Witch-trials became few and far between in England in the second half of the seventeenth century, with the last witch being hung in 1685 and prosecutions being less vigorously pursued as the century wound down.* In New England, their witch-trials were just gearing up towards the end of the century. The Salem Witch-trials happened in 1692 and 1693. In Witchcraft in America, Peggy Saaris said, “Although no general profile fits all cases, an accused witch was usually a middle-aged female living on her own with few or no children.” There were some males who were also accused but they were generally associated with one of the accused female witches.
In an atmosphere like that, a woman grew older at her own peril. It is surprising that there was energy to spare to think up witchcraft accusations. Maybe it was a case of anything to spice the monotony of their constant diet of work. For if women weren’t tending the children and garden, they were washing and mending and constantly sewing and knitting to keep the family clothed. Women in New England made most of the family wardrobe. Outer clothing was of wool and seldom washed, but inner garments such as shifts and shirts were of linen. Garments were worn and passed down when there was still wear left in them.
In England, garments were also passed down. In the second half of the seventeenth century when the monarchy was restored many of the soberer garments of the previous years must have been quickly handed on. Almost right away dress became freer and beautiful clothes were once again expected in court circles.
For dress occasions a woman would wear “a low-necked, full-sleeved, pointed bodice and skirt open down the front to show an underskirt.”** In private she would be more likely to wear simpler clothing of wool which she would be able to don herself, consisting of a loose fitting jacket and full skirt. Men’s fashion at the beginning of Charles II’s reign was still the doublet with hose, but, based on the dress of the Russian ambassador, Charles introduced a new style – a silk three-piece suit, a precursor to men’s current fashion.
There appears to be no age restriction as to dress at this time, at least for the more aged. However, widows, especially older widows, were advised that merry-making and wearing make-up should be restricted to younger women. Those who tried to act younger than their years were frowned upon.
Lofts, Norah. Domestic Life in England. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1976
Saari, Peggy. Witchcraft in America. U.X.L, an imprint of the Gale Group, 2001.
Thane, Pat. A History of Old Age. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 2005