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Colonial Costumes for Men

Updated on November 6, 2014

Colonial Man's Clothing - Patriotic Costumes for Men

Colonial America was a great period in men's clothing styles, with practical garments that were easy to move in and flattering to every figure, from the big and tall man to the stripling youth. Here you'll find a detailed checklist for men's colonial costumes with notes on men's clothing styles of the 18th century colonial and American Revolutionary period.

Find where to buy colonial men's costumes for any purpose - for community theatre and school plays, for Fourth of July parties and parades, fancy-dress and Halloween, or more authentic patriot garb for historical re-enactments.

You can even make your own colonial man's costume or adapt your own men's clothing to 1770s style with just a bit of straight basic sewing and a few well-chosen accessories. Read on for lots of colonial men's costume ideas!

Photo: Colonial Williamsburg by Luigi Crespo Photography [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

What Kind of Colonial Man are You?

Many Civilian Roles for Men in 1700s America

The colonial period in America may have been fraught with conflict but by far the majority of men were for most if not all of their lives in a civilian role. In this realm, however, the costume of the Colonial Man we normally think of is that of the townsmen of the Thirteen Colonies, for the most part - but just consider the variety of options you have!

For example, what clothing did the rough-and-ready woodsmen and country farmers of the 1770s wear? What kind of clothing was worn by the colonial-era merchant seaman, privateer or pirate? What about shipyard workers, blacksmiths and farriers, wheelwrights and carters, the servants and stable boys who worked for the wealthier families? Colonial America had its lawyers and judges, too, with a rudimentary system still modelled on the British courts, so the officials were black-gowned and wigged accordingly... and so on, and so on.

Every role in society would have its own typical clothing styles, so your costume choices are wider than you might at first think.

Patriot Soldiers of the American Revolution

225th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Rhode Island 1778.
225th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Rhode Island 1778.

Clothing Maketh the Man - The Right Colonial Costume Depends on What Character You'll Play

When you're putting together a costume for a colonial man, the first thing to consider is how authentic you want or need your costume to be. What is the occasion? and who are you going to be? A specific historical figure, or an ordinary Colonial Man about town?

For example, when you will be playing a distinctive character - such as George Washington, for example, or Ben Franklin - your costume will need to be sure to include those items we associate with those historical persons, especially in the matter of finding the right wig for the character. Ben Franklin is normally seen with a well-balding forehead and straight long hair, of course, and a Ben Franklin costume will also his characteristic small round spectacles to be complete.

Men's Colonial Theater Costume, Black, Medium
Men's Colonial Theater Costume, Black, Medium

Otherwise, for most civilian gentlemen, a good-quality basic costume such this black suit with coat and breeches will likely be most flexible to fit a variety of roles. The amount of lace on the jabot and cuffs and the type and quality of the footwear can help to distinguish the prosperous man of business from the small land-owner or shop-keeper who is dressed in his Sunday best.

 

Samuel Adams Costume

Adult Men's Costume for the patriot Samuel Adams, essayist and political leader of Boston, Massachusetts, during the War of Independence.
Adult Men's Costume for the patriot Samuel Adams, essayist and political leader of Boston, Massachusetts, during the War of Independence. | Source

Find a Costume to Suit Size and Budget

Size and price are two other items to think about. Big and tall men will have a more difficult time than standard sized men to find a ready-made costume, although you will find a few on this page. Off-the-rack costumes or a few key costume pieces mixed with your own gear will be the least costly way to go, but the infamous "one size fits all" is usually NOT the truth, in reality!

Any size of colonial-era clothing can be had from a theatrical costume supplier or made to custom order, of course, but suppose that your budget may not stretch to custom gear or a professional outfit? Fortunately, I've got some suggestions, below, to help men (of any size and shape) get suited up for the Fourth of July without breaking the bank.

First, let's run through a quick checklist of those must-have items of clothing and accessories for a Colonial Man costume.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull
Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull | Source

Clothing Checklist for a Colonial Man's Costume

  • Shirt

    Look for a long shirt in plain cotton or linen, with long sleeves that are fairly full and no collar, just a neck band. For a working man's colonial costume, you can tie a narrow neck scarf in the opening of the shirt. As the social status goes up, so does the amount of detail in the shirt - a folded or pleated neckcloth, a soft ascot tie, or a lace-trimmed jabot and cuffs. If you think somewhere between "pirate shirt" and "peasant shirt" that will get you in the right ballpark. Note that the shirts in colonial times were very long, down to mid-thigh or longer, so the working man's costume has an option to wear the shirt tucked into the breeches or left out and belted at the waist.

  • Vest

    The vest is long, down to the thighs, fastened with many small buttons. It cuts away in a V shape just below the belly, and the armholes are quite close-fitting. Lower class and working men would have a hard-wearing vest of wool or heavy cotton weave in a plain medium-dark color that wouldn't show soiling - olive, grey, brown, and the like. Men of higher social status would show more luxurious fabrics and decoration on their vests, especially the vests work for special occasions, with fronts embroidered or made of brocades, satins, and similar fancy fabrics. Buttons for a working man's vest might be base metal, bone or wood, while a rich man's buttons might be a work of art in of themselves.

  • Knee Breeches

    Men's trouser styles have changed so radically over the years, the typical knee breeches are often one of the most difficult parts of a colonial men's costume to get right. To begin with - no zippers! Button drop-front or pull-on drawstring pants were the two main choices. If the shirt is worn loose down over the top of the pants, belted at the waist, you can often get away with shortening a pair of your own old dress pants or secondhand trousers from Goodwill to just below the knee, to make a pair of breeches. Elastic was not invented in colonial times, so if you want to be authentic your breeches will button at the bottom or have a drawstring.

  • Wig

    See: Colonial Wigs and Hairstyles for July 4th Costumes

  • Hat

    See: Colonial Tricorn Hats for Patriotic July 4th Costumes

  • Coat and/or Cloak

    The everyday coat is essentially a vest with sleeves, and would not necessarily be worn by a poor man in colonial times. An upstanding citizen of the community would be unlikely to go without his coat in public. You might want to skip the coat, however, if your Fourth of July weather is often on the hot and steamy side! At night, in poor weather, or if you're dressing as Paul Revere, consider adding a mid-length cloak to your costume.

  • Stockings (Hose)

    Above the knee, knitted hose in white, off-white, or beige-tan, are tied with a garter above or below the knee - remember, elastic had not been invented in the 1770s!

  • Shoes

    Black or brown leather, shoes were buttoned or buckled. I don't advise wasting money on most low-cost "shoe covers" except for a quick Halloween costume, perhaps, as they have a tendency to look like you're walking around with bags on your feet. You're better off to buy an inexpensive pair of slip-on shoes or use your existing dark dress shoes, and add a buckle on top to approximate the look of colonial shoes.

1770s Military Costumes - Officers of the Revolutionary War

If you are dressing up as a colonial soldier - either Patriot or British Redcoat - or a military or naval officer (on whichever side of the Revolutionary War), your costume will call for finding an appropriate uniform. That's quite straightforward for the officer class on both sides and for the redcoats. The dress of the militia man or the ordinary recruit or volunteer, however, was much more modest, even in the earliest and most prosperous days of the conflict...

Unisex Adult Nathanael Greene Revolutionary War Uniform XXL (Up to 48" Chest) Multi
Unisex Adult Nathanael Greene Revolutionary War Uniform XXL (Up to 48" Chest) Multi

On the side of the patriots, this high-quality colonial officer's uniform in tan and blue is made in the USA, one of the Premiere American Heritage Line inspired by the Founding Fathers - in this case, Nathanael Greene (1742-1786). The costume features broad lapels with gold-toned frogs trim on the cutaway jacket, and it comes with the knee breeches and easy-to-fit backless vest. You'll add the jabot and cuffs and a pair of tall boots. Colonial-era replica rifle is not included.

 

Photo: 225th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Rhode Island 1778. American Army marches south down the East side of Rhode Island to Engage the British. Photo by Graemesmith, [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The ragtag common foot soldiers of the American patriot forces were frequently clad in whatever they could cobble together from their own clothing and limited kit issue. Later on in the War, as supply lines stretched thin and funding failed, it was increasingly likely that the soldier's costume would have included a few worn cast-offs from injured or fallen comrades, or bits and pieces of clothing that were scavenged along the way.

Sew Your Own Colonial or American Revolutionary War Costume for Men - Historical Costume (Coat, Vest, Shirt, Pants and Hat) Sewing Pattern

If you can sew, or have access to someone who sews - and if time permits - then making your own costume is often a good way to go. Butterick sewing patterns have always been a reliable choice for my projects (as have Simplicity and McCalls patterns).

You can sew the entire wardrobe from underwear "drawers" to breeches and trousers, and from shirt to waistcoat to an impressive over-coat with broad facings and sweeping skirts, in 1700s military style or for the patriotic civilian of the period.

Shop the remnants section of your local fabric store for the materials, and you'll have a fabulous colonial costume made to fit perfectly - often it's the best option for hard-to-fit extra large or extra tall men.

Here are just a couple of the sewing patterns for appropriate costumes you'll find for sale at a reasonable price.

Sewing Patterns for Colonial Men's Costume

Butterick Patterns B3072 Historical Costume (Coat, Vest, Shirt, Pants and Hat), Size 44-46-48
Butterick Patterns B3072 Historical Costume (Coat, Vest, Shirt, Pants and Hat), Size 44-46-48

The comprehensive 5-piece pattern shown here includes all the main pieces you'll need to create a man's colonial costume - and be confident that it will fit as it should. This pattern is for a man's colonial costume in Size 44-46-48 (three sizes, depending which cutting lines you choose), but you can also find it in Size 32-34-36 and Size 38-40-42.

 

What costume would you choose? - A bigwig like George Washington, or an ordinary patriot?

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    • profile image

      Colin323 3 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: These Revolutionary War Officer costumes are great, although that's probably treason to say that as a Brit!

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      Crew of the Archangel, message received - thank you for bringing the problem to my attention. I assume the photographer (no longer on Flickr, I see) applied a Creative Commons license in error. You have my greatest respect for a fine manly appearance, gents, and I'm glad to help you protect your rights by replacing the image. Cheers, and onward!

    • FrancesWrites profile image

      FrancesWrites 3 years ago

      There's so much detail in this kind of costuming. Great lens, so informative! :)

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      History is still alive! Enjoyed looking at this lens, it is fun :)

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      This page is a work of art. I love it. It is interesting, informative, and exciting. The photos are heart warming. I so enjoyed this.

    • pigwear profile image

      pigwear 4 years ago

      I can honestly say I wish the style would come back. Fun lens and great job!

    • uneasywriter lm profile image

      uneasywriter lm 4 years ago

      Great lens. Keeping the colonial history alive! What a fun way to tell American history!

    • profile image

      jintovarghese 4 years ago

      i certainly use this type of costumes for the upcoming events...

    • profile image

      slotowngal 4 years ago

      What a great lens! We're going to Williamsburg for Christmas this year.

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 4 years ago

      Yeah, shy should Tea party advocates have all the fun?!?!? I agree that Colonial costumes are super duper for everyone! Cheers~cb

    • Art-Aspirations profile image

      Art-Aspirations 4 years ago

      So handsome! Sure beats jeans and a t-shirt! But they probably weren't as comfortable.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 4 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      really very attractive costumes. well presented lens.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

      This is a great idea for fancy dress and nicely done too.

    • profile image

      Tigerstarr830 4 years ago

      I'm a girl so I couldn't have a militia costume. I'd have to make flags or something! LOL

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Hmmm.... I'm guessing that I'd be the everyday patriot type. But with a wide-brim hat!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Very cool costumes! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @JonTempleton: Only the tiniest bit. :)

    • JonTempleton profile image

      JonTempleton 5 years ago

      Why do I keep picturing Jack Black in all of these? Is that weird!??!

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 5 years ago from California

      Just plain excellent. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      Great ideas! and the British are coming! the British are coming!

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 5 years ago

      Love these historical costume lenses-- nice job! <3

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      You've really done some great research on Colonial American costumes. I like the detailed checklist for the do-it-yourselfers (although it certainly looks much easier to just buy one)!

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