Few Americans had the time or the money for fancy European clothes. Most dressed in a simple style, often with homespun or homemade clothes. Until 1830, Americans wove more cloth in their homes than in their mills. Women wore long dresses and bonnets or caps, while men wore simple suits with knee breeches, long jackets, round hats and modest cravats. Until at least the late 1820s, the general custom was for men to be clean-shaven. The song "Yankee Doodle" shows how amused Americans were by the vanity of the European "dandies." In addition, the heavy dresses and thin-soled sandals that were appropriate in England and France were inconvenient in the often warm climates and rough, unpaved roads of America. Thus, when they dressed up, Americans usually simplified European fashions to fit their tastes and needs. The wealthy plantation families of the South, many of which sought to emulate European manners and sophistication, probably remained closest to the fashion plates of Europe.

Around the turn of the century, Americans of fashion followed the European change to Regency styles. For fashion-conscious American women, this meant slim and relatively simple dresses, inspired by ancient Greece and Rome, and low necklines; as opposed to the full skirts and high necklines of the older fashions. For men, this meant long pants and short, snug coats, worn with tall hats with narrow brims; instead of the eighteenth-century round hats, knee-breeches and shoes with huge buckles. Both genders discarded the elaborate wigs left over from the eighteenth century, generally favoring a simpler style.