Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0076


Copyright © 2020 Wanett Clyde


After suffering the traumas of capture, enslavement, and the ship’s journey from their homeland, newly arrived Black people, along with struggling to understand and cope with their reduced circumstances, were often pulled in multiple directions with regard to their appearance.

Stripped of garments that represented their native culture and forbidden to practice their personal grooming habits, slaves were now reliant on their owners for care. Once a slave was purchased, it was in the best interest of the master and mistress to protect their investment by providing them with the essentials. Chief among those necessities was clothing.

This presentation will explore what enslaved persons wore, how they acquired the various garments, and their feelings towards their attire. Additionally, it will examine their efforts to assert their own personal style and the critical role that access to fine clothing played in successful escape. These aspects of costume history and how they intersect with American history will be illuminated using fugitive slave advertisements, slave owner’s financial records, and written slave narratives.

We will touch on the laws and regulations that sought to protect and cement slaves’ crucial role in the international textile industry. This portion of the presentation will briefly summarize legal documentation detailing such codes as the Black Codes and articles and amendments to the Constitution which landowners, slave owners, and legislators used to protect their and the fledgling country’s financial interests.