Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: What Working Class Missourians Wore in 1821

Apr 29, 2021

Welcome to the Missouri Bicentennial Minute from the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Working class Missourians wore clothing for special occasions that mirrored the clothing worn by the upper classes. However, average people might have only one set of good clothes, if that, and only one or two sets of clothes in total. Fabrics were inexpensive cotton, linen, or wool—the latter two often grown, spun, woven, and sewn on their own farm. Except for inexpensive purchased cotton, fabrics were home-dyed.

Women wore plainer, high-waisted dresses in the Regency style, but usually wore a straw or cloth bonnet when working outside or in social settings. A shawl or cloak kept out the chill. Slippers completed the outfit.

Men wore trousers or rarely pantaloons, a simple cotton or linen pullover shirt, usually a vest unless working in warm weather, and boots or leather shoes. Trousers and pantaloons had fall fronts, and not the modern-day fly front. Men wore less stylish versions of frock coats, or overcoats in cooler weather. Back woodsmen still wore the 18th-Century style hunting shirt, which was linen or linsey-woolsey, a blend of linen and wool. This outer shirt wrapped around, and a belt secured it in place.  On the frontier, men might wear moccasins. Men wore felt top hats or slouch hats, even during the work day.

Infants wore a gown, then graduated to a one-piece shirt or skeleton suit. Older children dressed much like adults.

A common situation for slaves was for owners to buy cloth for them to make their own clothing, and the styles were similar to those of other laborers. More prosperous slave holders might buy a few better items of clothing such as hats, vests, or boots for their slaves.