Planning a Fourth of July Party, Former Colonist Style: 5 Ways To Party Like It's 1776

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We know what you're thinking: The Fourth of July is nigh upon us. So how do we party like it's 1776? Fortunately for you, we have the answers. Let's start with the basics: On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, which formalized the rebel colonies' intention to become the United States of America and shake off the yoke of repressive British rule.

Sorry, King George III.

With the benefit of hindsight, it turns out there were a lot of things about 1776 that weren't so hot — for example, to the extent that anybody had power in society, it certainly wasn't enjoyed by women, or slaves, or American Indians, or anyone, really, but well-off white dudes. In fact, 1776 wasn't a great year for most Americans. So we recognize that even as we celebrate a particular group of feisty colonials who ended up founding the U.S.A. all those years ago, and coming up with an imperfect union that we're still working on today.

So, knowing all that, how do you take that revolutionary spirit and make it your own for the Fourth of July? It might help to get yourself in the 1776 mindset, or at least the fun parts. How did they party? What was their lifestyle like? How about their hairstyles?

Here's your guide for partying like it's 1776.

Get your hair "permanented"

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Dedicated Fourth of July celebrators know this is step 1 for a genuine Fourth of July. All the cool colonist ladies were getting their hair "permanented" (yup, that's what they called it) back in 1776. Just try not to fall into a pool or something.

Wear face paints (make-up)

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Though early colonists notably didn't wear make-up — stodgy Europeans visiting the colonists made a note of it — by 1776, painting one's face had become more mainstream on this side of the pond. That's what they called it before the much better term "make-up" went mainstream. You wouldn't step out of the house without the finest paints from Europe, would you now?

Dress fancy

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Back in 1776, men dressed as fancily as women. Even the soldiers dressed well, though the National Park Service notes that so many were volunteers (minute men and militia men) that plenty of soldiers didn't wear a uniform. WSJ quotes one New York man as making a truly-spectacular sounding clothing order back in the day: 'Twas a suit of "superfine scarlet plush and a vest of light blue plush."


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Have you already started partying? Then you're ahead of the game. The Washington Post notes that in a letter to his wife sent July 3, 1776, John Adams told her that one day that week would be a day to remember. It's not the one you think.

“The Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Whoops, John Adams, whoops. But he had a point: Independence really was declared on the 2nd. But we (maybe) didn't get around to signing the Declaration until the 4th. Historians are a little torn on this one. Best to start drinking on the 2nd, then.

Celebrate with "Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations"

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In that same letter, according to the NPS, Adams also said we should celebrate thusly:

It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Though we can safely assume fireworks were considerably less high-tech back in 1776, watching them is still doing the founding fathers proud. As for the shews, well, apparently he meant shows. See shows this weekend!

We recommend sparklers instead of guns, though.