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In Colonial times, People dressed depending on what social class they were in and what they could afford.  There were even rules which told them what they could and could not wear  

The colonists dressed according to what social class they were in.  A poorer colonist they would have very basic clothing -- shorter skirts and basic fabrics such as cotton.  

The colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut even had laws stating what people could wear in the early and mid 1600s.  These rules and regulations were called the "Sumptuary Laws."   


One such a law in 1651said only upper class women could wear silk hoods and newer fashions.  Only upper class men were allowed to wear high boots.

 Sumptuary Laws were removed in the later 1600s.  More and more people became traders and more people became wealthy.  Prosperous merchants and their families could afford to dress like the upper class people and they ignored laws.   In the 1700s, the social classes were less important, and   whoever could afford the beautiful clothes wore them.

If colonists were wealthy, they bought  already made garments or fabric to make their own clothing.  Successful and fortunate colonists had clothes custom made by local tailors  and even wealthier people ordered their clothing from Europe  


Most colonists made their own clothing. The entire family helped in the weaving and sewing.  Most of the clothing was made out of a sturdy blend of linen and wool.  Clothing was  made out of leather as well.

Making clothing was a very long time consuming  job.    They planted flax, a long, thin plant that grew well in wet areas.  These seeds were not easy to get.  Colonists had to either get them from Europe or from other older plants.  

  Then the stalks were beaten to remove the soft part of the plant from the long tough fibers.  Then they were chopped.   The soft fibers  were gathered and spun into long  thread. 

Young girls and boys used a  spinning wheel to make fibers.   Most families in the colonies had a spinning wheel.  There was a law passed in Massachusetts in 1640 that all children had to learn how to spin all flax and wool.

  After the thread was spun, it was bleached.   A cream color was usually used for a work shirt and a bright white was used for a baby's christening dress.  Some people dyed  the cloth with nutshells, tree bark, and berries. 

After boiling for hours,  dye was strained and the thread was placed into it.    Then it was dried, and woven into cloth.  Then the cloth was cut out and sewn into clothing by hand.

Women's wardrobes had several parts.   The basic outfit for a woman consisted of a loose, knee-length shift, skirts and petticoats. Over that were tight fitting, shirt-like garments, an apron, and a cap.  A shift is an undergarment or a nightgown, used for both by the women.  They wore a cap because uncovered hair was considered to be vain and conceited. 

 Ladies who were wealthier usually wore one piece dresses known as gowns.  They would wear hoop-petticoats, and high heeled shoes.  Masks of cloth, veils, and long gloves were worn to protect the lady's delicate skin.  

Although some were rich, there wasn't much jewelry in the colonies except earrings and a small pendant.   When going to a party or ball, wealthy women would bring a fan with them for more style. 

There were different kinds of hats including the mobcap which was a circle of fabric gathered around the outer edge with a drawstring.  This was used by all  women, not just the rich ones.  Straw hats were worn by many people  during summer months.

Women of all social classes wore red petticoats, green stockings, and blue or green aprons.  Under the petticoat, ladies wore under-petticoats or a farthingale.  A farthingale was a cone shaped frame made of wood or metal over which the petticoat hung. 

The pannier replaced the farthingale. It was a cloth covered basket that sat on the hips and projected out on only the sides. 

If a family was poor, then you would see a woman wearing a shorter skirt than that of an upper class woman because it was cost more money  to have a longer skirt.

Fans for both men and women were common during the colonial times. 

Some were just paper attached to wooden sticks and others were made from silk and lace.  Using fans, people used gestures to show what they were thinking.  If someone was angry, they would strike their hand with the closed fan.  If they were jealous, they would flutter open their fan in their face.  If they fanned very quickly, that meant they had a concern about something.

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