What Did Colonial People Wear?

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The clothing of colonial Americans varied depending on area of residence, age, gender and socioeconomic status, but typically included gowns, petticoats, shoes and hats for women, and coats, hats and trousers for men. Seasons and weather also influenced the clothing worn by colonial Americans. Regardless of time of year, however, men and women wore multiple layers of clothing, and had clothes for formal as well as informal occasions.

As in modern times, colonial Americans wore garments and undergarments made in the United States or shipped from other countries. Women’s shoes, for instance, came from England. Items made from silk, such as gowns and dresses, came from China, while the Netherlands exported an assortment of linen clothing. Knitted hats, often worn by slaves, came from England. During colonial times, men of higher socioeconomic status frequently ordered tailored coats from London.

Of all colonial Americans, women wore the most elaborate outfits. Typical attire for females included petticoats, undergarments, shoes, stockings, corsets and stays. Stays and corsets hugged the waists of women, providing shape and a modest appearance. Men also wore stockings and shoes. They sported petticoats beneath outer coats, which derived from lighter fabrics like linen and silk in the summer, and from wool in the winter. In rural areas, women often made their own clothing, particularly shirts and underwear.