The slop shop and the almshouse: ready-made menswear in Philadelphia, 1780-1820

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University of Delaware
This thesis examines the clothing of poor men in Philadelphia between 1780 and 1820, situated within the rich historiography of social and costume history. It examines two networks of clothing production and use, "slop shops" and the Philadelphia almshouse, and employs documentary evidence, visual depictions, and extant garments. "Slops " has long connoted coarse canvas garments associated with naval service. In fact, Philadelphia's merchant sailors as well as other laborers bought a colorful variety of clothing in slop shops. These purchases allowed poor men to wear meaningful and expressive clothing. Slops-sellers managed networks of outworkers and employed sales tactics that other tailors eventually adopted, enabling the spread of ready-made menswear to higher social levels. Poor men also encountered ready-made clothing in the Philadelphia almshouse, where many of them sought shelter when they could not or would not provide for themselves. Resident workers produced shoes, textiles, and ready-made garments, and in this institution poor men wore varied and evocative clothing. This thesis contributes to a historiographical discourse about the origin and adoption of clothing styles among social groups. Whether they bought their clothing in a slop shop or received it in the almshouse, the "lower sort" engaged fashions distinct from those of the social elite, and exercised their agency to express themselves through clothing.