1700–1750 in Western fashion
Fashion in the period 1700–1750 in European and European-influenced countries is characterized by a widening silhouette for both men and women following the tall, narrow look of the 1680s and 90s. This era is defined as late Baroque/Rococo style. The new fashion trends introduced during this era had a greater impact on society, affecting not only royalty and aristocrats, but also middle and even lower classes. Clothing during this time can be characterized by soft pastels, light, airy, and asymmetrical designs, and playful styles. Wigs remained essential for men and women of substance, and were often white; natural hair was powdered to achieve the fashionable look. The costume of the eighteenth century, if lacking in the refinement and grace of earlier times, was distinctly quaint and picturesque
Distinction was made in this period between full dress worn at court and for formal occasions, and undress or everyday, daytime clothes. As the decades progressed, fewer and fewer occasions called for full dress, which had all but disappeared by the end of the century.
Fashion designers became more recognizable during this period, as men and women were eager to be dressed in the latest trends and styles. Fashion magazines emerged during this era, originally aimed at educated readers, but quickly capturing the attention of lower classes with their colorful illustrations and up-to-date fashion news.
Gowns and dresses
In the early decades of the new century, formal dress consisted of the stiff-bodiced mantua. A closed (or “round”) petticoat, sometimes worn with an apron, replaced the open draped mantua skirt of the previous period. This formal style then gave way to more relaxed fashions.
The robe à la française or sack-back gown had a tight bodice with a low-cut square neckline, usually with large ribbon bows down the front, wide panniers, and was lavishly trimmed with all manner of lace, ribbon, and flowers. With flowing pleats from the shoulders was originally an undress fashion. At its most informal, this gown was unfitted both front and back and called a sacque. With a more relaxed style came a shift away from heavy fabrics, such as satin and velvet, to Indian cotton, silks and damasks. Also, these gowns were often made in lighter pastel shades that gave off a warm, graceful and childlike appearance. Later, for formal wear, the front was fitted to the body by means of a tightly-laced underbodice, while the back fell in loose box pleats called “Watteau pleats” from their appearance in the paintings of Antoine Watteau.
The less formal robe à l’anglaise, Close-bodied gown or “nightgown” also had a pleated back, but the pleats were sewn down to fit the bodice to the body to the waist. It featured a snug bodice with a full skirt worn without panniers, usually cut a bit longer in the back to form a small train, and often some type of lace kerchief was worn around the neckline.
Either gown could be closed in front (a “round gown”) or open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat. Open-fronted bodices could be filled in with a decorative stomacher, and toward the end of the period a lace or linen kerchief called a fichu could be worn to fill in the low neckline.
Sleeves were bell- or trumpet-shaped, and caught up at the elbow to show the frilled or lace-trimmed sleeves of the shift (chemise) beneath. Sleeves became narrower as the period progressed, with a frill at the elbow, and elaborate separate ruffles called engageantes were tacked to the shift sleeves, in a fashion that would persist into the 1770s.
Necklines on dresses became more open as time went on allowing for greater display of ornamentation of the neck area. A thick band of lace was often sewed onto the neckline of a gown with ribbons, flowers, and/or jewels adorning the lace. Jewelry such as strings of pearls, ribbons, or lace frills were tied high on the neck. Finally, one other large element of 18th century women’s dress wear became the addition of the frilled neckband, a separate piece from the rest of the dress. This ornament was popularized sometime around 1730 .
The stays or corset of the early 18th century were long-waisting and cut with a narrow back, wide front, and shoulder straps; the most fashionable stays pulled the shoulders back until the shoulder blades almost touched. The resulting silhouette, with shoulders thrown back, very erect posture and a high, full bosom, is characteristic of this period and no other.
Skirts were worn over small, domed hoops, called panniers, in the 1730s and early 1740s. Depending on the occasion, these panniers varied in size. Smaller hoops were worn in everyday settings and larger hoops for more formal occasions, which later widened to as much as three feet to either side at the French court of Marie Antoinette.
The shift (chemise) or smock had full sleeves early in the period and tight, elbow-length sleeves in the 1740s as the sleeves of the gown narrowed.
Some women wore drawers (underpants) in England. For instance, as early as 1676 inventory of Hillard Veren had “3 pair of women drawers”. Although, they are not common in English or New England inventories during the 17th and 18th century.
Woolen waistcoats were worn over the corset and under the gown for warmth, as were petticoats quilted with wool batting.
Free-hanging pockets were tied around the waist and were accessed through pocket slits in the gown or petticoat.
Loose gowns, sometimes with a wrapped or surplice front closure, were worn over the shift (chemise), petticoat and stays (corset) for at-home wear, and it was fashionable to have one’s portrait painted wearing these fashions.
Riding habits consisted of a fitted, thigh- or knee-length coat similar to those worn by men, usually with a matching petticoat. Ladies wore masculine-inspired shirts and tricorne hats for riding and hunting.
When outdoors, ladies also wore elbow-length capes, often lined with fur for warmth.
Fabrics and colors
In the early years of this period, pastel silk hoods and light colors became fashionable at the French court for mature women, under the influence of Madame de Maintenon. Younger women also wore light or bright colors, but the preference was for solid-colored or floral silks with ornamentation.
Gradually, trim in the form of applied lace and fabric robings (strips of ruched, gathered or pleated fabric) replaced the plain style. Ribbon bows, lacing, and rosettes became popular, as did boldly patterned fabrics. Silk gowns and stomachers were often intricately embroidered in floral and life motifs, demonstrating great attention to detail and care for an accurate portrayal of nature.A mid-century vogue for striped fabrics had the stripes running different directions on the trim and the body of the gown.
Chintz, Indian cotton fabric with block-printed imaging on a white base, was wildly fashionable. Bans against their importation to protect the British silk, linen and woolen industries did nothing to reduce their desirability. Brocaded silks and woolens had similar colorful floral patterns on light-colored grounds. Blends of wool and silk or wool and linen (linsey-woolsey) were popular. Until the 1730s, European textiles were of inferior quality that could not match the complex fashionable designs of Indian calicoes. Europe was able to produce high quality petit teints (colors that faded with light and washing), but they were unable to produce grand teints (permanent colors resistant to light and wear).
Footwear and accessories
The shoe of the previous period with its curved heel, squarish toe, and tie over the instep gave way in the second decade of the 18th century to a shoe with a high, curved heel. Backless mules were worn indoors and out (but not on the street). Toes were now pointed. This style of shoe would remain popular well into the next period. Shoes at the time had many variations of decoration, some even included metal wrapped threads.
Women, particularly in France, began wearing a boutonnière, or a small bouquet of fresh flowers in a “bosom bottle.” About four inches in length, these glass or tin bottles were small enough to discreetly tuck into the bosom or hair, but also just large enough to contain water to keep the flowers from wilting.
An 18th-century toilette began with a heavy white foundation made from white lead, egg white, and a variety of other substances. This was overlaid with white powder (typically potato or rice powder), rouge, and deep red or cherry lip color.
Tiny pieces of fabric, known as patches, in the shapes of dots, hearts, stars, etc. were applied to the face with adhesive. The fashion is thought to have originated as a way of disguising pox scars and other blemishes, but gradually developed coded meanings. A patch near the mouth signified flirtatiousness; one on the right cheek denoted marriage; one on the left cheek announced engagement; one at the corner of the eye signified a mistress.
Introduction to 18th-Century Fashion
At the beginning of the 18th century the male silhouette differed greatly from that of today. A typical outfit consisted of a full-skirted knee-length coat, knee breeches, a vest or long waistcoat (which could be sleeved), a linen shirt with frills and linen underdrawers. Lower legs showed and were an important part of the silhouette. Men wore silk stockings and leather shoes with stacked heels of low or medium height. The whole ensemble would have been topped by a shoulder-length full-bottomed wig and a tricorne (three-cornered) hat with an upturned brim.As the century progressed, the male silhouette slowly changed. By the middle of the century the wig was usually tied back (known as the tye or bag wig). By the end of the century it was out of fashion altogether except for the most formal occasions. Undergarments and knee breeches did not change very much. Coat skirts gradually became less full and the front was cut in a curved line towards the back. Waistcoats became shorter. The upper leg began to show more and more and by the end of the century breeches fitted better because they were often made of knitted silk. Shoes became low-heeled with pointed toes and were fastened with a detachable buckle and straps or ribbon on the vamp (the upper front part of a boot or shoe).
In the early 18th century women wore a dress known as a mantua for formal occasions. The mantua was an open-fronted silk or fine wool gown with a train and matching petticoat. The train was worn looped up over the hips to reveal the petticoat. The bodice had loose elbow-length sleeves finished with wide turned-back cuffs. A hoop petticoat and several under-petticoats wore worn beneath the outer petticoat.
To give the figure the required shape a corset was worn under the bodice. It was made of linen and stiffened with whale bones inserted between parallel lines of stitching. They fastened with lacing down the back which could be laced tightly to give an upright posture to the torso and to emphasise the waist. A ‘busk’ or strip of bone, wood or metal was sometimes incorporated into the front of the stays.
Hair was worn close to the head with a small linen cap which sometimes had lace lappets, streamers that hung
either side of a woman’s cap. The cap was covered by a
hood or hat for outer wear.
In the 1730s the ‘sack back’ dress worn over a hoop petticoat became increasing fashionable. It remained in fashion until the 1780s. The sack back was made from five or six panels of silk pleated into two box pleats at the centre back of the neck band. It flowed down and was incorporated into the fullness of the skirt. It was worn over a matching petticoat as well as a hoop petticoat. The ‘nightgown style’ or style anglaise had a pleated back. The pleats were stitched flat from the back of the neck to the centre back waist.
Hoop petticoats were usually made of linen with split cane hoops stitched in at intervals and held the skirt of the petticoat and the robe out at the sides. They were at their widest in the 1740s and 1750s when they could measure over 1.5m across. Hoop petticoats were worn on formal occasions. As with many fashions, it is hard to say why such a cumbersome outfit was popular. One reason might have been that it displayed the richly embroidered cloth of the skirt that indicated the wearer’s wealth.
During the 1770s hair styles became higher, as they were combed over a padded roll or worn over a frame.
Between the 1780s and 1800 a very noticeable change took place in the female silhouette. The waistline became higher until it reached the bust. The skirt was reduced in width and hoop petticoats were discarded except at court. In their place crescent-shaped pads were worn at the centre back waist beneath the skirt to help fill out the gathers at the back of the dress. In the 1790s corsets were lightly boned and usually made of linen. Hair was frizzed or worn in short curls.
Constructing 18th Century Dress:
Detailed Blogfrom the inside out? Do you want to get close-up shots of cutting, stitching, and trimming details, photographed as the garment is created? Do you want to see an entire museum exhibition in its development phase? Then you might want to visit the “Rockin’ the Rococo” blog. It’s an oddly bouffant, pouffant name for a seriously researched project, but it fits.
The author is keeping her blog as part of her Master of Arts and thesis work. She is constructing a series of clothes that a middle-class woman might have worn during the period between 1750 and 1770, and will build a museum exhibit around them.
To prepare for her project, she examined garments in the deeps of the Museum of London for several months. She has constructed everything from stays and a breathtaking sack dress to a riding habit. To make the project even more fascinating, she is constructing them by hand, in costume herself, by daylight or candlelight.
Photo: the Rockin’ the Rococo blog author at work.
Yet let me let her speak at some length, for she writes better firsthand than I ever could secondhand:
The next part is object-based research, most of which took place over the summer during my time in England. I spent 3-5 days per week over the months of July and August in the Museum of London’s costume stores examining extant garments one after another. I spent an average of 1 hour with each garment taking notes according to a template I drew up for myself and shooting an average of 10-12 photographs of the construction details of each artifact.
The third component is this project, including the exhibition that will be on display on-campus at the University of Alberta over March and April 2009.
This reproduction project represents experiential research and data collection. In addition to reproducing garments I am also replicating certain aspects of an early modern seamstress’s working experience. The garments are made from historically appropriate materials, and constructed using equally appropriate techniques and processes.
Beyond this, I do the work all by either natural or candlelight in order to get some idea of a pre-electricity experience of time and working conditions.
[Photo: a sample of her crewel embroidery in progress in an embroidery hoop.]
I also (and I know this is going to sound a little hokey) dress up in an outfit that is somewhat appropriate for a fairly successful seamstress of the time. While planning the project, I realized that being “corseted” would be important to the experience, as nearly all women of the period wore stays under their clothing (even the very poor). I also happened to have a costume/reproduction dress on hand that I had made (just for fun!) several years ago. The pattern for this dress was taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, and so derives from an actual artifact garment. I also wear 2 cotton petticoats, a neckerchief, stockings and a pair of period reminiscent shoes (ok, they’re really pretty and I just like them). I had inteded to make a linen cap to cover my not-so-period hair, but have just never managed the time for it.
For working I sit on an uncushioned wooden kitchen chair. And at the risk of sounding….uncouth(?) I don’t bathe on my sewing days – on purpose.
I work 10-12hrs/per day, 3 or 4 days/week, and am keeping a log/journal of the specs of the project along with thoughts, impressions, and questions that arise from the experience.
Navigating the Blog
The top portion of the left navigation bar, labeled “Pages”, contains blog pages devoted to each garment, and to overviews of the project and the author’s background.
The “Archives” pages contain more journalesque information.
Do have at least one visit, and marvel.
Photo: detail of sack dress the Rockin’ the Rococo blog author constructed.