Cover image for Ready-made democracy : a history of men's dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860
Ready-made democracy : a history of men's dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860
Zakim, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
x, 296 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally presented as the author's doctoral dissertation, Columbia University.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GT203 .Z35 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GT203 .Z35 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Ready-Made Democracy explores the history of men's dress in America to consider how capitalism and democracy emerged at the center of American life during the century between the Revolution and the Civil War. Michael Zakim demonstrates how clothing initially attained a significant place in the American political imagination on the eve of Independence. At a time when household production was a popular expression of civic virtue, homespun clothing was widely regarded as a reflection of America's most cherished republican values: simplicity, industriousness, frugality, and independence.

By the early nineteenth century, homespun began to disappear from the American material landscape. Exhortations of industry and modesty, however, remained a common fixture of public life. In fact, they found expression in the form of the business suit. Here, Zakim traces the evolution of homespun clothing into its ostensible opposite--the woolen coats, vests, and pantaloons that were "ready-made" for sale and wear across the country. In doing so, he demonstrates how traditional notions of work and property actually helped give birth to the modern industrial order. For Zakim, the history of men's dress in America mirrored this transformation of the nation's social and material landscape: profit-seeking in newly expanded markets, organizing a waged labor system in the city, shopping at "single-prices," and standardizing a business persona.

In illuminating the critical links between politics, economics, and fashion in antebellum America, Ready-Made Democracy will prove essential to anyone interested in the history of the United States and in the creation of modern culture in general.

Author Notes

Michael Zakim teaches history at Tel Aviv University.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Examining the American Colonial and early republican experience, Zakim (history, Tel Aviv Univ.) shows us how clothing can make history. During the early Industrial Revolution, England needed to foster its nascent textile business; it kept textile technology secret and regulated trade so as to import raw materials cheaply from its colonies and sell back to them the finished goods-bolts of finely made and costly fabrics. Colonial Americans chafed under this restrictive regime, for they had to sell cheap and buy dear-a recipe for penury, if not poverty. Hence, America resisted, and this resistance as well as others led to its War of Independence. The American Colonies at first sent emissaries to plead with Parliament for relief, but when none came, they sent spies to steal industrial secrets. Colonial governments and public media, moreover, made it a virtue to refuse English goods and rely on homemade products-in this instance homespun fabrics. Homespun dress came to mark the self-reliant American patriot. A rewriting of Zakim's doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, this book is not a casual read but scholarly, detailed, and thoroughly annotated. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with specialty collections in industrial or fashion history.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Sartorial Politicsp. 1
1 A Homespun Ideologyp. 11
2 A Clothing Businessp. 37
3 The Reinvention of Tailoringp. 69
4 Dressing for Workp. 96
5 Ready-Made Laborp. 127
6 The Seamstressp. 157
7 A Fashion Regimep. 185
Conclusionp. 212
Notesp. 221
Indexp. 289