Dressing the dead : social practices of clothing and adornment at the historic Head and Adams Cemeteries in central East Texas, 1850 to 1900

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2019-05-09

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Basse, Karissa Anne

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I explore social identity as mortuary displays of age and gender during the period of 1850 to 1900 in the historic, rural community of Headsville, Texas. I contend that material remains of clothing and adornment aid in the interpretation of social expectations of dress and presentation according to prevalent nineteenth-century ideologies of maturity and gender. Building on multiple lines of evidence, including artifacts recovered from the relocation of the Head and Adams Cemeteries, I outline clothing artifact assemblages related to gender during the life course informed by nineteenth-century dress history and socio-political movements within the context of an emerging, rural European American frontier community. I examine dress artifact types, materials, frequencies, sizes, and proveniences to systematically compare inferences of clothing from similar groupings of artifacts within known burials to unknown burials. I identified a male artifact assemblage and a female and gender-neutral non-adult artifact assemblage. Diagnostic artifacts within the male assemblage suggested burial in pants, shirts, jackets, and waistcoats and, within the female and gender-neutral assemblage, one- to two-piece dresses in adult burials and children’s gowns and diapers in juvenile and infant burials. I conclude that individuals were buried in their daily dress, work clothing, and Sunday’s best attire. Pants were the most archaeologically accessible trait of male clothing, which served to reaffirm masculine ideals in boys as young as the age of three years. More elaborate male ensembles, specifically cuff and collar closures, were reserved for older men indicating a status linked to the longevity of manhood. Adult female and children’s clothing were much more nuanced, and I assert that commonalities in closure means might have represented a subtle link between femininity and childhood; however, landmarks in the maturation of female dress through childhood were inaccessible without the presence of textiles. Additionally, adult female clothing lacked many of the extravagant constrictions of women’s clothing such as corsets, which I assert speaks to the limitations of burial and the pragmatism of women living in a rural, farming community. My categorization and exploration of dress provides a foundation for analyzing dress remains not only from other cemeteries but also other archaeological contexts.

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