Deering Pattern Trowsers
Caps/hats and coats may be the most visible reproductions worn by reenactors but it's fair to
say that the trowsers take some of the most abuse. I'm notorious for taking hits on the field
(because no one else seems to, because I have a knack for getting into bad situations, and because
I sometimes drop simply to rid myself of that obnoxious individual who insists on ruining the
moment). Two or three such plunges per event can take quite a toll on the old pants so durability
is an important issue.
By the same token I was also looking for an authentic trousers to match my upgraded kit. Word on
the proverbial company street was that Chris Sullivan of the Stony Brook Company was one of the
premier makers so I decided to order a pair of his "museum grade" trowsers.
Caps/hats and coats may be the most visible reproductions worn by reenactors but it's fair to say that the trowsers take some of the most abuse. I'm notorious for taking hits on the field (because no one else seems to, because I have a knack for getting into bad situations, and because I sometimes drop simply to rid myself of that obnoxious individual who insists on ruining the moment). Two or three such plunges per event can take quite a toll on the old pants so durability is an important issue.
By the same token I was also looking for an authentic trousers to match my upgraded kit. Word on the proverbial company street was that Chris Sullivan of the Stony Brook Company was one of the premier makers so I decided to order a pair of his "museum grade" trowsers.
Preliminary notes:Before I begin my description of the trowsers, I will share some information from Patrick Brown's article, "Observations on Federal Trowsers," in the Summer, 1999 issue of The Watchdog, (Volume 7, Number 3: 9-12). Brown notes that trowsers are a somewhat neglected aspect of the reenactor's impression, a malady which he attributes to a general lack of knowledge about correct trowser patterns. I believe that this problem is exacerbated by the fact that trowsers, as I have said before, are not as visible as other pieces of clothing and accouterments.
Brown's article relies on an examination of 77 pairs of original trowsers. For the sake of brevity, I will relate the information pertinent to the Deering contract trowsers.
Type: Trowsers are categorized in part by the shape of the yoke with Deering trowsers falling into Type 2 with a trapezoidal yoke [as referenced in Brown's article].
Construction: Many contractors utilized a combination of machine and hand sewing. Some other common characteristics:
Waistbands narrowed from the front to the back split.
Trowsers had 4, 5 or 6 fly buttons.
Contractors frequently used brown polished cotton on the fly facings or
fly extension. Cuffs had an overlapping vent and often
had a reinforcing piece of kersey or drilling in place on the inside of the vent for reinforcement.
Trowsers were initially issued in 4 sizes but a size 1 trowser as produced
might not necessarily conform to the specified 32"
waist, 31" inseam specified (this was true of the other sizes as well).
After 1861 trowsers were made with light blue indigo dyed wool kersey
with a diagonal twill pattern. I've heard that this was
a step to reduce the cost of cloth by requiring less dye. Buttons were made of paper backed tin.
Review: Virtually every detail described above is present in these trowsers. The Sullivan Deering reproduction has a 5 button fly, lined with polished brown cotton, which Brown describes as common on contractor trowsers. Both the waistband and the pockets are made of a cotton drill cloth as opposed to the muslin seen on many sutler pants. The pockets and the waistband are cleanly whip stitched with dark blue thread as are the brown cotton facings on the fly. Button holes are neatly hand sewn; in fact, there is a considerable amount of hand sewing throughout these trowsers, although the main seams are primarily machine sewn.
My original pair of sutler's row trowsers were left unhemmed; a fact which tends to be at odds with the material presented in Brown's article. The Stony Brook trowsers are hemmed and have the 1" square piece of drilling mentioned above. The upper edge of the hem is whip-stitched. Unlike my old trowsers, the Sullivan reproduction is not only hemmed, it also has the 1" overlapping vent seen in the originals.
The buttons are made of paper backed tin with 7 larger buttons (1 to close the fly, 6 for suspenders) and 5 small buttons on the fly. The wool is a Woolrich kersey with a nice shade of blue and a diagonal weave, hidden in part by the nap. Chris explains that the Woolrich wool is 85% wool, 15% synthetic. This should not deter purists; the synthetic fiber is unnoticeable, and it probably adds substantially to the trowser's durability. In fact, Sullivan trowsers are famous for their durability.
The right front pocket bears a "Wm. Deering, Portland Maine" stamp, while the inspector's ("Jos. Jones, NY") and size stamps are on the waistband. I confess that I cheated: while I did order a size 1, I had Chris add a couple of inches to the inseams to accommodate my longer legs. Given the disparity in size present in extant examples, this is not such an egregious departure from standards.
Chris is very willing to accommodate the wishes of his customers and shows a remarkable knowledge of his product's history. Furthermore, he is willing to share that information with interested parties. He's sent several long messages chock full of fascinating information to answer my questions, and my queries were invariably answered within a few hours. I have purchased many highly regarded reproductions as of late (much to the detriment of my bank account), but this is one of those products that stands out. Not only were my expectations met; they were exceeded beyond my expectations.
What The Watchdog says: [italics added] "The bottom line is that the trowsers they submitted for review were very high quality reproductions. We are pleased to recommend both (this review also included trowsers from Goldberg & Co.). There is no question to that point. (Arf!) (Volume 8, No. 1: 13).
Delivery Time: About 2 months [8 weeks].
Cost: $190.00 [ed.note: regrettably,the price has gone up since the date of this review]
Source: Stony Brook Company (Chris Sullivan), 169 West Fifth Street, Oswego, NY 13126-2505.
Durability: Heavily built and well sewn. Sullivan trowsers are highly regarded for their durability.
Historical Accuracy/Craftsmanship: Excellent/Excellent