Historical Clothing – Colonial American Women

Ancient American women’s clothing was designed with great care, mostly by women on their own. Just like today’s American women, clothes worn by early American women depending entirely on what they could afford. Wardrobes of colonial American women predominantly featured petticoats, stomachers, stays and silk shoes.

Commonly worn everyday clothes, baby clothes, underclothes and any other garment that did not require expert stitching were tailored at home. Women, who were expert tailors stitched, sewed and embellished their garments with precision to look elegant and charming at all times. Others took the help of professionals such as seamstresses, milliners and tailors for their exclusive clothing requirements.

Affluent women purchased imported clothing sold in bigger towns or got their costumes custom made with expert tailors. American women were kept duly informed and updated on the latest prevalent fashion trends around Europe, especially in Paris through dolls dresses that were made in latest designs and displayed in stores.

Interestingly, most women in colonial America did not believe in owning more than three or four outfits. An average woman during the 1700s hand sewed their clothes that were made mostly of linen or wool. Clothing styles during those times dictated that their knees and elbows are well covered.

Women those days were also not too fussy about infection, dirt and germs and there was no awareness among them that related lack of cleanliness to diseases. Clothes were therefore not washed very frequently. Certain pieces of garments like gowns that did not come into contact with the skin were, in fact, never washed.

Bed gowns worn by colonial American women were large and loose fitting focusing more on comfort. These gowns did not have a waist seam and opened in the front. From the bodice, the skirts extended full length. Women who went out for work wore woolen or linen clothes. Many also opted for the low grade silk clothes and onsnaburg, a type of linen that was unbleached and inexpensive.

Affluent women who dressed in the latest fashion wore good quality silk gowns. These gowns came with stomachers that could be removed. Stomachers are triangular panels that came with tabs. These were attached to the stays or bodice with the help of pins. Stomachers were enhanced with attractive designs such as a ship, dove or a house and were positioned between the breasts and below the waist.

Silk gowns were usually complemented with a silk petticoat. Colonial American women also wore two under-petticoats under the petticoat apart from bone stay pairs and pockets.

Pockets which were nothing but big bags that were tied around the waist were usually sewn to the right of the bottom petticoat. Women could reach the pocket with ease through the slits provided in the petticoats that covered the pockets.

White linen shift was the garment worn closest to the body. These shifts were knee length, had a scooped neckline and featured sleeves that extended to the elbows. Colonial American women loved to wear elegant and attractive silk shoes that were heavily brocaded over their knit stockings.

Stays were worn on an everyday basis by the affluent as well as the middle class working women. Interestingly, even small children and babies were found to wear stays that were thought to improve posture. Stays were usually made of affordable leather or the more expensive bone.