Although separated by 3,000 miles and a long sea voyage, colonists in North America followed clothing customs similar to their European counterparts. Fashion was developed on both sides of the English Channel, usually by members of the royal courts, and it traveled with courtiers and merchants, and in portraits. While the general drape of a gown or jacket could be common across Europe, small regional differences were frequently seen. Once a style became established at court, it gradually trickled down through the middle and working classes.
Fashionable women and men in the colonies were able to follow changing styles through engravings, drawings, letters, and clothing shipped directly from Europe. They were already accustomed to international changes in fashion. The wide sweep of migration to the New World did lead to a broader range of influences on the middle and working classes.
A farmer's wife in England would see only what her English neighbors were wearing, but a farmer's wife in one of the colonies could have Dutch or French neighbors. Then, as now, fashion also was a personal choice. Some aspects of clothing in the colonial period were consistent, despite social class and changes in fashion.
Fabric was always expensive and labor relatively cheap. Cloth had to be carefully cut and seamed together if it was not large enough. Most cuts were made on the straight of the goods, rather than on the bias as they are today.
Outer fabrics and linings were cut and fit together. While a woman's gown may have resembled one complete piece, it usually consisted of several parts held together with lacings. This required fewer large pieces of fabric, helped with washing, and made it easier to vary gowns, as women could substitute different bodices or petticoats.
The upper classes wore garments made from such rich, smooth fabrics as satin, camlet, and russel. Clothing worn by the working classes was made from such fabric as wool, frieze, and tow (a coarse form of linen). Maintaining cleanliness was a constant challenge before washing machines or dry cleaning.
Underneath their clothing, men and women wore a loose garment called a shirt or shift. Throughout the colonial period, linen was the most common fabric for the middle and lower classes. Cotton was prized by the upper classes in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Men's shirts were usually made with a collar and could be seen from under a waistcoat or vest. Women's shifts often had a drawstring at the neck to adjust for lower necklines or nursing a child. As the garment was worn next to the body, it soaked up sweat and dirt before it could reach the more expensive outer clothing.
Underwear as we know it today was rare. Most people let their shifts or shirts hang loose or tucked them up between their legs. While working, men and women covered their outer clothing with aprons to protect both wearer and clothing.
When they cooked, women wore wool aprons, as wool would smolder rather than burn if a spark touched it. Blacksmiths wore leather aprons for similar reasons. Pockets as we know them were almost never set into clothing.
Men attached small bags or pouches to their belts. Women tied flat, oblong bags, which were called pockets, to their waists. Ordinary pockets were tied under the clothing and reached through a slit in the petticoat.
Fancier pockets were heavily embroidered and meant for show on top of a gown. European clothing in the early seventeenth century resembled the garments of the decades before. Women wore stays undergarments stiffened with whalebone or metal about their waists, giving them a square look, and a piece of wood or whalebone, called a busk, fit in a pocket down the front for added stiffening.
The farthingale, a flat support holding the skirts out from the waist, was still worn by some women. Heavy ruffs were still worn about the neck by both men and women, and both sexes wore close-fitting bodices or doublets. Lines were either straight or angular, and garment waists were at the natural waistline.
Color throughout the seventeenth century was heavy and deep. In the mid-seventeenth century, the cavalier style began to grow popular for the upper classes in England, France, and Holland. Clothing lines were draped and flowing.
Women's waistlines rose as their necklines fell. Both men and women's sleeves were often slashed to reveal the fabric beneath; women's skirts were often tucked one on top of the other for the same reason. Men wore broad, lace-trimmed collars and high boots.
Over time, men's breeches grew ever more exaggerated, ending in lace, and were worn with delicate, pointed shoes. Wigs were commonly worn. The overall emphasis was on lavish display.
A counterinfluence on fashion was exerted by the members of the English upper class known today as the Puritans. They sought to reform, or purify, all aspects of English life and chose simply cut garments, though these were usually made from costly, heavy fabrics. Sumptuary laws passed in Massachusetts Bay Colony served primarily to control dress for the lower classes, rather than society as a whole.
Portraits from the period show men and women in their best clothing, often dyed with expensive black dyes (black was difficult to obtain with natural dyes), which perhaps led to the image that all Puritans wore black. Other religious groups, including the Quakers and Separatists (or Pilgrims), also instituted similar dress reforms. Dress lines in the late seventeenth century grew angular once more.
The waists of women's garments again fell at the natural waistline and had begun to acquire a pointed front. While women continued to wear layers of skirts, the fullness was usually drawn to the back of the dress (similar to the bustle of the late nineteenth century). Men's clothes also lost some of their fullness.
Their breeches were usually covered by heavy, well-cut coats. The same emphasis on brocade and trim remained. Clothing for both men and women remained angular in the early eighteenth century.
Women wore a different form of stays that gave their upper bodies an upside-down-cone look that would remain for most of the century, although the later emphasis on tightly laced stays for a small waist was not as prominent in the colonial period. The deep, bright colors favored during the seventeenth changed to pastels. Trade with the Far East brought patterned, floral printed fabrics into vogue for the very wealthy.
Both men and women wore tight-fitting sleeves with large cuffs, trimmed with lace and ribbon. The most noticeable part of mid-eighteenth-century fashion was the shape of women's gowns. Side hoops, called panniers, held skirts farther and farther out on either side of the woman's waist.
In France, the robe la fran§aise or sack-back dress, became popular. Cloth flowed down from women's shoulders, held in pleats on the back. The English variation on this fashion was the robe l'anglaise, where the draped cloth was tucked smoothly over the back petticoats.
Women's hair was piled higher and higher on their heads. Men's clothing was very well cut, with coordinated waistcoat, jacket, and breeches. Puritan clothing of the seventeenth century (two figures at left) was characterized by simple cuts and heavy fabrics.
The garments of upper-class English settlers in the 1660s (two figures at right) were more elaborate and ornate. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) Clothing at the very end of the eighteenth century was a direct reaction to the excesses before it. The American and French revolutions led to an interest in classical design.
Women's dresses became loosely draped, often with a broad sash about the waist. Their pockets were worn as small bags, tied about the wrist, as the straight skirts could not accommodate them. Men wore close-fitting breeches and jackets.
Fabrics were solid and rarely trimmed. While clothing for middle- and working-class people roughly followed these changes in elites' clothing, the primary emphasis was on practicality. People needed clothing that was easy to put on and would protect them at work.
The average woman dressing in the morning put on a shift, stockings, a pocket, stays, petticoats, a bodice, a kerchief, an apron, and a cap. The average man wore a shirt, breeches, a waistcoat, a jacket, a kerchief, and a cap. Clothing for special occasions was passed through families and continually altered to keep up with changing fashions.
Most rural and working-class colonists continued to maintain this style of dress until the early nineteenth century. Abigail B.Chandler See also: Cotton; Furnishings; Indigo; Document: Probate Inventory of a Plymouth Colony Estate (1672).
Bibliography Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion. Vol.
1.New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1972. Baumgarten, Linda, and John Watson.
Costume Close-Up. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1999. Hart, Avril, and Susan North.
Fashion in Detail, from the 17th and 18th Centuries. London: Victoria and Albert Productions, 1998. Johnson, Mary Moyars.
Historic Colonial French Dress. West Lafayette, IN: Ouabache, 1982. Loren, Diana DiPaolo.
The Archaeology of Clothing and Bodily Adornment in Colonial America (American Experience in Archaeological Perspective). Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010. Waugh, Norah.
Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Routledge/Theatre Arts, 1954. 24 AMERICAN FLAG PRINT DESIGN CLOTHING FOR 4th JULY – Godfather Style Men's American Flag Polyester T-Shirt XXL 2XL USA Olympics Get A … AmericanMadeHeroes. Com … Honoring America's manufacturers …