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Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America

Kate Haulman

Publication Year: 2011

In eighteenth-century America, fashion served as a site of contests over various forms of gendered power. Here, Kate Haulman explores how and why fashion--both as a concept and as the changing style of personal adornment--linked gender relations, social order, commerce, and political authority during a time when traditional hierarchies were in flux. In the see-and-be-seen port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, fashion, a form of power and distinction, was conceptually feminized yet pursued by both men and women across class ranks. Haulman shows that elite men and women in these cities relied on fashion to present their status but also attempted to undercut its ability to do so for others. Disdain for others' fashionability was a means of safeguarding social position in cities where the modes of dress were particularly fluid and a way to maintain gender hierarchy in a world in which women's power as consumers was expanding. Concerns over gendered power expressed through fashion in dress, Haulman reveals, shaped the revolutionary-era struggles of the 1760s and 1770s, influenced national political debates, and helped to secure the exclusions of the new political order.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Gender and American Culture


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiv

There is a line in Shakespeare, “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” Perhaps that is why I worked on this book for so long, accumulating many debts along the way. It began at Cornell University under the expert direction of Mary Beth Norton. Her support has been unfl agging, her guidance...

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INTRODUCTION: That Strange, Ridic’lous Vice

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pp. 1-9

It was a paradox that puzzled many Britons during the eighteenth century: How could fashion be at once a social “folly,” a moral “vice” born of envy and appetite, and an economic good, “turning the trade” and contributing to the success of the English nation and British empire? Bernard Mandeville...

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ONE: The Many Faces of Fashion in the Early Eighteenth Century

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pp. 11-46

When Mary Alexander, a merchant who operated a business with her husband, James, in New York, placed a large order for fabric with her English suppliers in 1726, she included three pages of samples: a sheet filled with ribbon pieces, another displaying fifty-eight...

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TWO: Fops and Coquettes: Gender, Sexuality, and Status

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pp. 47-79

Stopping in Staten Island along his journey from Maryland to Boston in 1744, Dr. Alexander Hamilton observed, almost without irony, that the gray moss that hung heavily from the trees might “if handsomely oild and powdered and tyed behind with a bag or ribbon . . . make a tollerable...

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THREE: Country Modes: Cultural Politics and Political Resistance

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pp. 81-116

During the spring of 1766, Robert R. Livingston, a lawyer and member of the prominent Livingston clan of New York, took on the persona of a wife in a piece of satire he likely intended for publication. The “letter,” a missive from a woman in the city to her husband in the country,...

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FOUR: New Duties and Old Desires on the Eve of Revolution

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pp. 117-151

On November 2, 1773, Sarah Eve refl ected in her journal on the time she had spent with Mrs. Brayen, the wife of a doctor, a “man of fortune” from Trenton, New Jersey. The day began well enough—that morning Eve had called upon friends who insisted that she accompany...

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FIVE: A Contest of Modes in Revolutionary Philadelphia

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pp. 153-180

From the hoop controversies of the early eighteenth century and the sumptuary restrictions of South Carolina’s 1740 slave code to the homespun campaigns and backlash of the 1760s and early 1770s, the port cities of British North America saw continual contests over fashion...

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SIX: Fashion and Nation

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pp. 181-216

In the 1780s, Americans faced dilemmas both sartorial and political. Having won independence from Great Britain in a contest that not only pitted an imperial power against a nascent republic but also set ways of signifying power, legitimacy, and authority against one another, inhabitants...

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EPILOGUE: Political Habits and Citizenship’s Corset: The 1790s and Beyond

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pp. 217-225

In the 1790s, the corset reentered the world of fashion. This is not to say that the midsections of women’s bodies had gone unsupported in the decades, even centuries, before. Stays, or “jumps,” and stomachers stiff ened by whalebone shaped the forms of many women in the early...


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pp. 227-273


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pp. 275-290

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602929
E-ISBN-10: 146960292X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834879
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834874

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Gender and American Culture
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OCLC Number: 742361658
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America

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Subject Headings

  • Politics and culture -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Fashion -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Clothing and dress -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Symbolism in politics -- India -- History -- 18th century.
  • Nationalism -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • United States -- Social life and customs -- To 1775.
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