and supplies didn't resume shipment to California until the new Mexican Governor arrived with the astonishing news that California was no longer under Spanish rule. 

Mule driver and his wife delivering cloth to a mission in
California.  By Father Ignacio Tirsch, ca. 1767.
As a result, without a body of wealthy citizens to commision portraits of themselves and their neighbors, there are only a few images of the people who lived in California before 1824; most are sketches done by a traveling priest, Father Ignacio Tirsch, and all show people who lived in Southern California and the Baja California peninsula.  There are no known garments remaining from California during that time period that can be studied, so in re-creating a Californio costume from the Spanish period, quite a bit of extrapolation is necessary.  To find out what was worn, the costume historian can start with the documents; general clothing information can be found in the records kept by the mission padres, the presidio officers, and the governor.  These lists were created when settlement groups left for California (and received supplies for the trip), when they arrived (and settlement supplies were doled out to everyone), and again whenever more government supplies arrived.  It can be assumed that the people would have made their clothes according to the pattern used by the lower and middle classes of northern Mexico.

Governor of California, his wife and a soldier of California.
By Father Ignacio Tirsch, ca. 1775.
One record (from Baja California) in 1725 indicates that the following items were purchased and rebozos, and shoes; cotton, linen, and wool cloth; also, Flanders lace, fine silk, Chinese brocade, ribbons, fancy patterned banding materials, silk and cotton thread, silk knitting yarn, combs, gold wire loop earrings, pearl beads, and coral (for beads).  The silks and lace would have been used by the regional Governor and his family, and perhaps the highest-ranking officials at the presidios, but likely not by the rest of the settlers and soldiers and their families. 
provided for the presidio and pueblo settlers in that area: men's linen shirts, cotton hose, silk hose, and hats; women's underpetticoats, long silk stockings, short silk stockings, short cotton stockings,

California soldier and his daughter.  By Father Ignacio Tirsch,
ca. 1775.
The first settlement party to present-day (Alta) California, led by Juan Bautista de Anza, traveled between 1775 and 1776, and Captain Anza and the priest Father Pedro Font kept journals of the trip, including a few clothing details.  Anza's supply list included these items: "Wardrobe for a Man" – 3 shirts of good Silesian linen, 3 pairs of underdrawers of Puebla cloth, 2 cloth coats with lining and trimmings, 2 pairs of trousers with lining and trimmings, 2 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of chamois-skin boots, 3 pairs of gaiter shoes, 1 cloth cape lined with thick flannel, 1 hat, 1 ribbon for the hat and hair. "Wardrobe for a Woman" – 3 shirts, 3 pairs of white Puebla petticoats, 2 pairs of petticoats (silk serge and thick flannel) and an underskirt, linen cloth for jackets, 2 pairs of Brussels stockings, 2 pairs of hose, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 shawls, 1 hat, 6 varas of ribbon. Children's clothing supplies included Puebla cloth for linings, petticoats, and white trousers, thick flannel for "little petticoats", linen for shirts, other un-identified cloth, hats, shoes, shawls, and ribbon for bands.  Puebla cloth was probably a tightly-woven, natural-colored wool or cotton fabric, made in Puebla, Mexico.  

Spanish girl and woman, Moorish maid and Indian maid in
Baja California.  By Father Ignacio Tirsch, ca. 1775.
To find out what these garments looked like, the costume historian should focus on the sketches from Father Ignacio Tirsch, along with some from northern Mexico (the birthplace of all of the settlers – mostly from Sinaloa and Sonora) ca. 1775; the historian should only consult illustrations from the rest of Mexico, Central and South America when looking for different views of a garment or style seen in one of the California pictures, because most details represent local fashion, and not what was happening in California.  Standard 18th century patterns for generic European-style working-class shifts, petticoats, breeches, and shirts, as well as men's and women's jackets, can be adapted and used. 

_Spaniard and Mestiza produce Castiza_, by Jose Joaquin Mangon,
c. 1770, Mexican, Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Madrid.
Apart from the sketches, the most helpful source of detailed illustrations is a genre of portraiture called casta paintings.  Casta, or "Caste," paintings were a uniquely Spanish and Portuguese art form, combining the Englightenment's obsession with categorization, and the Iberian peoples' experience with racial, religious and cultural identification and legal segregation, through centuries of Moorish, and then Christian, rule.  These paintings are structured in a kind of grid system, with sets of vignettes, usually 4 across, and 4 down the canvas.  Each scene shows a man, woman, and child, in typical costume and settings, illustrating the major "pure-blood" castas: Spanish (Español), Indian (Indio), and African or Moorish/Middle Eastern  (Negro or Moro), and the casta which results when these races mix, and then each further casta when the mixed-race castas mix.  In most of the Spanish Empire, the casta labeled not only racial background, but it determined the legal, financial, and social status of the individual; in California, the casta designations were not so strictly applied, and as long as you were moderately prosperous and lived as a Spaniard (i.e. according to Spanish culture), you could have the same rank as the other citizens who owned the same amount of property, no matter what your racial background was.  California's last Mexican governor, Dón Pio Pico, was a Californio who had Spanish, Native American, and African blood; wealth, rather than pure Spanish blood, was reflected in the clothing of the Californio population.

No comments:

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)