Friday, March 25, 2011

Clothing in Colonial Times

As with any historical period, Colonial days had their specific dress code, which governed the types and styles of garments that were appropriate for different occasions and temperatures. Fashion trends, occupation, social status and economic power are several of the factors that determined what each Colonial citizen was supposed to wear. One possible approach to understanding Colonial dress involves dividing it into categories based on gender, occasion and social class.

Formal Menswear
The Colonial dress code dictated that men wear suits for formal occasions. Made of fabrics such as woolen broadcloth or silk, these suits were trimmed with ornate button accents. Men belonging to the upper class would order custom-tailored suits from London. Other forms of formal attire included waistcoats, striped breeches constructed of velvet, white shirts and stockings. The Colonial man would complete his ensemble with a powdered wig and leather shoes trimmed with polished metal buckles.

Formal Women's Attire
For formal occasions such as a ball, most Colonial women wore gowns. The gown was typically made of silk, with crisp ruffles and frills that began at the elbows and at the bottom of the gown. The top of the gown consisted of a bodice layered over a corset, which was constructed of boning and also known as a stay. The skirt of the gown, which was made of draped fabric layers measuring several yards, was often cut to reveal the bottom of a second, lighter skirt, referred to as a petticoat.

Casual Menswear
To cope with the hot temperatures of the Colonial summer, even upper-class men dressed in informal clothing. They choose bridges and stockings in easily washable fabrics such as linen and cotton. They traded their suits for unlined coats and light waistcoats, also made of cotton or linen. As men perspired throughout the summer day, they would change their waistcoats to hide any signs of perspiration. A light, thin cap would protect the man's head from the scorching sun.

Casual Women's Attire
Casual women's attire during the Colonial times included informal garments known as bed gowns. Bed gowns were worn daily, particularly while performing household chores. Made of loose fabric, bed gowns had three-quarter-length sleeves and were worn along with a petticoat and sometimes a stay. The result was a practical and comfortable outfit that provided women with the freedom of movement. In addition, by the 1780s, there were new trends in casual wear, causing women to shorten the skirts of their garments to end at the ankles.

Slaves' Clothing
Colonial plantation owners expected all slaves, whose days consisted of working in the field and performing household tasks, to dress alike. A male slave's clothing consisted of a linen shirt, woolen hose and a knitted cap. These garments were constructed from inexpensive imported fabrics purchased specifically for outfitting slaves. Women's attire would include calico cloaks and aprons. Both male and female slaves attempted to personalize their clothing by wearing their hair in elaborate styles, using kerchiefs for head wraps and sewing decorative fabric patches to their garments.


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Tracy - Simple Living
My love of vintage goods, antiques
and handmade primitives!
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