On the Water

Man's Trousers, 1878-88

In 1883 the United States participated in a sort of world’s fair of fishing called The London International Fisheries Exhibition, held at the Royal Horticulture Society in London. Congress instructed the U. S. Commissioner of Fisheries to prepare “a complete and systematic representative exhibition of the fisheries of the United States,” to be presented under the auspices of the Department of State and to draw upon the resources of the Smithsonian Institution. It would be an understatement to say that the resulting exhibit was comprehensive. It dealt with the biology of marine and freshwater animals of all species, the geography of American fishing fields, the technology of fishing equipment and food processing, the science of deep sea research, the demographics of people involved in the fishing industry, and the anthropology of fishermen and anglers, which included a study of their games, hobbies, and appearance.

These trousers were displayed in the “Section E. – XXII. FISHERMEN AND ANGLERS” portion of the United States entry at the Exhibition. It featured large photographs, anglers’ apparel, a collection of fishermen’s wool and oiled cotton, rubber apparel such as mittens and boots, and “Lay figures [or mannequins] of fishermen of different classes, showing costumes."

This pair of trousers is made from heavy-duty cotton, woven in a small-scale plaid of brown, tan, red, and orange. The trousers have a 9” concealed two-button fly, a back yoke, and a waistband that originally had six suspender buttons as well as a button and buttonhole at the center front above the fly. One of the four front suspender buttons is now missing. A pair of short belts sewn to the back yoke span a V-shaped vent at the center back of the yoke and waistband. The left belt ends with a black japanned metal buckle.

The cutting and sewing techniques used here were very simple, and suggest that these trousers were inexpensive factory-made goods. All buttons are made of white metal pressed over a molded form, with four holes in a slightly dished center surrounded by a textured rim. All seams were sewn with brown thread, and all buttons were attached with off-white thread. There was no attempt to turn under any edge, raw or selvedge, except along the ½” hem at each ankle. Each slightly tapered pant leg was cut in one piece and double top-stitched along the inseam. Most other seams and edges are top-stitched with a single line of stitching. The muslin pocket bag over each hip was inserted into an almost vertical slit cut into each side of the trousers just below the waistband; a dart extends 1.5” beyond the lower end of each pocket to reinforce it. The trouser legs are cut with the grain of the fabric running up and down, while the waistband, back yoke, and back belts are cut with the grain going sideways. This is made obvious by the fact that the red stripes in the fabric appear only in the cross-wise weft threads, while the orange stripes appear only in the vertical warp. The fabric has a vertical repeat of 1.0625” and a horizontal repeat of 0.75”. The waist measure, excluding the back vent, is 38.75”, and the overall length is 42.125”.

To read the catalog of the London International Fisheries Exhibition, including a description of the American exhibits that were on display, link to The Fisheries Exhibition Literature. Volume XII. Official catalogue. Awards of the International Juries (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1884).

This Web entry was made possible in part by a generous grant from The National Association of Men’s Sportswear Buyers, in memory of Joseph S. Klein.

ID Number:
cotton, metal, metal