Tailoring a New Path By Hannah Green

During any other year, Adam Hodges-LeClaire would be giving tours of Boston’s historic landmarks. Since college, he has worked as a public historian dressing in historical garments and leading interactive public programs.

But for the last eight months, living history programs across the state have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In their absence, Hodges-LeClaire has turned his passion for 18th century tailoring into a full-time job.

“The irony is that what I do now is considered unique,” Hodges-LeClaire said. “But at the time, these clothes represented the growth of ready-made clothing.”

Hodges-LeClaire’s interest in living history took root in his childhood. His dad, mom, and brother often joined him in historical reenactments across New England. He pursued a degree in modern history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Hodges-LeClaire and his mother, a fashion designer, share a studio space above the family home in Lincoln, Mass. The studio is filled with fabrics, furs, and four 19th century sewing machines. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

The family studio houses dozens of colorful rolls of fabric sourced from craftspeople in England, Sweden, and several other countries. Hodges-LeClaire said he goes to great lengths to find historically accurate materials. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

The process of sewing a standard military jacket, such as the one Hodges-LeClaire works on here, involves cutting out the pattern, pinning, and sewing. Hodges-LeClaire said the process usually takes 24 hours. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Hodges-LeClaire learned the trade of tailoring during an apprenticeship at Fort Ticonderoga in New York. He currently creates custom garments for historical reenactors and museums.

Tim Abbott is a frequent customer of Hodges-LeClaire. During the week, Abbott is the director of a conservation organization; but in his free time, he is a historical reenactor and researcher.

“I met Adam when he was barefoot in a blizzard at Fort Ticonderoga,” Abbott laughed, recalling the pair’s initial meeting at a historical reenactment.

Since their first meeting, Hodges-LeClaire has created waistcoats, pants, jackets, and other garments for Abbott.

Left: Tim Abbott models a 1770s sailor outfit with leather breaches suited for rowing that Hodges-LeClaire produced. Abbott said that most original clothes from the time period have not survived, so often reenactors’ clothes are based on historical documents. The design for this outfit was based on a runaway sailor advert from the period. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service /// Right: Each component of a historical garment is sourced from materials and craftspeople accurate to the time period. The buttons on Abbott’s 1770s navy sailor uniform were produced by a silversmith. Hodges-LeClaire sewed the final products onto the jacket. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Abbott said that sourcing garments from trained tailors are crucial to bringing history to life.

“People can see when you put together something that feels authentic,” he said.

Left: Hodges-LeClaire and Abbott model 18th century clothing that Hodges-LeClaire researched, designed, and produced. Abbott said he is proud to support local tailors who rely on this work during the pandemic. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service /// Right: Abbott has collected several original sailing artifacts dating to the 18th century. In this photo, he showcases a mallet, grease horn, and netting needle. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Hodges-LeClaire said public historians are distinct from museums, which often are not interactive.

“[In museums], you stand, you watch, you listen—but you never touch.”

For now, tailoring has allowed Hodges-LeClaire to bring history to life for his customers and friends. However, he worries about the impact of losing tangible interactions with artifacts during the pandemic.

“I miss the social nuance and tactical nature of being able to have people touch an item and get them to feel something and react,” he said.

Tommy Tringale, right, is a friend of the Hodges-LeClaire family. He has been a member of the Billerica Colonial Minute Men (BCMM) since 1995. He stopped by the Hodges-LeClaire home for a lesson on sewing waistcoat buttons on Oct. 21, 2020. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Hodges-LeClaire said the pandemic is also limiting important, face-to-face conversations about interpreting the past, including discussions on race, gender, and freedom of speech.

“We don’t want to sugarcoat the past,” he said. “We want to tell modern, provocative stories.”


Photos by Hannah Green/BU News Service