‘Wearing three or four handkerchiefs around his collar, and elsewhere about him’: Slaves' Constructions of Masculinity and Ethnicity in French Colonial New Orleans



Drawing on slave testimony from criminal trials, this article suggests that slaves in French Colonial Louisiana articulated a nuanced relationship to material goods premised less on a static vision of West African culture, than on variable notions of gender and ethnicity. Here, articles of dress could be used by slaves to distinguish among themselves, as revealed in the 1766 investigation against one runaway marginalised in spite of his self-conscious sartorial identification as a slave and as an ‘African’. This paper thus offers an example of slaves engineering social control within black spaces by manipulating the legal apparatus of the white hegemony. Sartorial performances of ethnicity and masculinity were key to this process.