Franklin's Suit


This three-piece silk suit, originally a dark plum color that has faded to a brownish hue, consists of a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. It belonged to a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, and is thought to have been made in France around 1778, the year the Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France was signed. Franklin, the American Minister to France from 1776 until 1785, was a key figure in Franco-American politics and often present at the court of King Louis XVI. This plain suit would have created a stark visual contrast between Franklin and those in the elaborate dress commonplace for the opulent French Court.

Benjamin Franklin was very aware of the messages that clothing could convey to others. He, as well as several other prominent Americans including Washington and Jefferson, was well versed in the fashion and textiles of the time. These educated men selected their wardrobe carefully as to match their social stature and political agendas. Franklin crafted his appearance knowing that it was a powerful visual symbol. This plain, but well-tailored, suit speaks to Franklin as a “simple republican.”

This suit represents one of only three hundred known Franklin artifacts still in existence. It symbolizes not only Franklin’s person style, but also his skill at using clothing as a way to communicate with others.

Date Made: 1778

Associated Person: Franklin, Benjamin

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Costume, Clothing & Accessories


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2012.0187.001Catalog Number: 249722.001Accession Number: 2012.0187

Object Name: Suit, 3 PieceObject Type: ManSuitMain DressOther Terms: Suit, 3 Piece; Entire Body; Main Dress; Male

Physical Description: silk (overall material)linen (lining material)Measurements: overall: 43 in x 16 in; 109.22 cm x 40.64 cmcoat back: 31 in; 78.74 cmbreeches: 20 1/2 in; 52.07 cmbreeches inseam: 15 in; 38.1 cmcoat arm inseam: 33 in; 83.82 cmcoat arm sleeve (outer seam): 33 in; 83.82 cm


Record Id: nmah_368658

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