Colonial Dress

As with any era, colonial America brought its own flavor in many ways, including fashion.  It was reflective of the times and distinguished social status.


Drawing on inspiration from English style and trade, colonial fashion emerged.  For the wealthier American, purchasing readymade clothing staples was an option.  The lower class, on the other hand, crafted their own material, known as “lindsey-woolsey” which was a coarse fabric.  As with any culture, lighter clothing accommodated warmer weather while cooler climate was complimented with heavier attire.  Colonial fashion also had a range of garments for fancy occasions to daily wear.  Formal attire came to be known as “dress” clothing while every day apparel came to be known as “undress” clothing.  The following is a brief overview of colonial “dress”.

For colonial men, their look was pretty simple consisting of a shirt, a coat, breeches, and stockings.  The breeches were knee length and were a tight fit.  In addition, the outfit commonly added the finishing touches of a silk tie around the neck and a three-cornered, felt hat.  For the colonial elite, they could also get more elegant suits from England containing buttons and lace.

Colonial Shirt:

Colonial Shirt

When it comes to dress of colonial women, rest assured they looked grand in their gowns, but they also had a fair amount of layers.  Starting with the inner layer, there was an underskirt and stomacher, attached to the front of a bodice and skirt on the outer layer.  And we mustn’t fail to mention hoops and stays, which served as structured undergarments that supported the dress.  To top off the appearance was a lace neckerchief and apron.

As for colonial children, their style was very restrictive.  Both boys and girls wore stays to encourage good posture.  And basically, both genders wore miniature versions of adult outfits until the mid-1700s when children were permitted to dress more freely.  Frocks entered the scene for both sexes and boys transitioned to wearing pants.

Knee Breeches:

Knee Breeches

To wrap up colonial style, undergarments cannot be left out!  The primary undergarment for men was a knee length shirt, which was tucked in to the breeches.  Women’s undergarments were a bit more complicated, consisting of a calf length shirt known as a shift, hoops, and stays crafted of metal, wood, or whalebone.  For both genders, stockings of wool, cotton, linen, or lace were worn.

Colonial clothing definitely had its own style and gave rise to fashion trends that followed it.  To see our colonial clothing and other period attire, visit

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