Mid 17th century- Late 17th century clothing

November 4, 2009

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: http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/France/LouisXIV.html

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.

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