What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America

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Paintings of upper-class men and women tell an important part of the history of costumes, but surviving garments themselves reveal even more. Every crease, stitch, and stain in a piece of clothing supplies information about its wearer and its era. This stunning book features 18th- and early-19th-century garments from the premier collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Illustrated with more than 300 color photographs, including many details and back views, the book treats not only elegant, high-style clothing in colonial America but also garments for everyday and work, the clothing of slaves, and maternity and nursing apparel.

Drawing on contemporary written descriptions and on actual costumes of the period, the book analyzes what Americans in the 18th century considered fashionable and attractive and how they used clothing to assert status or to identify occupations. The book also examines the myths and meanings of clothing in British and American society, clothing for the entire lifecycle, and a history of clothing alteration. Informative sidebars on a variety of fascinating topics complete the volume.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Close study of the details of personal life always sheds light on broader aspects of history, as this book perfectly illustrates. Beautifully produced, with some 355 illustrations in full color and 36 in black and white, Baumgarten's work was copublished by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to complement a special exhibition (through October 26, 2003) of the clothing collection at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, VA, of which the author is curator. But like the best of exhibition catalogs, this book reaches far beyond the objects presented. Beginning with the garments in the collection (a deerskin jacket, delicate christening gowns, cotton breeches, brocade petticoats, etc.), the author gives us insight into many broader topics, such as textile manufacture and the rise of industry in America, American family life and the raising of children, and international commerce. Well written, well priced, and full of pertinent details about the daily lives of our American ancestors, this book for both scholars and casual readers is recommended for all libraries.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300181074
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 811,988
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 12.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Baumgarten is curator of textiles and costumes at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

President's Message
Introduction: Collecting Costumes at Colonial Williamsburg 2
Ch. 1 Costume: Old and New Connoisseurship 16
Ch. 2 The Myths and Meanings of Clothing 52
Ch. 3 Homespun and Silk: American Clothing 76
Ch. 4 Common Dress: Clothing for Daily Life 106
Ch. 5 Cradle to Coffin: Life Passages Reflected in Clothing 140
Ch. 6 Tailoring Meaning: Alterations in Eighteenth-Century Clothing 182
Conclusion: Listening to Clothes 208
Time Line 216
Notes 240
Selected Bibliography 252
Index 258
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