While many fashion elements have cycled in and out of style over time, these small 17th-century clothing hooks and eyes are nearly identical to those still used today! We may associate modern hooks and eyes with women’s clothing, but the fasteners were also used on men’s garments in the 17th century. Almost 100 iron and copper alloy clothing hooks and eyes have been recovered from archaeological contexts which span 1607-1699. Three silver clothing hooks have also been recovered, likely dating to the second half of the 17th century.
While all of the hooks have the same double-looped style, there are three different clothing eye styles. One style is double-looped, like the eyes we see on clothing today. These would be attached to clothing by sewing the two small loops down, and the larger loop opening serves as the eye. Another style is a single loop with the ends of the wire twisted together. This eye type would be attached to clothing by sewing the end of the eye with the twist down, and the other side of the loop serves as the eye. The least common style combines the two — a single loop created by twisted wires and the ends looped upwards towards the ring, sewn similarly to the others.
The single-loop twisted style is not uncommon on 16th and 17th-century sites, particularly in England, where examples that survive still attached to fragmentary cloth have been postulated to have more than one function. They may have also been part of fabric purses, perhaps as extra security from cut-purse thieves. Items described as “purse rings” and “pouch rings” in London import documents as early as the late 15th century could refer to these small twisted loops.1
The hooks and eyes at Jamestown are not as small as we may see today. The smallest eyes measure about 7mm long by 7mm wide and weigh only 0.25g, but the largest ones are more than twice that size at about 20mm long by 20mm wide and weighing around 14g! The hooks have similar size variations. This size difference likely indicates that the hooks and eyes were used on different types of clothing — a heavy cloak or a jacket like a mandilion would require substantial hooks and eyes, and perhaps a woman’s dress or gown would use many smaller hooks and eyes. By 1620, large hooks and eyes are noted in a Massachusetts Bay consignment document to attach a man’s breeches to a doublet, with probably about six sets of hooks and eyes needed to span the waist.2 Nearly twice as many eyes have been found than hooks. It is unknown exactly why this might be, but one possibility is that different styles of eyes may not have required an associated hook. If fabric laces tipped with aglets were used with a set of eyes to secure clothing, the garment would be much more flexible. This would be desirable in cases like gowns and dresses. The hook and eye combination was used when clothing needed to be secure, like holding up breeches.
1. Egan, Geoff. 2005. Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition: Tudor and Stuart Period Finds c.1450-c.1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark. Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph No. 19