The United States has undergone tremendous changes in fashion since the days of the
Founding Fathers. Nowadays, men keep their hair cropped short, and women wear
pants - both ideas that were simply unheard of during the colonial era. So the question
remains, what did the Founding Fathers wear?
John Hancock's Powdered Wig
The concept of the powdered wig emerged in France
the mid 17th century. King Louis XIII was the man
first responsible for the trend, as he wore a wig
(original called "periwig") to cover his premature
balding. As the trend began in royalty, they developed
an upper-class, conservative status. People who wore
them were among the "elites" in society.
Ralph Earl in Breeches
The first wigs were made from goat and horse hair,
and because they were
never properly washed
they smelled quite
terrible, and tended to
To combat the unfortunate odor and unwanted parasites,
the wig-wearer would "powder" his wig. The powder was
usually made up of finely ground starch and scented with
Emerging in the twelfth century, breeches simply meant
"garment for the legs and trunk." They were the staple of
men's fashion in the late seventeenth and entire eighteenth
centuries. The breeches worn by the Founding Fathers
were knee length and attached with buttons or draw
strings. They are still worn today for equestrian related activities and fencing.
John Singleton Copley in Waistcoat and Frock Coat
Nary a day would pass when an eighteenth century
gentleman would leave his house without his waistcoat
(wisket/vest). The waistcoat is a sleeveless garment worn
on the upper body over a dress shirt. It was often worn
beneath a frock coat. It is still a prevalent piece in mens'
formal wear today.
The Frock Coat was worn over the shirt and waistcoat
and typically reached down to the knees. This style
emerged during the late eighteenth century and would
gain popularity throughout the nineteenth century.
Stockings and Shoes
Beaver Skin Tricorne Hat
Gentleman, along with breeches, typically wore silk or woolen stockings along with lowheeled
leather shoes with buckles. Unlike modern footwear, colonial shoes were not
fitted for the curvature of the human foot, but instead were straight and, as a result,
quite uncomfortable. Shoe buckles were
made of polished silver. Although the men did
wear boots, they were often for riding, and
not seen in public society.
Although gentleman tended to wear their
powdered wigs unadorned, the tricorne hat
did gain popularity throughout the
Revolutionary War Period. The turned up
portions of the hat not only shaded the
wearer from the suns rays, but served as rain
gutters that directed water away from his
face as well. They were made using
materials like felt or beaver fur.
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