Dare to Wear

Just like today, schools have always cared about students’ clothing. During the 17th and 18th centuries, rules about dress at Harvard were very strict: students were to wear their "Coate, Gowne or Cloake, & every one, every where shall weare modest & Sober habit, without strange ruffianlike or New-fangled fashions, without all Lavish Dresse, or excesse of Apparell whatsoever." The terms "modest" and "sober" speak to Puritan ideals that permeated colonial New England. Even small items like gold buttons did not escape Harvard’s watchful eyes. Both state and college laws forbade wearing "any Gold or Silver lace, or Gold and Silver Buttons."

Hairstyles were also implicated in these rules. The college laws of 1655 deemed it unlawful for "any to weare Long haire, Locks or foretopps, nor to use Curling, Crispeing, parting or powdering theire haire." This followed traditions of the rules set by English universities Cambridge and Oxford, models for early Harvard. Did Harvard students listen or were their fashionable choices subject to disciplinary action? Buttons and other objects of adornment found in the Yard provide clues.

Portrait of Adam Winne
 wig curler  buttons

Adam Winne’s somber attire would never be subject to disciplinary action. His tri-corned hat is even tucked respectfully under his arm.

Portrait of Adam Winne, by Peter Vanderlyn, 1730. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum.

A broken wig curler from Colonial Harvard Yard,
PM 987-22-10/100133
Metal buttons and copper alloy cufflinks (top right corner) from Colonial Harvard Yard, PM 987-22-10/100139



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