An American Identity: Shoemaker’s Labels in Colonial, Revolutionary and Federal America, 1760-1820




Reddick, Meaghan M

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Women’s shoes were one of the first fashion garments to be branded with labels in the eighteenth century. Most costume historians have traditionally overlooked the existence of such labels for their fancy British counterparts. American shoemakers in the 1760s and 1770s were labeling their products in an effort to sway patriotic consumers who were looking for an alternative luxury product. Craftsman of all disciplines were united in their awareness of changing consumption patterns due to the boycotting against British taxation. Early American shoe labels illustrate the rise of the shoe industry and the division of labor occurring in the shoe manufacturing process as the market was developing for retail and wholesale as opposed to bespoke. At the forefront of the shoe manufacturing business was Ebenezer Breed, a Lynn shoemaker and merchant capitalist who labeled his shoes with a Philadelphia label. Breed was active politically to ensure the protection of the domestic shoe industry in the 1780s, when cheap British shoes were pouring back into the American market after the American Revolution. This paper discusses the American shoe industry and trade through the illustration of women’s shoe labels, arguing that the American shoe industry succeeded in becoming a global leader in the nineteenth century because of women’s consumer choices and the efforts of Ebenezer Breed.



American shoemaking, American manufacturing, Eighteenth-century American clothing, Women's shoes, Shoe labels, Non-importation agreements