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.
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.