Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

Looking to Buy Tickets & Gifts or Book a Vacation? Click Here

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

An 18th-Century Trades Sampler

a photographic essay by 1999 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute participants

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary


Millinery shop

"Attention, Attention! Get your latest fashions here at Margaret Hunter's Millinery." Prior to the American Revolution, millinery shops were a woman's business and were the only business a woman could actually purchase. Milliners catered to the fashion needs of men, women, and children.

The Hunter Millinery sold fabric, baby and children's clothes, hats and shoes, dolls, jewelry, tea pots, sugar, needles, thread, laces, liquor, lottery and theatre tickets, ribbons, hair pieces, medicines, books, games, and much, much more. In Latin, mille means 1000. A millinery might sell as many as 1000 different things, all of which were imported from London.

The Milliner sold a wide variety of items
Mantua-makers specialized in making women's gowns

Not only did milliners sell fabric straight from the bolt, they also employed mantua makers who "got-up" or made dresses, jackets, and gowns for customers. A mantua-maker was responsible for draping, cutting, and sewing the gown. It was possible for a gown to be "gotten-up" in the very latest fashion from London with three half-hour fittings in seven days.

The cost of any clothing varied depending on the type of fabric that was chosen. If you could afford the material for your clothing, you could afford to have your clothing made for you. For instance, a gown made from wool, silk, or cotton cost more than one made from linen. The cost for the labor was less expensive than the material involved. In fact, the material was 80%-90% of the cost of the gown. This teal silk taffeta dress cost £15, a considerable amount of money, almost a half-years salary for a young journeyman tradesman.

Silk taffeta gown
A tailor hand sewing

While mantua-makers focused on ladies gowns, tailors "got-up" men's fashions as well as women's stays and riding habits. Mr. James Slate, was a tailor from trained in London. He catered to gentlemen customers in need of new fashions. Tailors constructed men's clothing from the measure of the man. He adjusted a basic paper pattern to fit the measurements. In the early 1770s there were more tailors than any other trade in Williamsburg.

* * * * *

For additional detailed information regarding 18th-century clothing please go to:

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary