Seaman Robert Bates, USN

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In 1813, there was no standard uniform issued to sailors of either the British or American navy, and as such, many men came onboard in nothing more than clothes they were wearing. When this happened, the men would be required to buy a workable set of clothes from the “slops room” or “slops chest” run by the purser, and have the money spent deducted from future wages. If someone was large, small, or no garments were suitable, “men were issued light canvas or dungaree material along with needle and thread, and were ordered to fashion a wardrobe of shirts, coats, trousers, hats and other such items. Alternately, they might barter for the services of someone with sewing skills to help make their clothing.” Peter Padfield describes the Shannon's crew specifically by saying “They had scarves tied loosely about their shoulders ready to be tied around their ears to protect them from the shattering blast in action; some were bare chested with another scarf holding their blue or white duck trousers around their waists, others had striped shirts tucked in or hanging outside like smocks, everything clean in case a ball ploughed the material into their flesh.”  Although Bates was one of the Chesapeake's men, there was a significant crossover between British and American sailors and the clothes that they wore at this time. (remember, after all, that impressment of American sailors by British crews was one of the factors leading up to the War of 1812.) 

The blue wool “round jacket” worn by American sailors was cut double-breasted to accommodate a 40 inch chest, and “lined round the body with flannel sufficiently good for purpose and sleaves with suitable Cotton.” A pattern for “Sailor Trowsers” that appears in an 1825 book of patterns shows the system of cutting with only an inseam but no outseam, and grades it according to waist size.  Although this pattern book didn't call for an opening at the back waist, the image at right shows an adjustable waistband that would be laced to fit. These pants needed suspenders to keep them up, and a sailor in the John Wesley Jarvis portrait of Oliver Hazard Perry can be seen wearing what looks like black leather or grosgrain suspenders. Also common across many images of sailors is the blue and white checked shirt/red neck cloth combination. Originally, the sailor's neckcloth (later what became the middy collar) was to keep the tar of his pigtail off of his shirt, as well as various other uses, but by this period, pigtails were falling out of fashion. It seems likely that the checked shirt was also popular because it might hide dirt slightly better and need fewer washings than the bright white linens preferred by most officers. Sailors were also commonly barefoot, as “Many chores both aloft and alow could be carried out with bare feet. As a new man became accustomed to shipboard life, he would soon begin to dress the part."

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