Dress to Express

The freedom of expression through appearance is an important aspect of personal identity. Enslavement, however, limited this possibility for many. The ownership of enslaved people extended past the management of day-to-day labor into efforts to control of bodies and traditions.  

The deeply established movement of goods within the Atlantic world determined what people could buy and from where, making most consumers complicit in the perpetuation of enslaved labor simply by making a purchase. Some people, however, resisted the control imposed by enslavers and the powerful system of Atlantic trade, finding ways to assert individualism or boycott goods connected to the institution of slavery.

Look for the burgundy “Control” button throughout for objects interpreted through this theme. 

Banner image: Detail from cartouche, A MAP of/ the most INHABITED part of/ VIRGINIA, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, 1775-1776, London, England,;Ink, watercolor, paper (laid); 1963.0118 A, B.