What Did African Slaves Wear?

African slaves generally wore gender appropriate clothes typical of the period, such as breeches and shirts for men and simple dresses and woolen undergarments for women. The clothes of household slaves were typically of better quality than those of agricultural or plantation slaves, signifying a higher a status.

Slave owners generally allotted a certain number of garments and lengths of fabric for each slave. Slaves would also receive supplemental garments in winter, such as coats for men and heavy shawls for women. The pre-made garments provided by slave owners tended to be ill-fitting, while those made by the slaves themselves were usually of better quality and a source of particular pride for female slaves. Female slaves also fashioned head-wraps from this fabric, as well as pantaloons to protect their legs while working in the fields.

In some parts of the South, female slaves were required by law to cover their hair with head-wraps to prevent the spread of lice, although head-wraps were originally worn by both male and female slaves of African origin. Shoes were generally only allotted to those who were able to work, so slaves would often craft moccasins from cloth for children and the elderly. So little clothing was given to children, in fact, that it was not uncommon for children to go entirely naked until the onset of puberty.