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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPolitical caricature depicting black and white men and women interacting
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Men, Women & Gender
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Slave Clothing Personal Narratives Original Docs
The Clothes Make the Man, the Woman, and the Slave
Link to Gender Specific Clothing Link to The Power of a Uniform Link to Clothing for slave children Link to Dress that Oppressed and Clothing that Liberated Link to Nudity and the Captive Body Link to Slave Women and the Head-Wrap
Photo of African-American children on a plantation
Clothing for slave children

Slave children were often given minimal amounts of clothing. On some farms, they went entirely naked. Mattie Curtis, who was enslaved in North Carolina, remembered in an interview years later:

"I went as naked as Yo' han' till I was fourteen years old. I was naked like that when my nature come to me. Marse Whitfield aren't carin', but atter dat mammy tol' him dat I had ter have clothes."

As Mattie's memory suggests, changes in the dress of slaves often occurred at the onset of adolescence. For boys, this usually meant trading in long dress-like shirts, similar to those worn by the children pictured above, for pants. Fountain Hughes, formerly a slave, recalled:

" ... you wore a dress like a woman till I was ... ten, twelve, thirteen years old."

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