Two Pairs of Pink Satin Shoes!!’ Race, Clothing and Identity in the Americas (17th–19th Centuries)

by Rebecca Earle


This essay considers the relationship between clothing and identity in colonial and nineteenth-century Latin America (with the occasional detour into North America and the Caribbean). It focuses more particularly on the sartorial opinions of persons who considered themselves to be of European descent, whether residents of the region or travellers. In this it constitutes an examination of elite attitudes and mentalities; the individuals whose opinions are here explored were, broadly speaking, wealthy and privileged. Given its thematic and chronological scope, this paper scarcely constitutes a definitive analysis of the relationship between clothing, race and identity in the Americas. Nonetheless, its subject matter demonstrates that clothing has enjoyed a highly varied ability to shape identity, particularly racial identity. It suggests, moreover, that the subversive, or disruptive, potential of certain ‘clothing acts’ has varied greatly over the last three-hundred years. Sartorial customs that caused dismay to nineteenth-century observers attracted praise in earlier centuries. This variety can tell us a great deal about the changing nature of racial identity.

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