Friday, February 3, 2017

Dressing the Part II- Johnny Schuyler, King of Swag

by Ian Mumpton

Last week we put up an article about receipts from Sothebys detailing high-end fashion purchases made by the Schuylers  in the 1760’s and early 1770’s. The types of finery referred to in these receipts would have been instrumental to the family’s identity. Textiles and personal adornment were a means for displaying not only their extravagant wealth, but an even more pervasive element of refinement, gentility, and power. The clothing described was not only expensive to buy, but followed the latest European trends, showcasing the Schuylers’ familiarity with international fashion and an ability to import textiles and styles from Europe. The mercantile connections that made this possible also made the Schuylers powerful players in society. As the mature male head of the family, Philip himself would have worn expensive, high quality textiles, however the understated sense of refinement by which he shaped his outward expression rejected ostentatious display in his own personal adornment (even if not in his home, carriages, or family). This was not the case for his oldest son, however.
Philip Jeremiah Schuyler, as painted by Robert. His clothing
reflects a far more somber style than his older brother's.

John Bradstreet Schuyler, called John or Johnny by friends and family, seems to have been more than a little bit of what we might call a Dandy. His younger brother, Philip Jeremiah, is painted in several portraits wearing high-quality yet understated clothing in various shades of black, brown, or grey, very similar to his father. No portraits of Johnny exist, however, by looking at his shopping receipts, a very different picture emerges.

In the collection of the New York Public Library is a receipt labeled NYPL 543-Reel 16. It lists expenses owed to a Mr. Abraham Brouwer of New York by Mr. John B. Schuyler accumulated between February 5th and March 26th of 1785. The total price listed is £17, 1 shilling and 3 pence less £3, 4 shillings paid in cash (roughly over $2,500 in current US currency). This is a hefty sum of money; a little over 30% of the average annual income for a skilled craftsman in the city of Albany at that time. So what did young (he was not yet 20 years old at the time) Johnny Schuyler buy for £17.1.3? Let’s dig in:

New York February 5th 1765
Mr. John B Schuyler
to Abraham Brouwer
To Making one coat 2 vests & 2 pairs of breeches                                              £3.0.0
2 ¼ yd of white Mode                                     @ 12/                                 1.7.0
1 Velvet Cape                                                                                             0.6.0
1 ½ yd of Linnin                                              @2/0                                  0.3.0
20 Large Gold Buttons                                   @14                                    1.3.4
6 small do.                                                          @7d                                0.3.6
1 ½ yd of white satten                                        @24/                                1.16.0
1 ½ yd of Corded Silk                                       @10/                                 1.7.0
3 ½ yds of Linnin                                               @3/4                                0.11.0
10 small Gold Buttons                                       @6                                   0.9.0
1 Dozn small & 3 Large Black Buttons                                                      0.1.2
¼ yd of Durant                                                                                            0.0.9
Silk Thread Twist & Buckram                                                                     0.10.6
10 Small Button moles and Tape                                                                 0.1.6
Do 9 to Making one Coat                                                                                        1.0.0
1 velvet cape                                                                                                0.6.0
Silk Thread Twist & Buckram                                                                     0.5.6
Do 16 to one linnin Drawers                                                                                   0.9.0
March 9- to making 2 pairs of breeches                                                                 1.0.0
1 piece of 2  yds of Nankeen                                                                        0.17.0
1 ½ yds of Brown Holland                             @ 2/0                                    0.4.0
2 Dozn Small & 6 Large  moles                                                                   0.1.0
4 yds of Tape                                                                                                0.0.8
To cash [Lent/Spent/?] one Crown                                                               0.9.0
Silk Thread & Twist                                                                                      0.4.0
Do 26 to making One Vest                                                                                        0.10.0
¾ Yds. Of Mirselis                                                                                        0.9.0
1 ½ yd. of linnin                                                 @ ¾                                   0.4.2
Thread & moles                                                                                            0.1.6

_____
17.1.3
[?] By Cash 3.4.0
___
Balance Due 13.17.3

That’s quite a list. Breaking it down, the receipt lists multiple sets of clothing with the individual components that went into each. The first set of clothing listed is for a coat with two sets of small-clothes (vest and breeches). What is wonderful about this receipt is that not only can we tell what the clothing was, but we can piece together a strong conjecture about what it looked like.

Pompeo Batoni, Portrait of Richard Milles, London, National
Gallery
. While we do not know what color his cape was,
John B. Schuyler appears to have worn a similar style to Milles here,
complete with white satin. His buttons were gold, however.
The textiles listed would have made for an extremely snazzy outfit. The first item listed is 2 ½ yards of White Mode. “Mode” refers to “a la Mode” fabric, a super-fine silk with a high gloss and semi-translucent quality. It was popular for scarves and cravats, but may have also served as the lining for the coat or have gone into a waistcoat (one of the “vests” referred to). The clothing was likely lined with linen, or one of the vests may have had a linen back, leaving the best fabric for the visible portions. There is also a reference to white satin, corded silk, and a large number of gold buttons in various sizes, however, the ¼ yard of durrant is more mysterious. Durrant was a heavy felted wool that was popular as a faux-buffed leather. At ¼ yard, it is the smallest piece of fabric listed for this set. As it was meant to emulate buffed leather, it would have been a pale tan or off-white itself. Perhaps it was used to trim or offset the main garments as pocket flaps or as banding along the bottom of the breeches legs? In either case, John B. would have cut a dapper figure stepping out in his white and gold suit with a velvet cape.

This was not his only purchase from Mr. Brouwer however. The other entries record a second coat and vest, as well as two more breeches, giving him two full outfits complete with choice of breeches and a cape for each. While his first suit what white and gold, he seems to have gone with browns and gold for the second set of breeches at least. The receipts list brown Holland, a super-fine linen, and “Nankeen”, or Nanking, a Chinese textile most common in brownish-gold tones. The reference to tape and twist associated with these breeches indicates that they were likely ornamented as well, and may well have matched the vest ordered soon after. This vest, likely lined and backed with linen, would have displayed a “Mirselis” front. This is most likely a reference to Marseilles cloth, a heavily textured, highly ornamental fabric.

An example of Marseilles cloth , English, 1760-1775, 
So what was Johnny conveying with silk clothing and velvet capes? This is more difficult to answer; after all, internal motivations don’t usually leave receipts. Wealth was obviously on display, as well as his family’s mercantile connections and appreciation for European style. However, while the women of the family appear to have dressed in highly ornate clothing, at least on certain occasions, there is little evidence that the men (including his father and younger brother) wore anything on par with this. While Philip certainly dressed well, John B. is an outlier. We can only speculate as to why, however a few possibilities are worth considering. Philip and Catharine Schuyler were both from Dutch roots, however they adopted a refined and elegant English material lifestyle that would have been far more “showy” than that of their own parents. Perhaps Johnny here was simply continuing that tradition himself. As a young man of means from a powerful family, it is possible that he simply wanted to participate in the high end fashion that his family’s money could afford.

On the other hand, it is possible that this display was a form of rebellion. John Bradstreet Schuyler was the oldest son of the family, and as such, Philip Schuyler intended for his son to enter into the same sort of business and politics that had man him one of the leading citizens of New York. Unfortunately for Johnny, he had little knack for this. His father at one point described him as, “A man of little genius”, and frequently critiqued his poor handling of business at the family’s Saratoga estate. Could this have been a young man’s attempt to forge his own identity in society independent of his father? We may never know for sure, but we hope that our ongoing research into this young man’s personal life might yield some answers. Collected documents such as these receipts are invaluable in this regard. While almost nothing has survived in the form of actual Schuyler family textile pieces, these sorts of documents allow us to catch a very intimate and specific glance into the daily lives of these historical individuals.

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