Clothing in the Ragtime Era

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A Brief History of the Ragtime Era[edit]

Often, when people think of the Ragtime era, they think of the music that defined the generation, and although that is certainly a major factor, the Ragtime Era also helped to define a culture in clothing as well.[1]

Clothing Style and Class[edit]

Because the Ragtime Era began in the late 19th century and transitioned into the early 20th century (it lasted from approximately 1897-1918),[2] it also took place during what is known as "The Turn of the Century".[citation needed] This was also one of the first observations of class divisions. The difference between Upper Class and Lower Class citizens could clearly be seen and much of this had to do with their clothing and how they carried themselves in public [3]

The Upper Class[edit]

The Upper Class could afford to dress well. Women often appeared in long white gowns. This was a trend that was in fashion at the time. On these dresses were white collars and usually a brooch that kept the collar closed and women often wore large white hats and carried parasols as accessories. Bustles were often commonplace for women as well. Men often wore light, form fitting suits and wore bow ties as accessories. It was also not rare to see men wearing handle bar mustaches as was often the trend.

The Lower Class and Immigrant Population[edit]

Whereas the upper class were put together and proper, and everything was crisp, clean, and uniformed, the immigrant population was quite the opposite. This was the very beginning of immigrants being allowed to enter the United States via Ellis Island[4] Because they were able to carry very little over to the New World, they had very little clothing and very little money to buy more when their clothes started to wear out. They would therefore begin to mismatch their clothing or reuse the fabric from an old article of clothing so that they could get multiple uses out of each garment.

The African American Population[edit]

Many African Americans enjoyed the popular music from the Ragtime era. Their sense of style in clothing seemed to reflect this. Whereas the mostly Caucasian American Upper Class dressed in clean and light colored fabric (often creme or white) the African Americans seemed to dress in bright and vibrant clothing when they would attend clubs that played Ragtime music. Whereas the Upper Class Clothing was form fitting their clothes were loose which allowed for free and easy movement. Woman would often adorn their hair with colorful flowers as accessories, and men would often were vests and bowler hats as their accessories.


  1. ^ An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920 - Collection Connections - For Teachers (Library of Congress)." Library of Congress Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 December 2009. <>.
  2. ^ Berlin, Edward. "Ragtime". The Grove Music Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  3. ^ Shehan, Patricia K.. "JSTOR." JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 December 2009. <
  4. ^ "Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search." Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search . N.p., n.d. Web. 4 December 2009. <>