In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Clothing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Europe
  • South America and Hispanic America
  • Africa
  • African Diaspora
  • Shopping and Consumption
  • Making, Maintenance, and Trade
  • Textiles
  • Asia in the Atlantic

Atlantic History Clothing
Sophie White
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0028


The study of clothing offers a distinctive methodological approach to understanding the Atlantic world. It engages with key questions such as the movement of people—and of things—around the Atlantic (as well as between the Atlantic and the wider world). It also offers an especially rich means of uncovering the lived experiences of inhabitants of the Atlantic basin through their projection of a visual and three-dimensional expression of identity. Because the history of dress as an academic discipline first developed in Europe as an offshoot of art history, readers will note a preponderance of scholarship on Europe, especially England. As this interdisciplinary field has expanded to encompass approaches from the social sciences and humanities, and reflecting the interest in Atlantic studies, the focus of dress history has expanded immeasurably to address topics such as the construction of gender and of race in colonial contexts. Indeed, in its broadest definition, dress encompasses apparel, accessories, hairstyling, even tattoos, and everyone—not simply those who have left us documentary sources for writing the history of the Atlantic world—wore some form of dress. The analysis of clothing is therefore especially valuable in illuminating the lives of the nonliterate and the colonized. Finally, because clothing is a form of material culture, it is highly recommended that readers consult the Oxford Bibliographies article on Material Culture.

General Overviews

There are no general surveys per se of clothing in the Atlantic world, but a number of texts provide useful overviews of dress in discrete segments of the Atlantic (e.g., Baumgarten 2002, Loren 2010, and Wass and Fandrich 2010 for North America; Bouttiaux 2008 for Africa; Ribeiro 2002, Roche 1994, and Styles 2007 for Europe), with Ross 2008 offering a valuable global history of dress.

  • Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

    The best general overview of dress in British early America, incorporating surviving dress (from the collections of Colonial Williamsburg) as well as visual images and written sources. Researched and written by the costume curator at Colonial Williamsburg, the volume is especially useful in its attention to topics such as slave dress; homespun, common dress; and the dress worn during life passages.

  • Bouttiaux, Anne-Marie, Frieda Sorber, and Anne van Cutsem. African Costumes and Textiles from the Berbers to the Zulus: The Zaira and Marcel Mis Collection. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2008.

    Essays that explore cloth and clothing from different regions of Africa and across a range of historical periods.

  • Loren, Diana DiPaolo. The Archaeology of Clothing and Bodily Adornment in Colonial America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010.

    The only overview of clothing in archaeological finds in North America and one that builds on the author’s many articles on aspects of archaeological clothing.

  • Ribeiro, Aileen. Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1751–1789. Rev. ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

    The best analysis of dress in different parts of Europe in the 18th century by a leading historian of dress history, predominantly focused on elite fashion and drawing on a wide variety of visual and written sources.

  • Roche, Daniel. The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the Ancien Régime. Translated by Jean Birrell. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    A major piece of scholarship on the cultural importance of dress, anchored by the assessment of changes in fashion consumption over the course of the 18th century in Paris, by social rank and occupation. Originally published as La culture des apparences: Une histoire du vêtement, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Fayard, 1989).

  • Ross, Robert. Clothing: A Global History. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2008.

    A sweeping survey of the influence of Europe on dress around the world, with much coverage of Atlantic regions in the early modern period and drawing on extensive knowledge of the best scholarly literature on dress history.

  • Styles, John. The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

    The most significant work published to date on non-elite dress; very thorough, drawing on a sweeping range of hitherto underexplored primary sources, and methodologically innovative.

  • Wass, Ann Buermann, and Michelle Webb Fandrich. Clothing through American History: The Federal Era through Antebellum, 1786–1860. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.

    A mostly reliable descriptive survey of dress in the early republic and antebellum periods.

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