• Ashley Webb

Patriotic Fashion Through the Ages


1940s illustration of American & British patriotism - WWII

As the 244th 4th of July is upon us (as of 2020), I figured I'd look at several extant examples of dress as they've related to fashioning American patriotism. Today, patriotic fervor is seen primarily marketed and worn on or around July 4, and in some cases the patriotic fashions marketed are downright ridiculous. Throughout the centuries though, patriotic surges seen in American dress occurred around conflicts involving the United States or in pageants and other nationalist events. Historically, showing your patriotic spirit wasn't always about flashing the stars and stripes, or the red, white, and blue. In fact, wearing the likeness of the American flag as an everyday part of one's wardrobe wasn't a commonplace practice until the 1950s.



Of course, there's a lot of political, national, and even racist undertones associated with showing American patriotism (especially certain types), but those undertones have been a constant even since the American Revolution - just maybe not as blatant. Early patriotism took the form of buying only American made fashions instead of importing them from England or France. This included the halt of importing fabrics, buttons and other embellishments, and highlighted simple cotton dresses or plain broadcloth suits, made at American mills and from American harvested products. This emphasis continued into the 1790s, so much so that George Washington, with the help of several others with like-minded thoughts, attempted to alter the social makeup of American fashion throughout his first presidency, hoping to erase social and political inequalities evident in importing items from Europe. Even his presidential inauguration succumbed to this belief: Washington wore a simple brown broadcloth suit of American origin. Rumor has it that it was so fine in its tailoring that the press covering the event felt they had been lied to, that it in fact was European-made. Washington's assistants procured the necessary documentation to refute the claim, declaring it 100% American - from the sourcing of the materials, to the spinning of the fibers, down to the fit and tailoring.


In many cases, this mentality was the same throughout other periods of American history as well, including the War of 1812. World War II saw patriotism through 'doing your part' in refashioning what one already had and included making one's own clothes instead of buying new.


Political, national, and social connotations aside, here's some surviving examples of lovely patriotic garments to hopefully fuel your Star Spangled Spirit this 4th of July.






Note: None of these are in my personal collection, but are owned by private collectors and museums. Every attempt to give credit where credit is due has been made, and I'm happy to correct anything that might be wrong.

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Roanoke, VA, USA

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