Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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What were colonial American beauty standards?

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Standards of beauty in the American colonies varied and changed over time and from region to region. Therefore, the following answer will be somewhat of a generalization.

Let us start with Puritan New England. The Puritans are known for their stark take on beauty. The Puritans believed that any lavish physical adornment or worldly aesthetics were pure extravagances and a dangerous distraction from the pragmatic necessities of life and worship. Homes sometimes had small embellishments, but simplicity and function were more valued. Clothing reflected this as well. Puritan dress utilized local dyes for coloring and tended to cover the body from head to foot, as unnecessarily exposed parts of the body would have been viewed as unsavory. Puritans did have an appreciation for the beauty of nature, as this was seen as evidence of God's majesty and power.

Notions of beauty in the Middle and Southern Colonies sometimes reflected the relative wealth and diversity of certain colonists in these regions. Wealthy men and women often tried to imitate the fashions of Europe, particularly of London, as a way to showcase their wealth and cultured views. These fashions changed over time to reflect the changing fashions across the Atlantic. The wealthiest were able to import clothing and art from Europe, while most colonists only had access to locally made goods that sometimes attempted to copy European styles.

One standard of beauty that tended to be commonplace throughout the colonies was an appreciation of and desire for unblemished skin. Diseases such as smallpox and measles were common and often left their victims with permanent marks. Being able to boast skin that was free of lesions and scars was evidence of a healthy and privileged childhood. Furthermore, it was desirable for women to have pale skin, as this suggested that they were wealthy enough to avoid working outdoors.

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