What Kind of Clothing Did Pioneers Wear?

American pioneers wore clothing designed for practicality and durability, which was most often made by the women of the household. Pioneers needed long sleeves to protect their arms from the sun or plant overgrowth and sturdy shoes to endure significant strain from walking. They also wore hats with brims to shield their eyes and faces from the sun.

Simple clothing with simple fasteners, such as ties or buttons, were preferred as they were simple to craft and repair. Women often wore ruffles on the bottoms of skirts not as a fashion statement but as a way to lengthen clothing that had shrunk or that they had outgrown. They also used ruffles to replace worn skirt bottoms on otherwise good skirts. Men wore suspenders to hold up loose-waisted pants. Children dressed like their parents, often in old clothing cut down to fit them. Even worn-out clothes were rarely thrown away. Instead, they were cut up and used for pieced quilts, cleaning cloths or stuffing.

For early pioneers, cloth was difficult to come by, so women spun and wove their own cloth, which was often a blend of cotton and wool called "linsey-woolsey." Later, as pioneers moved west into the treeless plains, it was easier to acquire whole cloth from traders than to transport or build a new loom. Pioneers opted for sturdy, long-wearing fabrics such as coarse muslins and twills.

Because clothing was mostly handmade by wives and daughters, few people had large wardrobes. When it was cold, pioneers often just put more layers on rather than investing in heavier garments, and women wore aprons to protect more valuable skirts and dresses.