FABRIC was the first choice of the mountain newcomer. Shirts and trousers came in off white, natural, blue, red, large prints or striped calico. The newcomer might also have teamed up his wardrobe with boots or brogans. Fabrics, although comfortable, were not durable under the hard usage in the mountains, and replacement was not possible except at rendezvous or the widely scattered trading posts.
BUCKSKIN replaced fabric clothing as those wore out. Buckskin clothing was generally patterned after white styles, rather than Indian styles. The fringe appeared to be mainly decorative, although it may have softened the wearer’s profile making him less of a target in the woods. Buckskin, although cold in the winter and hot in the summer, had the advantage in that it was extremely durable. It wore like iron, provided protection from mosquitoes and other biting insects, as well as from thorns and brambles. Buckskin also had the advantage in that the raw materials were available in the wilderness and could be secured from the Indians.
SHIRTS worn by the mountain man would have been a simple pullover design with a large body and loose fitting sleeves. Solid colors, especially red, but including blue, green and yellow were favorites. Shirts were a popular trade item at rendezvous and in any year hundreds might have been taken to the mountains.
TROUSERS were mostly blue color. They were high-waisted, full in the hips and seat, with fall-front or fly type closures. There were three basic kinds of legs:
- Stove pipe
- Tapered small to the ankle
- Close to the leg.
Belts were not used to secure trousers at this time, but rather suspenders, ties or cinches. Instead of trousers, a Mountain Man may have chosen to wear Leggings and a breechclout.
LEGGINGS were held up using either ties or garters. Leggings and breechclout had the advantage in that they were simple to make, very comfortable and functional. Also, when setting traps, leggings were very easy to remove and put on.
The purpose of a BELT was not to suspend the trouser. They were generally not wider than two inches and used to carry weapons such as sheath knives, tomahawks, and perhaps a pistol. Belts were left simple, without tacks or rivets, and a buckle, when visible, was generally worn to the side.
KNIVES were kept in simple sheaths at the back. Decoration was limited to a single row of tacks along the blade edge of the sheath. Most sheaths did not have a belt slot, but were simply thrust through the belt.
HUNTING COATS were often of leather and open in the front. These coats were elaborately fringed along the shoulders, sleeves, fronts and bottoms. They range in length from mid-thigh to knee, and are generally shown with well-fitted sleeves and collars. The coats do not have buttons, but close using ties. For cool and cold weather, the Mountain Man would wear a capote.
A CAPOTE is a long coat of simple design often with a hood. It was made from wool blankets, or wool blanket material which could be cut and assembled in the mountains. Capotes were also available for trade at rendezvous and at the posts. The capote dates back to at least the early 1700’s and was popular to at least the 1870’s. Although designed as a coat, the capote could also be used as an extra blanket for sleeping during cold weather. The capote alone is warm and comfortable, however, was large and loose enough that it could be worn over multiple layers of winter clothing.
BUFFALO ROBES are made of the tanned and softened whole-hide of the buffalo. Robes which include both the head and tail were exceptionally valuable to the Indians because they believed that the skin would inherit the spirit of the Buffalo in its completeness. Robes were prized both by the Indians and Mountain Men as a type of overcoat worn during the coldest times. Robes were simply draped over the shoulders, and held closed with the hands, or they were sometimes belted in the middle.
As boots or BROGANS wore out, they were replaced by MOCCASINS. Some men of the period, while outfitting in St. Louis were reported to have traded their boots for moccasins without waiting for them to wear out. Shoes, both men’s and women’s styles, were not an uncommon item on trade inventories. The women’s shoes were obviously intended as trade items for the Indian wives of men stationed in the mountains.
HATS worn by the Mountain Men were wide, flat brimmed felt styles with a low crown that became twisted and bent from hard use. Felt hats were mostly light colored, off-white, tan or grey. Hat bands were simple cord, strap or ribbon. Hats were often decorated with feathers or tails and a clay pipe is often held in the hatband. HOODS were also worn and appeared to be made from blanket material or leather. Many were constructed with “ears” and a flap reaching down to the shoulders. Fur hats, especially those with face, legs and tail, which are so popular at modern rendezvous and Hollywood movies, are not shown in any paintings or drawings from the time and were most likely not worn. Hat fashions changed by the beginning of the 1850’s, reflecting high crowns. Hats made of fabric with a leather bill also emerged.
BEAD and QUILL WORK, when present, they were simple narrow bands of color or bands of alternating colors and were actually rare decor. Elaborately beaded or quilled clothing would be analogous to wearing gang colors and a mountain man would be asking to lose his scalp if he found himself in the wrong neighborhood.
Visitors to The Bear Lake Rendezvous who choose to come in authentic dress will gain free admission! Gate fees for all other guests are $3.00 per person, per day. Lodgers in the Primitive camp and Traders must adhere to authentic dress requirements.
We want everyone to enjoy the rendezvous! If you have any questions about authentic wear, please contact Kash Johnson
Mail: Bear Lake Rendezevous, P.O. Box 44, Woodruff, UT 84086