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Hats Off to the Tri-Corner Hat

Today’s post comes from Marisa Hawley, intern in the National Archives Strategy and Communications office.

As part of the “six weeks of style” celebration to recognize the Foundation for the National Archives’ partnership with DC Fashion Week, we are showcasing fashion-related records from our holdings. This week’s fashion theme is the Revolutionary War: Fashion during America’s Fight for Freedom

Perhaps one of the most iconic—and easily recognized—pieces of clothing from the colonial era is the tri-corner hat, or more simply known as the tricorn. Although the style originated in Europe, it is now associated with the American Revolutionary War and our nation’s fight for freedom.

St. Leger, Barry (bust). (National Archives Identifier 530964)

St. Leger, Barry (bust). (National Archives Identifier 530964)

In 17th-century America, hats with tall crowns and wide brims, like the steeple hats worn by the Puritans, started to go out of style. They were thought to spoil the appearance of and look precarious atop a wig, which was the newest fashion trend for men at the time.

The tri-corner, however, had three sides of the brim turned up, either pinned or buttoned in place to form a triangle around the wearer’s head—“like a mince pie,” to quote the vernacular of the time. This style then allowed the wearer to show off his latest wig fashion underneath, and thus his social status.

Also, the tricorn was smaller in size due to the folded brim and was more easily tucked under the arm when entering a building, a gesture that displayed the proper social etiquette of the time.

Jones, John Paul (bust), 1781. (National Archives Identifier 512987)

Jones, John Paul (bust), 1781. (National Archives Identifier 512987)

The style of the tricorn ranged from the very simple to extravagant hats embellished with feathers and trim. Hat brims themselves could also be left plain or dressed with a variety of trims. Although the most common trim was a worsted wool hat braid in black or white, there were also brocades, metallic, and silk trims in various colors depending on personal preference. Black, grey, and “tobacco,” or tan, were popular choices for the hat’s body color.

At the height of its popularity, the tricorn hat was worn by not only the aristocracy but also by common civilians and members of the military. It was typically made of animal fiber and fashioned with the point facing forward.

For soldiers who often rested a musket or rifle on their left shoulder, however, the tricorn was usually worn with the front corner directly above their left eyebrow for better clearance. The most common military version had a brim of five inches in the back and four inches in the front.

Washington, George, the Virginia Colonel (3/4 length), 1772. (National Archives Identifier 532861)

Washington, George, the Virginia Colonel (3/4 length), 1772. (National Archives Identifier 532861)

On August 20, 1776, supreme commander Gen. George Washington issued general orders that included instructions detailing the use of cockades. A cockade is a rosette, feather, or knot of ribbon usually worn on a hat as part of a uniform or as a badge of office.

At the time, the Continental Army did not have a uniform, and these cockades served as identification among military personnel. Field officers were to don pink ones, captains to wear white ones, and subalterns were to attach green ones to their headwear. It was not until 1783 that an official “Union Cockade” was issued to be worn on the left breast.

The tricorn hat is more than just a historical fashion statement—it is a historic element of the character and pride of our Revolutionary Army. It only seems fitting that we take our “hats off” to one of our favorite headpieces in our nation’s history. Huzzah!

Examine more “signature styles” and history-making signatures in our current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Post updated 8-18-2014


Six weeks of style with the National Archives

Get ready to put your best fashion foot forward—and take a step back into the trends of the past—with the National Archives!

This fall, the Foundation for the National Archives is partnering with DC Fashion Week to host the opening night. This semiannual event was originally created to spotlight the nation’s capital as a dynamic center of international fashion. The National Archives’ current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” highlights the many ways people have made their mark on American history—from signature styles to signatures on groundbreaking laws.

Now celebrating its 10th year anniversary, DC Fashion Week continues to serve as DC’s premier apparel trade show. Featuring the collections of emerging U.S. and established international designers alike, DC Fashion Week will showcase major upcoming trends for spring and summer 2015.

The opening night event for DC Fashion Week will be held on Wednesday, September 24, at 7 p.m. in the National Archives Rotunda, with the fashion show starting at 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required. Tickets will be available through DCFW later this month.

More information regarding opening night will be posted on our various social media platforms in the coming weeks.

To help us get into a fashion frame of mind for this exciting event, the National Archives will be celebrating with six weeks of style. Keep your eyes out every Monday for new Pieces of History posts that will share the stories behind some of our most fashionable—and fascinating—holdings here at the National Archives.

Every week will focus on a distinct decade or era of fashion with fun themes, from Revolutionary War: Fashion during America’s Fight for Freedom to Get Your 1970s Groove On. You can follow these themes more closely as we spotlight a different fashion-related record daily on the U.S. National Archives Tumblr blog.

Be sure to check out our Pinterest account throughout these next six weeks for fun, fashion-related postings as well! There will be a new Pinterest board that corresponds with the decade or theme featured on both Tumblr and Pieces of History that week.

We hope you are excited for our fantastic fashion records as we begin to showcase the numerous “signature styles” from the National Archives.

Photograph of First Lady Betty Ford with designers Donna Karan, Donald Brooks, Albert Capraro, Kasper, Kay Unger, Chester Weinberg; Liz Claiborne, Shannon Rodgers, Leo Narducci, Anthony Muto, and Calvin Klein, 03/29/1976. (National Archives Identifier 7347181)

Photograph of First Lady Betty Ford with designers Donna Karan, Donald Brooks, Albert Capraro, Kasper, Kay Unger, Chester Weinberg, Liz Claiborne, Shannon Rodgers, Leo Narducci, Anthony Muto, and Calvin Klein, 03/29/1976. (National Archives Identifier 7347181)

Post updated 8-18-2014


Truman, Bacall, and That Photograph

By Jim Worsham

Harry S. Truman had been Vice President of the United States for only a few weeks when he showed up on February 10, 1945, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

He had agreed to take part in a show for some 800 servicemen. For his part of the show, Truman sat down at an upright piano to demonstrate his talent at the keyboard.

Soon, he was joined by the popular 20-year-old actress Lauren Bacall, who was there as part of a Hollywood contingent taking part in the show. She perched herself atop the piano, Hollywood-style. (Today, we call these photo-ops or publicity stunts.)

Lauren Bacall on Piano with Vice President Harry S. Truman, February 10, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

Lauren Bacall on Piano with Vice President Harry S. Truman, February 10, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

The crowd cheered. Cameras clicked away. The photos (there were a number of different poses) appeared everywhere.

“I was just a kid. My press agent made me do it,” Bacall, who died this week at age 89, said later of her Hollywood publicists.

Truman, however, appeared to be enjoying it, “which he was,” writes David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the nation’s 33rd President.

But Truman might have thought differently about it later.

Why? Mrs. Truman, often referred to by Truman as “the Boss,” was not amused.  McCullough writes: “Bess was furious. She told him he should play the piano in public no more.” (Of course, he did play in public from time to time.)

A postscript.

A few months later, Bacall would marry Humphrey Bogart in one of Hollywood’s most famous couplings, and Truman would become President of the United States for nearly eight years. Truman and Bacall never performed together again.


Featured Document: Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying a draft of the Bill of Rights from August 12 to September 11, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery.

During the 1787–1788 Constitutional ratification process, opponents criticized the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights. They argued that the Constitution should include one, because without it a strong central government would trample individuals’ liberties and freedoms.

As states debated whether to ratify the Constitution or not, two kinds of amendments emerged: rights-related amendments (amendments intended to protect individuals) and structural amendments (amendments intended to fundamentally alter the structure of the new government).

In the end, enough states supported the Constitution without amendments that it was ratified without changes. However, the effort to amend the Constitution carried over into the first Federal elections. Anti-Federalists—those who opposed the Constitution—pushed to elect pro-amendment members to the First Federal Congress.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

This was especially true in Virginia, a state whose ratification convention proposed 20 amendments and a separate bill of rights to the Constitution.

In one Virginia House race, James Madison—who opposed amendments—faced James Monroe—who supported them. Because Virginia had such strong anti-Federalist sentiments, Madison softened his stand against Constitutional amendments, which helped him win the election.

As the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison had a vested interest in protecting the Constitution from drastic alterations. When the First Congress convened in 1789, Madison, who originally opposed altering the Constitution, became the leading proponent of a bill of rights, thus allowing him to guide the drafting of new amendments.

That June, Madison proposed a series of amendments to the newly ratified Constitution. Most of Madison’s amendments were rights-related, and he chose to insert them directly into the Constitution’s existing text.

In the summer of 1789 the House of Representatives debated Madison’s proposals and made several changes.

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 3, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 3, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 2, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 2, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

During the debate, Roger Sherman of Connecticut made one notable suggestion: adding the amendments to the end of the Constitution, rather than working them into the existing text. The House agreed and made the change, resulting in the enumerated list of amendments we are familiar with today.

On August 24 the House passed 17 articles of amendment, and then the Senate took up the matter, making several alterations and consolidations of their own.

The Senate’s changes included removing text prohibiting Congress from infringing on the rights of conscience, exempting those who are religiously scrupulous from military service, forbidding states from infringing on certain rights, and declaring separation of powers a principle in the Constitution.

Ultimately, Congress forwarded to the states 12 articles of amendment. Ten of them—articles 3 through 12—were subsequently ratified and became the Bill of Rights in 1791.

For more information on the 225th anniversary of the First Congress visit the Tumblr page Congress in the Archives or Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.


“I have never been a quitter . . .”

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. August 8 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. 

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. The aftermath brought the first resignation of a sitting President, a pardon, and a national uproar.

The story of Watergate and the Nixon administration’s involvement has become synonymous with government scandal. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, we take a moment to reflect on that period in our history.

Section 4 of Article II of the United States Constitution states, “The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Until 1974, Congress had only once attempted to impeach the President—Andrew Johnson in 1868. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the President be impeached. Facing certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon decided to resign.

President Richard Nixon's Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

President Richard Nixon’s Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

On the night of August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation to the American people live via television and radio. To an anxious public, President Nixon explained, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first.” He then announced, “I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

Richard M. Nixon's Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974. (National Archives Identifier 302035)

Richard M. Nixon’s Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 302035)

The next day, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon sent his resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

The story of Nixon’s resignation may have ended there, but on September 8, 1974, newly sworn-in President R. Gerald Ford opened a new chapter when he issued a highly controversial Proclamation Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon.

In the proclamation, President Ford cited the “tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks”—Nixon’s resignation—“could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States.”

Ford wholeheartedly believed that a trial would only bring more division as well as “exposing to further punishment and degradation of a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

Nixon’s letter of resignation and Ford’s subsequent pardon are among the holdings of the National Archives. They are on display in the in the East Rotunda Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, from August 8 to 11, 2014. 

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 7140608)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 7140608)