Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fashion of the 1700's

I wrote an essay on the 1700's to study the fashion of women. However, this information is very limited and if anyone have any more information on it I would love to hear it so I can extend my knowledge. Also be aware that this essay was written in a night and a morning, so there may be errors or repetitive statements.

Fashion in the 1700's is a strange thing to me for the main reason of the quick evolution from hooped skirts and high heels to flowing dresses and flat slippers.In the beginning of the era the idea of fashion was wealth, epicurean-ism and over abundance. Horse riding, town dances, flower picking and the like were the images of beauty by the end of the 1700's. Both the beauty and the hilarity of the fashion in the 1770's has been remembered even today. It is also the fashion that created the macaroni, the idea of the over exaggerated ways of the fashionable in that day.


The Mantua:

Since the mantua was used extensively throughout the centuries it had evolved in many ways. Though the description I give is for the 1700's of it's being worn. The mantua was a sort of coat with an extended body used as both an upper body covering and an additional skirt. The mantua was to display silk designs and often was a show of wealth. Since it was usually made from a fabric that had a continuous design, it was draped rather than cut. It was pleated at the shoulders and continued to fall to the waist whereupon it was held in place by another piece of fabric, usually a sash. From that place it was folded back into a bustle, resting at the back of the woman's body.

The name of the mantua may be derived from Mantua, Italy where expensive silks were produced. It may also come from the french word for coat or the 'mantle', which is from the latin word 'mantellum' for cloak.

The Gown:

There were several types of gowns used during the 1700's though they all shared the prospect of using many rich fabrics to show off wealth. Usually the gowns were heavily decorated at the front though there were some that were decorated all around or ones that only consisted of a well embroidered fabric. The sleeves often fell halfway of the arm and left off to several ruffles from the shift or chemise beneath.

The Court Dress was the fanciest and most regulated formal dress of the time. The rules of the court dress were very rigid, requiring five feet diameter panniers. They were required to involve a train, an amount of cloth that trailed behind the dress onto the floor, and a headdress with feathers. Court dresses usually had sleeves that fell either right above the elbows or to the elbows. The ends of the sleeves were adorned with longer ruffles. Like many other gowns, this style of dress also showed off the chemise underneath.

The French Robe(Robe a la francaise) or sack-back gown was a style that had fabric arranged in box pleats along with a body of fabric that formed a train from the shoulders. In the front the gown was open showing off a decorated stomacher and the petticoat which was equally decorated. The sleeves were usually elbow length with a good amount of ruffles to trim them. The sleeves were also worn with seperate frills called engageantes. By the 1770's it was second only to the court dress in formality.

The Stomacher:

The stomacher was a piece of clothing that had been used well before the 1700's, but was usually revealed during the 1700's. It was a decorated panel that was shaped in a triangle worn at the front of the torso. It may have been boned or been a part of a corset- or may have just covered the front part of the corset. If this were so- if the stomacher was simply decorative, it may be laced or stitched into place.

Gowns and bodices were often worn to show off the stomacher which was often decorated with gems, pearls, embroidery and etc. Though at first the bodices lacings would cross over the stomacher, they were soon replaced with a series of decorative bows. Underneath the stomacher there was the fichu. Thee fichu was a piece of lace or linen that would be worn to fill in the low neckline of the stomacher.

The necklines of the stomacher were usually above the breasts, however for a breif period they were below the breasts. During this time the breasts were safely covered by a ruffle of fabric, the fichu. Though at this time the breasts themselves were decorated the fashion didn't entirely take hold and the necklines of the stomacher ranged from modest to daring but still covered the breasts.

The Underwearings:

The smock, shift or chemise had a low neckline and could be compared to a long shirt. They were used to protect the more ornate clothing from oil and dirt from the skin.

The chemise was full in the beginning of the 1700's but as time went by they became narrower, fitting the style of clothing as the years progressed. The sleeves were also had full sleeves at the beginning of the 1700's but soon turned into tight sleeves that fell to the elbows.

The tigher sleeves of the chemise ranged from simple to ornate and often showed from under the gown worn above.

During the 1740's, hoop skirts were replaced by panniers that held skirts out to the side, giving the facade of wide hips and a long, narrow waist. This appearance was helped with the heavily boned 'stays' with a wide front, narrow back and shoulder straps. How much the panniers stuck out differed from a slight curve to a curve that made the dress look more like a canvas than a gown.

On the stays, the straps soon disappeared. Along with this they started to be cut higher towards the armpits, forcing women to stand at a fashionable posture. The look was practically what you'd imagine a human bell to look like- a narrow, cone-like body with large widened hips. Stays were usually laced very comfortably as opposed to the later corsets. One thing to notice is that during this time a womans waist usually measured at a larger size while wearing stays rather than a smaller size.

During the 1780's panniers had practically disappeared and were replaced by bustle pads to make the rump appear fuller. Simply put, they had cast away panniers in favor of petticoats which may be for comfort.

In the 1790's skirts were still full but gave lesser aesthetic appearance of enhanced curves in the woman's body. Stays were also cast away while corsets continued to be used in daily fashion. Needless to say, the French fashion was toned down by the influences of the English fashions.

Thinned waistlines rather than over busheled hips and rears were all the rage now, as neo-classicism was taking over. Though the stays of several years before was cast aside, tightly laced corsets were more abundant, which gave way to the use of 'The Fainting Room' where women could go to rest if they felt faint due to their tightly laced corsets.


Shoes during the 1700's resembled a high heel slipper from today. However, they were usually more ornate, modeling gems, silks and other materials to signify how wealthy the person was. They had high, curved heels, pointed toes, were tied over the instep and were made of either leather or fabric.

Shoe buckles were worn as ornaments in higher society much like the aforementioned materials. The buckles were made of polished metal and even sometimes had faux gems cut from smaller pieces of metal. Buckles were sometimes comedic-ally large. The style of this shoe would remain popular well into the next period and technically into the modern day.

Hairstyles and Headdresses:

The mid 1700's were known for their extreme hairstyles and were commonly made fun of by local artists who would muse about even larger, towering bouffant hair. Decorative objects were often added to the already ridiculous hairstyles, sometimes creating actual pieces of artwork that could only be compared to the modern parade float of today.

However, by the 1780's, elaborate hats replaced elaborate hairstyles. The mob cap arose- a round, gathered or pleated cloth bonnet with a ruffled or frilled brim along with a ribbon band.


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