Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design

Department

Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design

First Advisor

Linda Welters

Abstract

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, store-bought textiles and dress-related goods played an important role in the material world of many Americans. Local and domestic manufacturing generally did not fulfill the demand for such goods; imports from Europe and Asia provided many of these products. Advancements in manufacturing technologies and the growth of American overseas trade during this time contributed to the expanding supply of consumer goods, among which textiles and dress-related items featured prominently. In rural regions, dry-goods stores provided the populace with access to a diverse assortment of these wares.

This study examines purchases made at Elijah Boardman’s store in New Milford, Connecticut, to determine the patterns of consumption of store-bought textiles and dress-related goods in a rural New England town in early national America. It focuses on how these patterns shifted during this period of immense changes in textile production and fashion. This research is based on document analysis of seven daybooks recording the transactions that took place at Elijah Boardman’s store during thirty-five months in 1784-85, 1797-98, and 1810-11.

The purchases made during these years show that Boardman’s customers bought a wide array of textiles and dress-related goods. This included utilitarian and fashionable items, raw materials and tools as well as finished goods, and products made by local artisans in addition to those imported from distant lands. Their purchases also reflect the changing times through the increase in cotton textile sales during 1797-98 and 1810-11 resulting from manufacturing improvements and emerging neoclassical fashions. The amounts and types of goods bought also suggest their end uses: the predominance of short textile lengths and trimmings in these transactions indicates that Boardman’s customers more routinely refurbished rather than replaced garments. Boardman sold goods to a variety of customers: account holders included men, women, and enslaved and free non-white people. Individuals other than account holders also regularly made purchases; the family, friends, and business acquaintances who participated in these transactions illustrate the consumer networks that were often involved in the acquisition of these goods.

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