Late 18th Century clothing

November 5, 2009

Lecture #16: Late 18th Century

Once important aspect of the latter 18th century is that the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. This means that people are figuring out new ways to manufacturer goods and are creating many large cities. Although the French Revolution and events leading up to the French Revolution dominated the late 18th century, there were other important social changes taking place. The 18th century is generally known as the Age of Enlightenment. The English society is more and more influenced by the writings of the “naturalists” and philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau. Marx is setting forth new economical philosophies, and the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. It brings with it some social battlefields for as hundreds of laborers swarm into Manchester, England (the center of manufacturing), the overcrowded tenants, unsanitary conditions, and ill preparation take their toll.

There were many architectural excavations unearthing the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the writing of J. Winckelmann (History of Ancient Art) became popular, so the costume and furnishings took on a new classic look. By the last two decades of the 18th century the English had embraced the classical look. It was called neo-classic.

At the same time the “dandies” as fashionable men are called, continue to dominate the elite society. Recall the nursery rhyme:
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on his pony
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it Macaroni.

Macaroni refers to one of the many men’s social clubs popular in London. The eccentric clothing of the Macaronis in England (along with the fop in France) showed unrest of the times. Putting a feather in one’s hat symbolizes trying to be fashionable. There were strict social etiquette norms during the 18th century which included manners and dress. Although more commoners were able to economically be on an equal par with the nobility, there was still an obvious class system.

In America the people were struggling for independence. Under British law they were not allowed to do any manufacturing so had to import goods from England. The American Revolution of 1776 begins to change that. But during this time little was accomplished in the way of manufacturing, technology, or the arts.

Women’s clothing
The last three (the first three were in lecture #15) silhouettes or skirt styles were in the
last half of the century:
4. the pannier See figure )
5. the bustle
6. the tube.
The bell shaped skirt continued to be worn but was adjusted somewhat. Instead of letting the overskirt hang freely down it was puffed up so that it resembled bread baskets (panniers) at the sides. Later a frame was devised to catch the “polonaise” look.

Corseting was still an important feature of the female garment. See:

The pushing up of the panniers leads English women to push the fabric to the back creating the second bustle effect of the century. There were no frames for these bustles, just the pushed up fabric. Note in figure 7 the gold garment on the left has panniers for the polonaise style and the blue and green figure in the center has a bustle style.

Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, is said to have started a trend for the “shepardess” style which is based on the polonaise. In figure 7 the blue with white trim garment (third from the left) is that style. Also note the shortening of the skirts so that the ankles are visible.



The woman in brown on the left is in the shepardess style with a spencer jacket and fishu.

Filling in the neckline with a filmy light weight fabric, generally white, is the fishu.

Illustration of a woman with a skirt, a spencer jacket (which the hint of a bustle), a fishu, and mob cap. Muffs, fans, and canes were still important accessories.

In the mid century women might wear their hair highly styled for formal occasions. This continues throughout the century but gradually dies out. The remaining hair is a kind of.

The women had to sleep standing up. You can imagine the starch, powder, flour paste that went into this hair do. Hedgehog was another hair style that was very full, somewhat unkempt and losing control.

Men’s clothing


Primary source garments showing Mid- 18th century couple that are highly conservative. You will note that the museum curators have attached a cockade to the man’s frock coat. The cockade is the red, white, and blue ribbon arranged in the circle. It is the symbol for support of the French Revolution. However, since the French Revolution had not started yet, the placement of a cockade on a mid-century garment is not appropriate.

The men still favor the frock coat, but it noticeable getting smaller and smaller. There is not as much width to the hem, the cuffs are smaller, and the collar is a stand up or simple lapel collar. The waistcoat is also getting shorter with just a small extension below the waist. It will end at the waist by 1790. Knee breeches continue to be worn. However, as some riding breeches extended below the knees, the breeches or culottes begin to get longer and will then be called pantaloons or trousers. These are generally in a solid color, although the frock coat and waistcoat might be colorful and embroidered.

It is interesting to note that in the portraits the breeches fit very tight. Apparently people had many pair and although the tight breeches were the desired fashion effect, they were not always practical. So a looser pair was used for active engagements. The breeches were often made of leather since that was a fabric that would “give”. Capes were popular for men.
Men still favor wigs. Most working classes wear a short-bob wig, like George Washington. However, some of the ramille wigs had large curls at the sides and the queue would be a large curl. The increased bulk of the men’s hair paralleled the increased bulk of the women’s hair.

Movies: Tale of Two Cities
The Scarlet Pimpernel


The Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events to happen in the 18th century. During this time people were figuring out new ways to manufacture goods. As the year progressed, the 18th century entered the French Revolution changing social attitudes, and social norms. Naturalists and philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau were influenced by the English society. Though the revolution brought much violence, the fashion changes paralleled political changes at the time and was shown through garments.


The classical look, also known as neoclassical period, was the movement in art, architecture, and design in Europe and North America. Styles like the classical Greek and Roman styles were revived. This style focused on proportions and simple forms with harmony and balance. Sharp colors and strong movements in literature and music like Mozart.

18thcentury painting

neoclassicla furniture


Early/Mid 18th century

November 5, 2009

Lecture #15: Rococo – Early 18th Century: 1700
through 1760

We leave the Baroque 17th century with its grand, rich, and opulent designs and enter the light hearted Rococo period found in the early 18th century. The decorative arts of the time are called rococo due to the profusion of small, scrolls and curves reminding one of shells and delicate colors. This was mainly the French taste, but was very influential in other fashion conscious countries. Rococo (also spelled Rococco) was a delicate, light, playful, flamboyant style involving sensuous curvilinear compositional patterns and romantic subject matter. For more information on Rococo:

In England this period is often called the Georgian Period (because of the kings had the name George) and correlated with decorative arts of that same name. While man power was still the most important source of production, new inventions in farming and manufacturing were slowly changing lifestyles. People were gradually moving away from the country to towns and cities. The sudden influx of people lead to poor sanitary conditions.

This is a century of contradictions: It seems to harbor the most frivolous of events and lifestyles, yet at the same time with some of the same people discussions of deep seated needed social changes such as the role of children, the condition of the poor. Voltaire and Rousseau were favorites at the salon of Mme. Pompadour. The fashionable society and the court were interested in cultivating the intellectual wit, the art of conversation, manners were essential, engaging the five physical appetites, while morals were optional.

Political governments of the time: In England the rulers are William and Mary who rule jointly until 1702, and then Anne comes to the throne from 1702 until 1714, George I from 1714 to 1727, George II from 1727 to 1760 and George III from 1760 to 1820. England continues to expand her colonies from not only America but to Canada and India and thus becomes a world power. France continues to be ruled by Louis XIV until 1715, then Louis XV from 1715- 1774.

Louis XVI rules from 1774 until he is beheaded during the French Revolution in 1792. (His wife is Marie Antoinette) The Republic was from 1792 to 1804. This is the century of the three Louis for France. The French are leaders in decorative arts, fashion, and elegance, but have ignored the state of the lower classes. In Spain Philip V rules from 1700 to 1746, Ferdinand VI from 1746 to 1759, Charles III from 1759 to 1788, and Charles IV from 1788 to 1808. The United States declares its independence from England in 1776, engages in the Revolutionary War and it’s first president, G. Washington is in office from 1789 to 1797, followed by John Adams, 1797 to 1801.

Wars take place over the Spanish Succession, War of Austrian Succession, Seven Years War, Russo-Turkish War, Great Northern War between Russian and Sweden, the American Revolution. There are many changes during this century. The Industrial Revolution is taking place in England at the beginning of this century. This was a change in the methods of manufacturing, out of the home and into factories. Its importance is in the fact that it enables more goods to be produced, changed lifestyles, changed social classes and economic dependences.

Increased trade with the Middle East and Far East influenced the production and the aesthetics of textiles. Lighter weight fabrics with small scale patterns were produced and enjoyed high fashion. Light weight silk taffetas, printed cottons and lawns, There were laws prohibiting the importation of printed cottons or indiennes but the laws just made those fabrics more desirable. Many embroidered silks were still used, especially for court wear, but the lighter weight and pastel colors were definitely the fashion for the 18th century. Fashion is important for the French economy as it produces laces, brocades, and all kinds of silks. The court is self-centered ignoring the right of common man.

Women’s Clothing

The styles of the late 17th century continued on into the 18th century until the death of Louis XIV.

During the 18th century the French court is constantly changing styles and we can see these changes in the female skirt silhouette that takes on six definite shapes. You might note that many of these styles are overlapping and not all happened in all countries. For example, the pannier style did not catch on in England.

1. the hint of bustle – worn from 1680 through 1715 (See figures 4 and 5)
2. the bell – a mainstay throughout the century, 1715 through 1885
3. the elipse – court dress worn in the mid century 1740-1775
4. the pannier – playful dress worn from 1770-1780
5. another bustle- pushing back the panniers, 1770-1795
6. the tube – worn after the revolution, 1795-1810
Along with this, the bodice has several versions. Generally The mantua continues to be worn but it changes shape somewhat. The bottom is fuller, and a full pleat, the Watteau pleat is added to the back

This loose fitting gown was known as the sacque. When the waist is nipped in at the front it is called Robe a la Francoise

The very full ruffles on the sleeves are called engageants. They are used by both English and French.

The neck is square and low, the sleeves to the elbow with engageants falling from the end of the sleeve, echelles or a row of bows covering the stomacher. There is an abundance of small bows or ribbons. These are much more delicate than the ribbons and bows of the 17th century.

hairstyle often called a Pompadour

Not all women wore the Watteau pleat. When the garment fitted in front and in back it is
known as robe al la anglaise

In the mid century the women began to add hair pieces so that their hair became quite dramatic and high. (See Figure 15.) Generally this was for important occasions, not just for their daily routine. Their hygienic habits were still not up to our standards, and they needed to hold the hair in place with glue, flour paste, rice paste, and other natural substances. And, then they often powdered the wigs with flour to add whiteness. Since the hair was not washed frequently, you can imagine the small creatures that nested in the hair. A small gold cage with a sticky substance was often inserted into the hair to “collect” all of these creatures.

Not only was the height of the hair important but the color as well. White was favored, especially for evening occasions. To get the white they often powdered their hair with flour and other white substances. Often a powder room was found near the front door of a house. In it powder fell from a container from the ceiling while a piece of wood protected one’s clothing and put a fresh powder on one’s hair. Thus the term “powder room.” At the turn of the 20th century it was the place to powder a female nose.

Men’s Clothing:
The men continue to wear the justacorps, the waistcoat, the shirt, the breeches, and the cravat or jabot. However, the justacorps and waistcoat gradually diminish in size.

The justacorps is full at the hem in the beginning of the century then the center front curves towards the side seam and diminishes in fullness. It is called a frock coat. You can just see the breeches worn under the frock coat.

The white shirt, velvet breeches, embroidered frock coat, and lace cravat are all part of the early 18th century. His hair is in the ramille mode, a wig pulled back into a pony tail or queue.

At this time children were still considered miniature adults (see Figure 23), but during the early and middle part of the century naturalists and philosophers were changing many view points. One of which was the changing attitudes towards children, so that by the end of the century attitudes are more akin to how we view children today.

The use of accessories was important. While heavy precious jewels were not common, light weight fabrics, ribbons, bows, and laces found their way into garments.

Canes and fans were popular accessories as well. Many men carried canes and women used fans at every opportunity. They were popular at balls for the way one carried, tapped, or fanned with the fan conveyed secret messages to others.

A calash which is a collapsible hood used to pull up over the heightened hairstyle so the hair would not get crushed. There are wire bands sewn into the curve of the hood.

The lace umbrella and the shoes are obvious. The top left photo is a corset. You can see the loops and laces which are pulled tight and hold the two sides of the corset together. Below that photo is a stomacher. This highly embroidered triangular piece goes over the corset to hide the laces.

Popular fabrics were light weight Brocades as seen in Figure 19 and damasks, toiles which were printed cottons from India. They were sometimes known as indiennes and generally had a light backgrown with small floral or exotic floral prints. Technology or the knowledge of making dyes adhere to fibers was lacking in Europe until the early 18th century when some travelers smuggled in the process to European textile printers.

Taffetas were popular for evening wear. Velvets and other pile fabrics were used but often embroidered or used with lace.

The man has a ramille and the queue in the back is covered with a black bag. This is sometimes referred to as a bag wig.

Most of the women’s garments were manutas, or dresses. However, women might also wear a jacket of some sort , pet-en-lair, with a separate skirt.

Movies: Tom Jones
Dangerous Liaisons
Last of the Mohicans

Unlike the 16th and 17th centuries, suddenly the men’s garments are
consistent and do not change very much while the women’s clothing has many different
styles throughout the 18th century. How do you account for this change?

In the 17th century, much of the influences in clothing and art came from Louis XIV and was continued on to the 18th century. The Baroque style was achieved in the 17th century,But after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the Baroque style became less massive, slender curves, and asymmetrical balance. Thus the Rococo style came into play in the late 18th century with it’s revival of the classic influences of the neoclassic period.

Clothing manufactures were well established during this time. With the men’s style, the fullness of coats and side pleats were eliminated and the focus was directed more on the coat with heavy embroidery. More simpler garments like the frock coats made for country wear. However, the women’s style was much more complex. What was formally known as the sacque, the robe a la Francaise was full and pleated in the front and the back. Skirts were wide with a frame called panniers. During this time, technology had improved. Technology expanded the textile availability at lower costs.

Changes in garments from this period were influenced by international trading from India and china importing finer fabrics. Thus this could have determined social class with the finer fabrics.

Mid Century Background
The mid 17th century accounts for the time between 1650 and 1670. It was a time of the rise of Louis XIV, a very influential French monarch and often called the “Sun King.”. He was born in 1638 but ruled from 1643 to 1715. During this time France becomes extremely important in the arts. The splendor and elaboration of costume, furnishings,
and culture is legendary at this time. Louis XIV spent much time in his beloved country home in Versailles. He continually adds rooms and buildings so that by the 1690s it becomes a remarkable French palace, and housed many of the nobility. Even though housing them was an expense, he had his pulse on any dissenters among the nobility and was able to control them. See:

One of his economic goals was to build up the textile (ribbons, laces, fabrics) industry in France. Part of his strategy in doing this was to gather the nobility together each day and let them note his changing garments. As rhinegraves (see figure 8 and 9) were in the height of fashion in his early days, he wore an abundance of ribbons and laces and watched gleefully as the nobility ran out to get more of the same in the afternoon. In this way he contributed greatly to building a strong economy in France. England has just emerged from a Revolution and has invited Charles II and his wife back to rule.

Women’s costume
The female attire gradually adapted to the horizontal neckline that began to appear in the early 17th century. There were no other major changes in the female costume as you can see from the figures here.

Women’s costume continued to have the horizontal neckline, and full skirt with underskirt (secret) showing, the sleeves reached below the elbow or to the wrist although generally they were not as puffy. Bows and ribbons were still used.


17th century

Men’s Costume

The men, on the other hand, developed an entirely new look that had little to do with the fashion before or after. This is one of the sudden and bazaar costume changes in

They wore the same white shirt as worn in the early 17th century. It was not seen much then and was not as full. A bolero was worn instead of the doublet. This was a loose fitting vest reaching to the midriff, just above the waist and generally had short sleeves (See figure 6, the top yellow garment ).. On the lower half of the body they wore rhinegraves or petticoat breeches, a very full and ruffled skirt-like garment that might be akin to the bases of the early 16th century. In Figure 6 it is yellow with red ruffles at the waist, red ruffles at the hem, and red gallants (ribbon clusters) at the side hem. It is not certain if these rhinegraves were bifurcated or not. Attached to the knees or bottom of the breeches were cannions (in Figure 6 it is the small red ribbons at the knees). . The entire outfit was bedecked with lace and ribbons. This man appears to be wearing white full breeches under the rhinegraves

17th male

17th male2

Portrait of a man with rhinegraves. In this case his waist ruffles, side gallants, and cannions are of a blue fabric. You can see the edge of his bolero, but since he has a cape it is difficult to determine the sleeves. Certainly he is wearing a white shirt and has a collar in the form of Geneva bands. You might note that the hair is getting fuller and fuller.

An illustration of a man in rhinegraves. The bolero and rhinegraves are blue with red trim. He also wears a white shirt, white Geneva bands, and white cannions. Note that his shoes have a bow on them as well. These are often called shoe bows or shoe roses.

It is during this period that the term “justacorps” is used, and the actual clothing item does not become popular until the later 17th Century.

Movies: The Rise of Louis XIV

Late 17th Century

Dutch painters are highly important and have documented this period with rich paintings: Vermeer, Van den Temple, Jan Steen, Borch, etc.  French tapestries also give us insight into the clothing of the period.  Louis XIV continues to be impressed by the luxury and pomp of fashion and he is instrumental in changing fashion.

Charles II of England is restored to the throne with severely curtailed powers. However, his restoration is an event and the fashions he wears are looked at closely. He has several important mistresses (See Figure 2) who help to dictate the English fashion.

Women’s Clothing

An important development during this time was the fontange headdress.  The story behind it was that the mistress of Louis XIV was in the court hunting party.  Her hair fell and she quickly pinned it back up with lace and pins.  Louis XIV praised the enchanting look and the rest of the court followed suit.  However, this headdress was highly popular.  In it the hair is piled on the head and a tiered headdress of white lace was placed into it.

The women developed their bodice and skirt into a mantua, a garment attached at the waist.  It was open in the skirt front and pushed back in soft folds to form a bustle in the back

To see many thumbnail sketches of the Fontange headdress see:

Men’s clothing

Charles II adopts a three piece suit and almost all of England follows this very practical fashion. In short order France does so as well.

The waistcoat, while important is difficult to see because it is under the justacorps.  It will be the same length as the justacorp, be of the same color, but will have no sleeves.  It is like a long vest.


Wigs for men are an extremely important element of the costume for the late 17th century through the late 18th century.  In the late 17th century they are free flowing, long, dark hair used, and curly.  Louis XIV is prematurely bald and initiates the fashion for a full head of hair or wigs.  They take on momentous proportions and it is an embarrassment to be seen without them.  Often little caps were worn if the wig was off.

Perriwigs – fullest, perukes were the wigs that look like what English judges wear, and ramille wigs were the pony tail ones that were most common in the 18th century.

.  Lace cravats as well as lace at the wrists was important.  He is wearing some kind of lounging jacket over this waistcoat.

At steinkirk is a cravat that has been twisted.

Canes were also important accessories for the men.

Their shoes became simplified without the bows on the top, but continued with a high heel and tight fitting hose.

The tricorn hat made its appearance and will continue through the 18th century. (See figure 5, 12, and 19.)  This hat had three points to the wide rim.


Fabrics were luxurious in the Baroque period.  Dark, rich, supple fabrications.  There were some sumptuary laws attached to fabrics .  One was that the commoners could not wear velvet.  Louis XIV wanted to have his guards in sumptuous materials so he devised a velvet that had cut rows in the velvet.  This became the fabric for the king’s guards or Corps du roi.  Hence, we get corduroy.

Embroidery was abundant, laces were abundant.

woman’s garment.

In this illustration the highly embroidered waistcoats are visible. Each male has his justacorp open at the bottom so that you can see the waistcoat.  Most often the waistcoat and justacorps will have horizontal pockets in them.

The evolution of men’s clothing during the early/middle 17th Century was largely focused on layering the lower body with ruffles, bows and undergarments like petticoat breeches to make the garment appear more full around the hips and legs creating a feminine skirt effect. In the late 17th century, it seems as though the focus was more towards the upper part of the body with the heavy waistcoats and dark colored wigs influenced by Louis XIV.


Pirates of the Carribbean


This era was probably in the late 17th century because of the heavy waistcoat and wigs influenced by Louis XIV.