In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 2

Lesson 2
Excerpts from

Acts and Resolves of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay,
volume VIII, 1703-1707

Apparel person within this Jurisdiction, nor any of their relations depending upon them, whose visible estates real and personal, shall not exceed the true and indifferent value of two hundred pounds, shall wear any Gold or Silver lace, or Gold and Silver Buttons, or any bone lace above two shillings per yard, or silk hoods, or scarfs, upon the penalty of ten shillings for every such offence...

It is further Ordered by the Authority aforesaid, that the Select Men of every Town, or the Major part of them, are hereby enabled and required from time to time, to have regard, and take notice of Apparel of any of the Inhabitants of their severall Towns respectively, and whosoever they shall judge to exceed their ranks and abilities, in the costliness or fashion of their Apparel in any respect, especially in the wearing of Ribbonds or great Boots, (Leather being so scarce a commodity in this Country) Lace, Points, &c., Silk Hoods, or Scarfes, the Select men aforesaid shall have power to assess such persons so offending in any of the particulars mentioned above in the Country Rates, at two hundred pounds estates,... Provided this Law shall not extend to the restraint of any Magistrate or publick Officer of this Jurisdiction, their Wives and Children, who are left to their discretion in wearing of Apparel, or any setled Military Officer, or Souldier in the time of Military service, or any whose education and imployment have been above the ordinary degree, or whose estate have been considerable, though now decayed.

Whereas there is manifest Pride openly appearing amongst us in that long Hair is worn by some men, either their own, or others Hair made into Perewigs: And by some Women wearing Borders of Hair, and their Cutting, Curling, and Immodest laying out their Hair, which practice doth prevail and increase especially amongst the younger sort.

This Court doth Declare against this ill custome as Offensive to them, and divers sober Christians amongst us, and therefore do hereby exhort and advice all persons to use moderation in this respect; and further do impower all Grand juries to present to the County Court such Persons, whether Male or Female; whom they shall judge to exceed in the Premises; and the County Court are hereby Authorized to proceed against such Delinquents either by Admonition, Fine, or Correction, according to their good discretion.

...all persons within this Jurisdiction, whether the Children, or Servants that are under government in Families, that shall wear any Apparel exceeding the quality and condition of their Persons or Estate, or that is apparently contrary to the ends of Apparel;...shall for the first offence be Admonished; for the second offence pay a fine of twenty shillings; for the third offence, forty shillings, and so following, as the offences are multiplied...

Also if any Taylor shall make or fashion any Garment for such Children or Servants under government as aforesaid, contrary to the mind and order of their Parents or Governours; every such Taylor shall for the first offence be Admonished; and for the second offence, forfeit double the value of such Apparel or Garment as he shall fashion or make, contrary to the minde and order of their Parents or Governours; half to the Owner, and half to the Country.

What does that mean?
No one, including family members, worth less than 200 pounds can wear lace or buttons made of gold or silver, bone lace (a kind of lace, not made from bones), silk hoods or silk scarves. The penalty is 10 shillings each time.

The Selectmen are ordered to keep an eye on how people in their town are dressed. If anyone dresses above their rank or ability, especially in regard to wearing ribbons, tall boots (since leather is scarce), lace, points (decorative metal tips on the ends of ribbons), silk hoods, silk scarves, etc., the selectmen can make them pay a fine. Men holding public positions and their wives and children, military officers and soldiers in time of service, those with a high level of education or work, and those who are no longer as wealthy as they once were, are not included.

It has been observed that some men wear long hair, either their own or wigs, and some women cut their hair or curl it or put on hair pieces. It is especially a problem among the young people and is a sign of too much pride. The court and other Christian citizens are offended by this and advise all to use moderation in hairstyles. Those with fancy hairstyles, whether male or female, can be presented to the court and given a warning, fined, or corrected.

Children or servants may not dress above their rank. They will be warned the first time, pay a fine of 20 shillings the second time, 40 shillings the third time, etc. Any tailor who makes clothes for children or servants above their rank or against the wishes of parents or employers will be warned the first time and be made to pay twice the value of the garment the second time. Half of the money will go to the parent or employer and the other half will go to the town.

top of page