George and Martha Washington thought dearly about the clothing they chose to wear.  Ordering their finest frocks from England early in their marriage, they shifted to wearing clothing made in the United States to express their commitment to the revolutionary cause.  The people enslaved at Mount Vernon were provided two sets of clothing and one pair of shoes a year but chose personal adornment to express their individuality beyond the rations provided. 

Clothing and shoes served as necessary survival tools in the 18th century as well as powerful ways to communicate status, ideas, and a person’s role in society.  Fashion was a very important way that people expressed their ideas and economic status during the 18th century.   As your students don tri-corner hats and mobcaps, challenge them to research the function and purpose of their colonial outfits. Give them the opportunity to adorn and accessorize them to reflect an idea or personal statement. 

 

Clothing Production and Manufacture

Clothing, Expressing Ideas and Individuality

Primary Sources

George Washington to George Mason

In this letter, Washington calls for all colonists to join in the boycott of British goods in 1769, even if this hinders their appearance in high society.

George Washington to Bushrod Washington

In this letter, Washington bestows advice on to his nephew, including the important lesson that fine clothes do not make fine men. 

George Washington to George Steptoe Washington

In this letter, George Washington describes his required spending on fashion during the Presidency.

George Washington to Clement Biddle

In this letter, George Washington orders different clothing fabric for his family and for the enslaved population of Mount Vernon. 

Maryland Gazette Runaway Slave Advertisement

In this newspaper advertisement, George Washington describes the physical characteristics of four enslaved workers who ran away from Mount Vernon, along with the clothing they may have been wearing. 

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