Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Africana Studies


Fashion Studies, Costume History, Slavery, Textiles, Cotton Industry


After suffering the traumas of capture, enslavement and the ship's journey from their homeland, newly arrived Black people, along with struggling to understand and cope with their reduced circumstances, were often pulled in multiple directions with regard to their appearance. Stripped of garments that represented their native culture and forbidden to practice their personal grooming habits, slaves were now reliant on their owners for care. Once a slave was purchased, it was in the best interest of the master and mistress to protect their investment by providing them with the essentials. Chief among those necessities were clothing.

This thesis will explore what enslaved persons wore, how they acquired the various garments, and their feelings towards their attire. Additionally, it will examine their efforts to assert their own personal style and the critical role that access to fine clothing played in successful escape. These aspects of costume history and how they intersect with American history will be illuminated using fugitive slave advertisements, slave owner’s financial records and written slave narratives.I will investigate slave owners’ use of enforced codes to dominate and control the recently enslaved, as well as the laws and regulations that sought to protect and cement slaves’ crucial role in the international textile industry. This portion of the thesis will rely on legal documentation detailing such codes as the Black Codes and Articles and Amendments to the Constitution which landowners, slave owners and legislators used to protect their, and the fledgling country’s financial interests.