Eat, drink and shop: the association of Thanksgiving and commerce is nothing new. Pilgrims were used to pitch almost everything in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries: not so much now. I’ve seen pilgrim advertisements for all sorts of food and drink, which is understandable, but there were also lots of ads for various types of clothing, which is not really that logical an association; after all, one does not think of the Pilgrims as fashionable. That was not the pitch, however, for the famous “Plymouth Rock $3 pants”, which all New England men apparently wore in the later nineteenth century. Rather, the appeal was affordability and durability; these pants were stalwart and persevering, just like Pilgrims. The very collectible lithograph below, from the archives of both the American Antiquarian Society and the Boston Athenaeum, is a play on the classic Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers painting by Charles Lucy. This painting was turned into multiple prints and postcards before World War I, so it’s only natural that it became the basis of a very anachronistic advertisement.
Plymouth Rock $3 Pants lithographic advertisement by G.H. Buek & Co., 1885, American Antiquarian Society; 1915 postcard print of Charles Lucy’s Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
The other article of clothing commonly associated with Pilgrims, primarily before World War II, were socks, which don’t have to be very fashionable. The Pilgrim brand of clothing, one of Sears’ most long-running (1905-1964), started with socks, and took off from there. While Pilgrims didn’t always appear in ads for this line, they definitely established the brand in the first decades of the twentieth century. Women’s “Pilgrim Positive Wear”, guaranteed to last for six months, were advertised everywhere. Other companies followed suit with ads that featured Pilgrims wearing durable, seldom-in-need-of darning socks. Just one more thing to be thankful for, according to the Norman Rockwell-illustrated ad in the Thanksgiving 1922 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.