Party Fashion, circa 1774: In White, Black, and Color



Fop ’til you drop: Colonial era ballers with their Man(servant)

Yeah, that’s how they rolled. But as these guys would admit, we all look bad wearing last year’s fashions.

This image is from an article titled COLONIAL DRESS CODES, by Linda Baumgarten. It talks about how upper class Virginians dressed at balls and other events in particular, and about how other plantation workers (white and black) dressed in general. The piece is from the Colonial Williamsburg web site.

The men in the picture are historical re-enactors, wearing colonial period (circa 1774) dress. The man at the far right is portraying a slave; notice how his arms are in a neutral position, compared to the other (free white) men. Still, this manservant is dressed better than many white male farmers and laborers of the era.

The article also discusses the clothing worn by slaves. In contrast to the fancy dress of the manservant pictured above, Baumgarten says

Plantation records show that most slaveholders provided their agricultural laborers with a minimum of clothing, issued at the beginning of summer and winter. By the end of each season, the clothing must have been threadbare. Throughout most of the eighteenth century, planters typically ordered hundreds of yards of inexpensive woolens and linens from England for slaves’ suits, shirts, and shifts. With the approach of hostilities with England in the late 1760s and early 1770s, increasing numbers of planters turned to producing their own linen, cotton, or woolen “Virginia cloth” to lessen or eliminate their dependence on Great Britain. The economics of buying or producing textiles in bulk, not to mention the planters’ expectations of what slaves should wear, appeared to leave little room for individuality. Some runaway advertisements say groups of slaves were “all dressed alike” or wearing “the common dress of field slaves.”

Yet a careful reading of period sources shows that slaves not only desired individualized clothing but most managed to achieve it, to exert a measure of control over their appearance. Scholarship has shown that slaves enhanced their appearance and expressed personality by such techniques as styling the hair, wearing a large kerchief as a head wrap, dyeing clothing, purchasing or trading for pieces of clothing, wearing garments in new combinations, or adding pockets or patches.

This article is a great read, enjoy.

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