Back to Chapter Index Back to Essay: Teacher Historical Background


This fragment of fabric came from a waistcoat belonging to Roger Williams. This information came from the donor; we have no concrete proof that it belonged to Williams. The fabric remnant is a rectangle that has the corners torn off on two sides; a beige color with lighter, cream white embroidery in a lattice-like pattern beneath the main design of gently sloping S-curves of sage & forest green leaves, mixed in with flowers of salmon pink and lilac purple. The material itself is silk brocade, and in the 17th century, the term “brocade” was used to denote both the style of embroidery work as well as the use of silver or gold thread in the work.

Hidden Meanings in Clothing

Essay by McKinley Murphy, Graduate Student in the Department of English at Purdue University

Clothing and material culture played an important role in the Puritans’ formation of identity. Puritans viewed clothing as an outward sign of the wearer’s internal moral goodness. People who had God’s grace were allowed to dress more elaborately because they were the elect, the saints. A waistcoat was similar to the vest in today’s men’s suits, though it would have probably been longer and gone past the hips. Silk was not produced in Massachusetts or any other colonies at this time. In fact, it appears silk was not produced in England, either. The English gentry and wealthy merchant class imitated the fashions of the rest of Europe, and there was a high demand in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries for silk, satin, and other types of luxury cloth that were produced in Italy, France, and Spain. That Williams owned anything silk speaks to his wealth and status.


Material culture: Objects, resources, and spaces that people use to define their culture

Elaborate: Involving many carefully arranged parts or details

Gentry: People of a good social position


Why was clothing important to Puritans’ identity?

How did clothing represent someone’s status or wealth?

Next to Roger Williams's Wallet