Colonial Massachusetts

What are you wearing right now? Anything lacy? Scarves, buttons, or tall boots? We’re not trying to get fresh, but depending on your net worth, you might be breaking the law of this jurisdiction—as it was in 1651!

The General Court of Massachusetts, the colonial legislature, didn’t mince words declaring its

…utter detestation and dislike, that men or women of mean condition, should take upon them the garb of Gentlemen, by wearing Gold or Silver lace, or Buttons, or Points at their knees, or to walk in great Boots; or Women of the same rank to wear Silk or Tiffiny hoods, or Scarfes, which though allowable to persons of greater Estates, or more liberal education, yet we cannot but judge it intolerable in persons of such like condition.

A further note added to the law in 1662 explained that dressing above one’s station was unbecoming both the wilderness conditions of the colony and the profession of the Gospel, and worried, like the Locrian Code, that it could lead the populace to become corrupted and effeminate.

Massachusetts General Laws, 1651


Woman wearing a dark hood, ca. 1640s

Depending on the net worth of this woman’s father or husband, she may have been breaking the law if she wore this hood and lace trimmed garments in the Massachusetts colony.