Colonial Fashion

In all history textbooks, you always learn about all these important happenings that helped shape a specific culture. Not all of these happenings were recorded, which can add to lack of understanding of such. There are often paintings and portraits of people and battles and whatnot, but these aren’t always accurate. Something that can be found in such portraits that is rarely EVERR acknowledged is fashion. That’s right. FASHION. If you think about it, the colonists really had it going on. From lawyers to fisherman, and to women and children to even the slaves! Fashion is always important; it often showed a distinction between social classes, and sadly still sort of does today.

I’m going to mainly focus on the colonial period (1700-1800 ish time period).

As I once heard watching the Jersey Shore(terrible show..), you should dress from the shoes up, so we’ll start with the shoes.

Colonist had shoes creatively crafted by a shoemaker. These shoe making studs would take a whole work day (10 hours). “The customer enters the shop and requests a pair of ready-made shoes hanging from the window or ceiling. However, if the customer finds nothing to his liking, he can order shoes custom made to fit his feet.”

Okay, I think that’s pretty darn awesome. It’s nice to be able to go into a store nowadays and grab a shoebox with shoes your size, but I think the fact that a man is measuring your foot and making a pair of shoes SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU is super cool cool cool. These dudes also had leather shoes. REAL leather, not faux leather. These shoes are 100% legit, so they’d be pretty pricey too. According to the William and Mary edu site’s article about colonial men’s clothing, both shoes in a pair were the same, meaning you don’t have to worry about which foot you put the shoe on. I’m done. Let’s go to socks and pants.

Colonial socks weren’t exactly socks as much as they were stockings. Women wear stockings today with skirts and dresses I guess, but I don’t think any men do..

According to a Colonial Williamsburg website, spatterdashes, which are basically leg warmers. People still wear these today! Such garments were often made from silk or cotton, and were white or colored.

The colonist wore these leggings that connected to their pants, which were known as breeches.

Kind of an interesting name. I googled breech to get a definition and found that a breech is “a person’s buttocks”. I guess the colonial pants were known as breeches because they covered one’s buttocks.

The breeches are actually pretty nice. They’re kind of like MC Hammer Pants, except classy and they stop to your knees. Looks like Mr. Hammer didn’t only steal from ‘Super Freak’.

Breeches were for the fancy men. Slaves and sailors wore trousers that were cut to the ankles (basically manpris/capris for men)

Colonial shirts were tucked into the breeches as they were “covering the body from neck to knee”. That’s a pretty long shirt. Kinda fancy how they tucked in their shirts. But what’s interesting is that these were considered undergarments. Colonists often wore coats and cloaks over their shirts. Men always wore waistcoats (similar to a present day vest), and if they didn’t they were considered undressed.

The cloaks, of course, added color and style to the colonial wardrobes. Their coats were long and made of “heavy wool”. It was used to protect them from the cold. They’re a lot like modern day peacoats.

Most men also wore a cravat, which is basically a neck scarf. These dudes obviously knew what was up hundreds of years earlier than everyone else.

Now we can’t forget wigs can we?
Wigs were worn to enhance one’s appearance. People at the time from various social groups (even slaves!) wore wigs. Wigs also helped hide hair loss, like they do today. Wigs could also show wealth, as they were often made from “ human, horse, goat, or yak hair”, and could be distinctly identified. Hats were also fashionable, as they were decorated with buckles and casually worn.

It’s interesting to see how slaves and sailors wore caps (monmouth caps) and trousers, and were considered commoners. People today still wear very similar garments.

I had trouble finding information about colonial fashion. It’s not something that’s really thought about, but it definitely helped shape societal cultures, and acted as the foundation to fashion now. Today we still have leather shoes, stockings and socks, pants/garments that cover our buttocks, scarves, cloaks, jackets, and much more, but in an evolved form. I personally wouldn’t mind dressing like a colonist, but I feel others may not. But who knows, maybe colonial fashion will make a comeback in a few years!



5 thoughts on “Colonial Fashion

  1. I loved this story because fashion is something that people rarely talk about. It really did shape people’s lives and the way that they functioned, and really goes to show you how it affected different businesses. Just in order to get a pair of shoes just for you, you probably had to talk to and constantly be around a bunch of other people, which I think is one of the most positive “traditions” you could say, that we got from the period right after the Revolution.

  2. I wish I could hit the like button a thousand more times. I am sensing a theme for you here- the fashions do change with every unit 🙂
    Bonus points for figuring out a way to insert a piece of advice from Jersey Shore into an APUSH assignment.

  3. I really really really love the fact that you chose the topic of colonial fashion to write about. It’s something in history people rarely ever think about, but when they do, they realize that fashion had a lot more relevance to history than they initially thought – like you said, fashion showed the distinction between social classes. And different social orders in history are rather important (okay, really important).

    Thanks for teaching me a thing or two about colonial fashion, I learned a lot from your blog post! You were right, the colonists really had it going on.

  4. I absolutely love this post! It is really interesting to learn about colonial fashion since I have never really thought about it. Now that you wrote this, it makes me realize that clothing back then had a large impact on the lives of the colonists. Also, how it impacted our clothing today is quite fascinating! I think it would be really interesting if traditional colonial fashion came back into style.

  5. Oh my gosh this post is great. I like how you wrote about a topic that people usually don’t focus on when they’re learning about the colonial age. It’s really interesting to see how well someone’s clothes defined who they were back then. It seems like it would be easy to tell exactly where others stand on the social ladder from just one glance.

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