Colonial Clothing

Colonial Clothing

Picture of Colonial Clothing - Puritans arriving at the New World

This article on the Colonial Clothing describes the beliefs and the religion of the Puritans

  • Items of Colonial Clothing for men, women and children
  • The colors of Colonial Clothing and the symbolic and religious meanings of the colors worn by Puritans
  • Materials and dyes used to make Colonial Clothing
  • Colonial Clothing and Sumptuary Laws
American Colonies Index
Colonial WomenLife in Colonial Times

History of the first 13 Colonies and life in the Colonial Period

Clothes worn by men women & children: The daily lives of the colonists in the 13 Colonies during the Colonial Period

Colonial Clothing
Colonial Clothing reflected the beliefs and religion of the early colonists - the Puritans. The Puritans wanted the Church of England to become pure by getting rid of Catholic practices. They hated elaborately decorated churches with statues and shrines. Puritans believed in total simplicity, that everything should be plain. And these basic beliefs also encompassed their Puritan Colonial Clothing.

Colonial Clothing in an age of excess
The early Colonial Clothing in the Puritan style was totally different to the types of clothes favored by other people who lived in England. The English clothes were highly elaborate, velvets, satins and silks were favored by the wealthy. Frills, lace, buttons and bows decorated their clothing. Fancy buckles, buttons, fans even handkerchiefs were highly decorated.

Feathered hats, bright colors, shoes with heels, low necklines for women were in fashion. Admittedly only the wealthy and the nobility wore these expensive clothes, but they were seen as the Puritans as a profligate society. The elaborate robes worn by Catholic priests were viewed with disgust by the men and women who adhered to the Puritan religion and adopted their own style of colonial clothing. 


Picture of a Puritan Girl

Picture of a Puritan Girl


Colonial Clothing
The plain and simple Colonial Clothing was a public expression of the beliefs of the Puritans which encompassed the notion of simplicity. Puritans practised strictness and austerity in their religion, lifestyle and conduct. The Colonial Clothing worn by Puritan men and women reflected their belief in austerity. Puritans were strongly opposed to sensual pleasures and were strong advocates of propriety, modesty and and decorum. Once again, the early Colonial Clothing of the Puritans reflected these beliefs.

Colonial Clothing for Men
The Colonial Clothing worn by Puritan men were quite heavy and made from materials such as wool, linen or leather. The items of Colonial Clothing worn by Puritan men included the following:

  • Long-length, loose linen shirts
  • Breeches which were short length pants that were fastened at the knee
  • Socks - long woolen socks were worn
  • A jerkin which was a sleeveless jacket which could be made of cloth or leather
  • A doublet which was a padded jacket with sleeves
  • Belts were sometimes worn
  • Plain leather shoes, usually without buckles
  • Hats - often quite large in a variety of style, usually wide-brimmed
  • Coats or capes were worn as protection from the cold and the rain

Colonial Clothing for Women
The Colonial Clothing worn by Puritan women were also quite heavy and made from materials such as wool and linen. The items of Colonial Clothing worn by Puritan women included the following:

  • Long-length, loose shift which was worn as an undergarment. The sleeves were sometimes removable and could be tied on
  • The shift was covered by petticoats
  • Long gowns or skirts with a jacket were worn as the outer clothing
  • Belts were sometimes worn
  • Socks - long woollen stockings
  • Plain leather shoes
  • All clothes were held in place by tying them with laces
  • An apron was usually worn over the women's clothes
  • The women wore their hair long but it would have been deemed unseemly for hair to be shown. Hair was therfore hidden under a close-fitting coif
  • Coats or capes were worn as protection from the cold and the rain

Colonial Clothing for Children
The clothing of very young children, both boys and girls were simple shifts. The Colonial Clothing worn by children over the age of seven were similar in style to those worn by adults.  The items of Colonial Clothing worn by children therefore consisted of smaller versions of the clothes worn by Puritan men and women.

Colonial Clothing for Servants
The colonial clothing of servants clung on to the old traditional color of blue clothing as it had been for many years in England. The dye to produce the color blue in England (woad) was cheap and the color blue was always associated with servitude.

Colonial Clothing - Sumptuary Laws
English Sumptuary Laws had long dictated what colors and type of clothing individuals were allowed to own and wear - an easy and immediate way to identify rank and privilege. The Sumptuary Laws maintained class distinctions but also repressed luxury and discouraged extravagance, especially among the lower classes. The laws regulated ostentatious expenditure on dress and ornaments. Many of the Sumptuary laws that governed much of the dress worn in England were repealed in 1603 by King James I. The repeal of the Sumptuary Laws in England was a bad decision from the Puritan point of view and led to excess in apparel - the complete opposite of their view on Puritan Colonial clothing.

Colonial Clothing - Sumptuary Laws introduced in America
When the New England colonies were becoming established the Puritans introduced Sumptuary Laws specifying rules for colonial clothing in America. In 1651, both the magistrates and deputies of Massachusetts agreed on the following piece of legislation which included the following:

"...declare our utter detestation and dislike that men or women of mean condition, educations, and callings should take upon them the garb of gentlemen, by the wearing of gold or silver lace, or buttons, or points at their knees, to walk in great boots; or women of the same rank to wear tiffany hoods or scarves, which though allowable to persons of greater estates, or more liberal education, yet we cannot but judge it intollerable in persons of such like condition..."

The Puritan's views on the wearing of simple Puritan clothes were enforced by law in the American colonies therefore dictating the styles of colonial clothing.

Colonial Clothing - Meaning of Colors
The colors of the Colonial Clothing of the Puritans were sombre. The range of colors used in Puritan Colonial Clothing included russet (a reddish brown color), black, gray, brown, green, dull pale yellow and blue. Accessories such as collars, cuffs, aprons and handkerchiefs were usually white. The symbolic meaning of the color white was purity and virtue. There were symbolic meanings of other colors which the Puritans approved of in Puritan clothes and colonial clothing. So the actual color of Colonial Clothing reflected their strong religious beliefs.

  • Black Colonial Clothing symbolized humility and plainness and could be cheaply produced by using coarse, rough, un-dyed dark wool
  • The color blue was closely associated with servitude and was a popular color of colonial clothing worn by servants. Woad was a source of cheap blue dye. The Biblical meaning of blue symbolized heavenly grace
  • Cheap dyes made from the Madder root produced red-based colors including orange, russet and brown. The symbolic meaning of the color orange and russet was a symbol of courage. The meaning of the color brown was humility and poverty
  • Cheap dyes were used to produce Colonial clothing in the color gray. The meaning of the color gray was repentance. Gray is also associated with Lent and therefore closely associated with fasting and prayer
  • Cheap dyes were also used to produce the color green usually from lichen and vegetable dyes. The meaning of the color green was renewal of life and nature
  • Cheap dyes such as weld were used to produce a pale color yellow. The meaning of the color yellow was renewal and hope

If you look at pictures of Puritan Colonial Clothing the colors they wore will all be confirmed. The additional information regarding the symbolic and religious meaning of Puritan clothes and colonial clothing provides an insight into the beliefs of the Puritans and early colonists. The Puritans were strong advocates of propriety, modesty and decorum which are all words that can be associated with Colonial Clothing.

Pilgrims in Colonial America

Colonial Clothing - Textiles
Different types of textiles were used not only to make clothing but also to make bedding, linens, curtains, ship sails and upholstery. Textiles used during the colonial era were made chiefly from wool and flax. Cotton was used less often for colonial clothing.

A material called serge, which was a durable twilled woolen fabric, was commonly used for bed curtains, upholstery and clothing. Linsey-woolsey, or wincey, was a strong, coarse fabric that was a combination of linen and wool and a popular textile for colonial clothing. During the colonial period, less than 50% of all households had spinning wheels used for spinning yarn from wool and knitting sweaters and stockings. Fewer than 10% owned looms that weaved yarn into textiles.

Colonial Clothing

  • Interesting Facts and information about Colonial Clothing

  • Facts and info about Colonial Clothing for men and women

  • Fast Facts and info about the colors and meaning of Colonial Clothing

  • Colonial Clothing - and educational resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the Colonial Clothing

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