All Dressed Up: Gender and Class in Elite American Women's Clothing of the Eighteenth Century
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In an effort to most efficiently and interestingly demonstrate the evolutions in fashion that embodied the gender and class roles and definitions of the years between 1750 and 1800, the following examination will look only to elite white women's clothes as indicators of social expectations. The effort, resources, and time expended on cultivating women's clothing from this period indicates the importance eighteenth century society attributed to fashion, and how women themselves embraced fashion as an avenue through which to assert influence. Wealthy white American women of the second half of the eighteenth century set aside time for developing and understanding the meanings of different styles, purchasing clothing and materials, dressing for events, and completing the considerable amount of grooming required to exhibit popular fashions with confidence and grace. These women also found fashionable fabrics and accessories with which to experiment, a vast quantity of which were thought so fine that the pieces were passed down, preserved, and are available to see today. Families were able to easily display wealth and class through a woman's clothing due to the fact that while upper class men worked to support their families, as did lower-class women, elite women did not have that responsibility. Although she bore the burdens of keeping an organized and managed home and raising children, one of the main focuses of a woman in this position was to reach and maintain a level of fashionable distinction and social presence. Clothing worn from 1750 to 1800 by elite white American women represented and indicated how fashion reflected the ideals and attitudes of society, specifically the class and gender roles and expectations of male-dominated American culture.