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"Stiff Gaiters" Topic

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Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP09 Aug 2021 12:28 p.m. PST

Not trying to be cheeky here, but can any reenactors comment on why leggings and gaiters look stiff and well tailored in the uniform illustrations, but look baggy, wrinkled and generally sloppy on reenactors. Is it a matter of material used, tailoring, or are the illustrations idealized?

John the OFM09 Aug 2021 12:34 p.m. PST

One size does not fit all?

RittervonBek09 Aug 2021 1:02 p.m. PST

I think the gaiters were meant to be baggy on purpose. Frederick the Great basically said as much. However colonels were not above ordering wooden shims be inserted to fill them out.

historygamer09 Aug 2021 1:41 p.m. PST

The gaiters are supposed to be tight fitting. They were generally made of linen that were black balled. Re-enactors (I am one) can either use black ball, shoe polish, or even black paint. I recommend latex if using paint. Some of the gaiters had a black leather top help on by a strap.

Normal Guy Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2021 6:18 a.m. PST

What is black ball?

historygamer10 Aug 2021 10:33 a.m. PST

Like shoe polish. You can black ball leather. It is a water proof dye.

Black Ball was often issued to Rev-War soldiers to keep their shoes presentable. This paste produces a clean black satiny finish. A bees-wax polish based on 18th century recipes, using ingredients which were all available during that time.

historygamer10 Aug 2021 10:34 a.m. PST

Pipe clay was used to whiten belts and clothes. Black ball was used on leather such as shoes, gaiters, and black leather accoutrements such as cartridge pouches and belts (light infantry, etc.)

von Winterfeldt11 Aug 2021 11:03 p.m. PST

Gaiters were of tight fit, I would be surprised that Frederick made a comment about a loose fit.

In case you look at the Menzel print about gaiters you will see how it was cut.

In case the were made of black wool, they wouldn't be attacked with shoe polish or a black ball.

In case they look sloopy in a re enactment unit – poor outfit – and it is difficult to tailor them for tight fit, usually you would need a gaiter button hook to fasten the buttons, there are good re enactment units out there showing good fitting gaiters.

historygamer12 Aug 2021 7:06 a.m. PST

"In case the were made of black wool, they wouldn't be attacked with shoe polish or a black ball."

It depends. It depends on what country, and it depends on whether the idea was to waterproof them or not.

"In case they look sloopy in a re enactment unit poor outfit…"

Maybe. Lots of hand me downs in the hobby. Also, lots of mass-produced stuff, not custom made. Also, linen stretches over time too.

"and it is difficult to tailor them for tight fit, …"

It also depends on how they are made. If the center seam goes up the back of the leg, a bit easier as you adjust using that seam. Many are made with the seam on the side which can lead to wonky fits. There is a pair on display in the Ligonier museum that show the buttons were moved, not the seams.

High gaiters were more popular during the F&I period, though replaced by wool leggins in 1759 in N America. Most of the British Army and Marines seem to have moved into wearing overalls starting in 1776, and the fashion moved for high gaiters to spatter dashes (short gaiters) prior to the 1768 clothing warrant. Most high gaiters were worn in winter, thus the necessity of waterproofing them against snow and slush. Overalls were not always worn in winter, and if they were, were made of wool – thus negating the need for gaiters.

von Winterfeldt13 Aug 2021 12:49 p.m. PST

usually wool was only brushed but not treated with wax or paint or shoe polish, here a Menzel plate


and then by Schmettau


Showing the construction of gaiters, regiments had even gaiter makers to ensure a tight fit, and I am not speaking of leggins as worn in the Wild West, but like in the 7YW.

Of course all depend of what army and what period and what theatre of war.

Prussian army it was tight, they did not even used those straps beyond the knee to hold them in place.

historygamer15 Aug 2021 7:48 p.m. PST

Cool. Love the curvy pattern for them. Thanks for posting.

Old Contemptible15 Aug 2021 7:57 p.m. PST

What's difference between leggings and gaiters?

Major Bloodnok16 Aug 2021 4:53 a.m. PST

Looking at period British sources gaiters are made from linen, leggings are made from wool. Then there are "indian leggings". There is an account of General Carleton[1781?] ordering that the wool used for leggings were to be turned into trousers since they would be warmer for winter. As an aside General Howe, during the siege of Boston, recommended that gaiter buttons should not have shanks on them since they would injure the soldiers legs when resting on a guard bed.

von Winterfeldt16 Aug 2021 5:17 a.m. PST

Those woolen gaiters in the Prussian Army were also partially lined with linen.

42flanker16 Aug 2021 5:32 a.m. PST

What's difference between leggings and gaiters?

Meaning -in English language context- varied according to usage rather than being classified in any regulated way.

In general terms gaiters would be more close fitting, kept tight with buttone and covering the leg from knee to ankle or instep, often with a degree of proofing, having the function of protecting lower leg and securing the shoe

Leggings might tend to be more loose fitting and cover the leg to mid thigh, although not categorically so.

Thinking aloud, the gaiter might be seen principally as a supplement to footwear, while leggings were more a supplement to legwear, a form of 'proto-trouser' if you will (my coinage and I give it to the world).

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2021 5:32 a.m. PST

In the F&IW I thought a lot of the European uniforms were modified anyway. Gaiters replaced with Native American style leggings for movement in the woods. Less to snag on brambles.

historygamer18 Aug 2021 7:56 a.m. PST

The British Army in North American largely moved to leggins in 1759. Gaiters/leggins were a season issue. Such a move is well documented and seen in some art work as well.

42flanker19 Aug 2021 12:01 a.m. PST

In terms of fabric and cut, what did 'Leggins' mean in that instance; in that time and place? Evidently, a move from the many-buttoned, thigh length marching gaiter common to most European soldiery.

historygamer19 Aug 2021 6:59 a.m. PST

During the F&I period, the leggins of 1759 were made of wool. Likely had some sewing to shape them and were usually tied up with a ribbon. There are reports of blue wool being used and running out of the stuff in the colonies. The blue wool leggins are documented in Knox's Journals (43rd Regt). Elements of the 60th wore green wool leggins.


Note that as time went on and fashion changed, the more commonly worn gaiters (though by no means exclusive) were the shorter ones, often called spatter dashes. But they got put aside during the AWI in favor of gaitered trousers, also known as overalls.

historygamer19 Aug 2021 7:02 a.m. PST

Here is a good painting of the linen type high gaiters with leather tops:


AICUSV26 Aug 2021 10:30 a.m. PST

It would seem to me, that if they were made of wool, the tight fit would be a result of shrinkage. Wearing them out in the weather, they would almost become form fitting.

historygamer26 Aug 2021 11:57 a.m. PST

Not my experience with wool coats. Most likely they leggins were somewhat form fitted by regimental tailors.

42flanker30 Aug 2021 8:31 a.m. PST

It seems likely that the wool used would be pre-shrunk before being assembled.

historygamer30 Aug 2021 12:26 p.m. PST

Maybe. I do know that once you wash wool it looses its natural lanolin which provides some natural protection against moisture.

Clearly American Indians and British soldiers were wearing them so they must have been viewed effective. I always found it interesting when period orders talk about saving them to make breeches out of. So many things with that one raise even more questions.

Old Contemptible10 Oct 2021 11:24 p.m. PST

When I was in the USN leggings were made of white canvas.


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