This study explores how late colonial Virginians used clothing to control, enforce, and negotiate gender. Gender, both as a system of power and as a category of social identity, became linked with the material forms of clothing that Virginians wore in their everyday lives. The identification of clothing with the body enabled Virginians to actively make choices about how to perform themselves to the wider culture of observation and perception present in the colony. Dress was ubiquitous, but its meanings were variable, changing, and unstable. In eighteenth-century Virginia, Anglo-descended colonists imported ideals from Britain, which then produced Chesapeake-specific gender relationships, facilitated by slavery and networks of perception. These relations became entangled in the sartorial embodiment of gender, as Anglo-Virginian women and men dictated acceptable forms of femininity and masculinity. Yet enslaved Afro-Virginians could and did negotiate gender on their own terms by fashioning new meanings about their clothing when they ran away. Bringing together documentary, visual, and material sources enables a material perspective on the importance of colonial appearances and the centrality of gender to colonial life. Embodiment theory, the method of reading "along the bias grain," and discussions of agency further augment histories that deal primarily with embodied social status or race and refine gender scholarship concerned with colonies besides Virginia.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
History; Public History
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
O'Neil, Rhiannon, ""Clothes Make Men": Clothing and the Embodiment of Gender in Virginia, 1750-1775" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 909.