“A Historical Overview of the Mormons and Their Clothing, 1840-1850”

Book Notice

“A Historical Overview of the Mormons and Their Clothing, 1840–1850” by Carma de Jong Anderson (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1992)

Anderson’s pioneering work on Mormonism’s material culture was written to provide historical clothing information for “producers for stage and film, sculptors and graphic artists” (ix).

The study’s importance, however, extends beyond that increasingly significant but small cadre. Detailed, well-documented, and copiously illustrated, Anderson’s explication of footwear, waistcoats, shawls and outerwear, trousers, aprons, coveralls, and accessories won her the 1992 Reese Award for the best dissertation in Mormon history. Interesting history this is, too, furnishing a new perspective on the identities of early Church members, many of whom literally wore on their sleeves or hats or shoes clear indications of their national origins, occupations, and socio-economic ranks.

Anderson searched out, measured, and photographed clothing in private and museum collections; studied folk art, paintings, engravings, and photographs; and consulted contemporary written descriptions, store ledgers, advertisements, and costume books. The wealth of information she garnered brings richer texture to the record of the daily lives of the Saints. Women spent every spare moment knitting so their families could have inexpensive stockings. Paunchy men used whalebone stays in their vests to preserve the tightly sculptured look. The Hancock family, each possessing only one tow shirt or dress, dejectedly left behind their season’s crop of flax when they fled Missouri. A young Norwegian American, Goudy Hogan, saw Joseph Smith in his light-colored linen coat, noted “a small hole in each elbow of his coat sleeve,” and concluded “that he was not a proud man” (128).

Anderson cogently observes: “As the fields of sociology and psychology have explored the impact of multiple environments on human life, the importance of our most intimate environment, our clothing, has become more apparent” (xiv).


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Print ISSN: 2837-0031
Online ISSN: 2837-004X