These trousers are some of the more complete textiles items recovered during the 2017 Alpha Archaeology excavation of the former Carlton United Brewery (CUB2) complex in Swanston Street, Carlton. When excavated, they appeared to be sandwiched between wooden floor boards and a mid-19th century cesspit deposit. Their original condition, was described by the CUB2 conservator Jeff Fox as a ‘mass of unidentified textile covered in mud. Unable to determine form/shape’.
The conservation process which included wet cleaning, immersion by an ultrasonic bath, and freeze drying, separated the textile mass into a more recognisable pattern of garment components. These include front and back ‘trouser’ panels with folded edges that appeared to have been once stitched and before being unpicked. All the major panels appear to be made of a coarse brown and black cotton or wool material, woven tightly on the weft. Thick, horizontal lines are barely apparent on each panel; whether this fading is due to use or taphonomic conditions has yet to be determined. Button holes and matching button imprints on different pieces confirm that the trousers were once more complete.
By tracing individual fragments to create a working canvas mock-up, we were able to show how the trouser panels were placed together, with a front ‘panel’ buttoning onto an underlying waistband which was also buttoned, most likely by four-hole sew through bone or wooden buttons which were common types at the CUB2. The back panel creates exceptional room, in a fit that is otherwise tall and slim, and a good example of the style of construction not commonly discussed in Australian archaeological literature: the ‘fall front‘, ‘drop front fall’, ‘flap pants’ style of men’s pants. The style is understandably associated with convenience; the pattern allows the ‘fall’ to be opened without necessarily unfastening the waistband (or ‘drop your trousers’). A narrower version of the fall (narrow fall) seems to have been the dominant style for breeches, pantaloons, trousers, and overalls from the French Revolution (1790) until the 1840s, when the centre button closure became more common. The ‘broad fall’ style of the CUB2 example, where the ‘fall’ stretches from hip to hip, may have been introduced later (http://www.northwestjournal.ca/VI6, sourced 10/10/2017, but see the Met pants below).
Analysis of the CUB2 trousers so far hints at a manifold significance. The combination of the ‘broad fall’ style and striped fabric appears to have few publicly known comparisons (see for example, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/79497?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=Trousers&pos=17, sourced 10/10/2017). The striped design is reminiscent of the popular taste for patterns in ‘gentleman’s’ fashion of the 1850s and early 1860s, the period that coincides with the Victorian gold rush; and all that it entails. It counters any expectations of ‘dullness’ and ‘conformity’, typical of the latter 19th and early 20th century city clothing for men – all dark colours and creased trousers – and even widens the gaze past those numerous S. T. Gills’ paintings, with their whimsy neckerchiefs at the centre. Can the paintings tell us what kind of man wore these? Broader fashion discourse tells us to ‘go easy’. Through the interplay of economic wealth, and contact between large numbers of people of different classes, social or other standing during this period, fashion became much less of a marker of status than previously known; or than continued in England or Europe (Maynard 1994). The trousers do indicate care and re-use, through the effort it would have taken to unpick all the seams and button holes, which may suggest that both the pattern and material continued to be important.
The brief mock-up experiment was a collaborative effort between Allison Bruce (La Trobe), Olivia Arnold (UNE), Felicity Buckingham and myself. The latter can be contacted on [email protected] or [email protected]
Images by Z Stanin:
1 Trouser fabric recovered in association with cesspit deposits from CUB2. The right half shows the back of the trousers most completely.
2 The front trouser panels, with the blue marker showing the position of the button holes.
3 The front trouser panels, not including the lining for the ‘fall’ (see image 1). Note that the pockets were more likely under the ‘fall’ as in image 2.
Maynard, Margaret 1994, Fashioned from penury: dress as cultural practice in colonial Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [England]; New York
http://www.northwestjournal.ca/VI6, sourced 10/10/2017.
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/79497?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=Trousers&pos=17, sourced 10/10/2017