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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

How did the material culture of fashion shape power relations between plantation mistresses and their slaves? This inquiry engages the rich historiography on the master-slave relationship. Most historians have not fully appreciated the ways that things had agency and infused violence into the household. While there is a wide agreement that white women oppressed their slaves, few scholars have explored the ways that fashion became contested. In the diary of Northeastern Louisiana’s Kate Stone, one finds numerous incidents of slaves taking and using clothing as a form of resistance. Clothing was also frequently captured or destroyed by Union soldiers, especially USCTs, many of whom were freed slaves and resented the symbolism behind Southern clothing. Extravagant clothing choices for Southern women came at the cost of a labor system based on the exploitation of slaves, a symbolism understood across the South. The destruction of fine clothing led to an increased warning of alternatives, like homespun materials. Wearing these homespun materials furthered Southern rage at the collapsing intuition of slavery and visualized their feelings of decline. Like many of her class, every day as Kate Stone got dressed, her clothing reminded her of her fall from the pedestal of being an elite woman.

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