Fashion in the period 1750-1795
and European-influenced countries reached heights of fantasy and abundant ornamentation
, especially among the aristocracy
, before a long-simmering movement toward simplicity and democratization of dress under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
and the American Revolution
led to an entirely new mode and the triumph of British tailoring
following the French Revolution
Women's clothing styles remained confining and cumbersome for most of the period. The hoop-skirts of the 1740s were left behind, but wide panniers (holding the skirts out at the side) came into style several times, and the aesthetic of a narrow inverted conical corseted torso above full skirts prevailed during most of the period.
In the 1780s, panniers finally disappeared, and bustle pads (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time.
By 1790, skirts were still somewhat full, but they were no longer obviously pushed out in any particular direction (though a slight bustle might still be worn). The "pouter-pigeon" front came into style (many layers of cloth pinned over the bodice), but in other respects women's fashions were starting to be simplified by influences from Englishwomen's country outdoors wear (thus the "redingote" was the French pronunciation of an English "riding coat"), and from neo-classicism. By 1795, waistlines were somewhat raised, preparing the way for the development of the empire silhouette and unabashed neo-classicism of late 1790s fashions.
Mr and Mrs William Hallett.jpg (right) captures the exact transition between the tight bodice and elbow-length, ruffled sleeves of the mid-18th century and the natural waist and long sleeves typical of the 1790s.
The usual fashion of the years 1750-1780 was a low-necked gown
(usually called in French a robe
), worn over a petticoat. If the bodice of the gown was open in front, the opening was filled in with a decorative stomacher
, pinned to the gown over the laces or to the corset beneath.
Tight elbow-length sleeves were trimmed with frills or ruffles, and separate under-ruffles called engageantes of lace or fine linen were tacked to the smock or chemise sleeves. The neckline was trimmed with a fabric or lace ruffle, or a neckerchief called a fichu could be tucked into the low neckline.
The robe à la française or sack-back gown featured back pleats hanging loosely from the neckline. A fitted lining or under-bodice held the front of the gown closely to the figure.
The robe à l'anglaise featured back pleats sewn in place to fit closely to the body, and then release into the skirt which would be draped in various ways.
Front-wrapping thigh-length shortgowns or bedgowns of lightweight printed cotton fabric were fashionable at-home morning wear, worn with petticoats. Over time, bedgowns became the staple upper garment of British and American female working-class street wear.
Jackets and redingotes
Toward the 1770s, an informal alternative to the gown was a costume of a jacket and petticoat, based on working class fashion but executed in finer fabrics with a tighter fit.
The Brunswick gown was two-piece costume of German origin consisting of a hip-length jacket with "split sleeves" (flounced elbow-length sleeves and long, tight lower sleeves) and a hood, worn with a matching petticoat. It was popular for traveling.
The caraco was a jacket-like bodice worn with a petticoat, with elbow-length sleeves. By the 1790s, caracos had full-length, tight sleeves.
As in previous periods, the traditional riding habit consisted of a tailored jacket like a man's coat, worn with a high-necked shirt, a waistcoat, a petticoat, and a hat. Alternatively, the jacket and a false waistcoat-front might be a made as a single garment, and later in the period a simpler riding jacket and petticoat (without waiscoat) could be worn.
Another alternative to the traditional habit was a coat-dress called a joseph or riding coat (borrowed in French as redingote), usually of unadorned or simply trimmed woolen fabric, with full-length, tight sleeves and a broad collar with lapels or revers. The redingote was later worn as an overcoat with the light-weight chemise dress.
The shift, chemise
(in France), or smock had tight, short or elbow-length sleeves and a low neckline. Drawers
were not worn in this period.
The long-waisted, heavily boned stays of the early 1740s with their narrow back, wide front, and shoulder straps gave way by the 1760s to strapless stays which still were cut high at the arm pit, to encourage a woman to stand with her shoulders slightly back, a fashionable posture. The fashionable shape was to have smooth curves, a rather conical torso, with large hips. The waist was not particularly small. Many women's waists measure larger with stays than without. Stays were usually laced snugly, but comfortably; only those interested in extreme fashions laced very tightly! They offered back support, for heavy lifting, and poor and middle class women were able to work comfortably in them. As the relaxed, country fashion took hold in France, stays were replaced by an unboned or lightly boned quilted underbodice (now called for the first time un corset) for all but the most formal court occasions.
Panniers or side-hoops remained an essential of court fashion but disappeared everywhere else in favor of a few petticoats.
Free-hanging pockets were tied around the waist and were accessed through pocket slits in the side-seams of the gown or petticoat.
Woollen waistcoats were worn over the stays or corset and under the gown for warmth, as were petticoats quilted with wool batting, especially in the cold climates of Northern Europe and America.
Shoes had high, curved heels (the origin of modern "louis heels") and were made of fabric or leather.
Hairstyles and headgear
The 1770's fashion were notable for extreme hairstyles and wigs which were built up very high, and often incorporated decorative objects (sometimes symbolic, as in the case of the famous engraving depicting a lady wearing a large ship in her hair with masts and sails — called the "Coiffure à l'Indépendance ou le Triomphe de la liberté" — to celebrate naval victory in the American war of independence). These coiffures were parodied in several famous satirical caricatures of the period.
By the 1780s, elaborate hats replaced the former elaborate hairstyles. Mob caps and other "country" styles were worn indoors. Flat, broad-brimmed and low-crowned straw "shepherdess" hats tied on with ribbons were worn with the new rustic styles.
Hair was powdered into the early 1780s, but the new country fashion required natural colored hair, often dressed simply in a mass of curls.
Style gallery - 1750s-1770s
- Jean-Marc Nattier 003.jpg of Madame Henriette de France wearing a sleeveless red brocade gown and petticoat with a very wide pannier.
- Pompadour6.jpg of Madame de Pompadour wearing a floral gown with matching petticoat. Her sleeves end in flounces worn over lace engageantes. Her stomacher is decorated with a vertical row of ribbon bows.
- Pompadour .jpg of Madame de Pompadour shows her petticoat trimmed with flounces to match her gown. She wears a small lace ruff around her neck.
- Batoni lady mary fox.jpg wears a grey silk hooded Brunswick gown with striped ribbon ornaments, 1767.
- Mrs John Winthrop.jpg of Boston, Massachusetts, in the fashionable dress of 1773. Her indoor cap is trimmed with striped and dotted ribbons, and her gown is trimmed with robings of ruched fabric (strips of fabric gathered on two sides). A lace fichu fills in her neckline.
- Trinquesse1.jpg of a gown of 1774 shows pleated robings and striped ribbon rosettes.
- Ladyworsley.jpg wears a red riding habit with military details, copying those of the uniform of her husband's regiment (he was away fighting the American rebels) on the cutaway coat and a buff waistcoat, 1776.
- Marie Antoinette Adult.jpg wears panniers, a requirement of court fashion for the most formal state occasions, 1778.
Style gallery - 1780s
- Waldegrave.jpg wear transitional styles, 1780-81. Their hair is powdered and dressed high, but their white caracos, like shorter gowns á la polonaise, have long tight sleeves.
- MA-Lebrun.jpg, 1783. She wears a sheer, striped sash and a broad-brimmed hat. Her sleeves are poufed, probably with drawstrings.
- 1785-robe-a-la-anglaise-Dighton-calendar-May.jpg, but not fancy, outfit of 1785.
- MA178788.jpg wears the popularized turban, with a scarf rapped around it. Her collar is heavy with lace, and her crimson petticoat is trimmed in fur, 1785.
- Caraco 1786.jpg shows a caraco and petticoat, worn with a wide-brimmed summer hat of straw with elaborate trimmings.
- Miss constable 1787.jpg, 1787, wears a chemise dress with plain sleeves and a narrow sash. She wears her hair down in a mass of curls under her straw hat.
- Lebr010.jpg wear colorful gowns in the new style, one blue and one striped, with sashes and high-necked chemises beneath. The Marquise de Rouge wears a scarf or kerchief wrapped into a turban.
- Gullager Salisbury.jpg wears an oversized mob cap trimmed with a wide satin ribbon and a kerchief pinned high at the neckline. America, 1789.
Style gallery - 1790-95
- Morland squires door detail.jpg or riding coat of ca. 1790, with "pouter-pigeon" front. This lady wears a mannish top hat for riding and carries her riding crop.
- Rose adelaide ducreux color.jpg of Rose Adélaïde Ducreux with harp.
- 1791-Yo-Yo-Bandalore.jpg illustration of woman playing with an early form of yo-yo (or "bandalore") shows slight bust draping, which in more extreme form became the "pouter pigeon" look.
- Isaac-Cruikshank-early1790s-flower-family.png by Isaac Cruikshank (father of George), showing both male and female middle-class English styles of the early 1790s.
- Lebr020.jpg wears a sashed gown with a high-necked, frilled chemise beneath, a turban on her head, and a newly fashionable scarlet shawl. 1793.
- Gilbert Stuart 002.jpg, 1793, wears a very conservative gown with a kerchief and a gathered mob cap with a large ribbon bow.
- Goya Alba1.jpg wears a simple white gown, with a red sash and bow on her low collar. She wears her hair loose and free. This portrait shows the influence of French fashion in Spain at the end of the 18th century, 1795.
Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches of the previous period. What changed significantly was the fabric. Under new enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits, the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets characteristic of "full dress" or formal attire earlier in the century gradually gave way to carefully tailored woolen "undress" garments for all occasions except the most formal.
In Boston and Philadelphia in the decades around the American Revolution, the adoption of plain undress styles was a conscious reaction to the excesses of European court dress; Benjamin Franklin caused a sensation by appearing at the French court in his own hair (rather than a wig) and the plain costume of Quaker Philadelphia.
At the other extreme was the "maccaroni".
The skirts of the coat narrowed from the gored styles of the previous period, and toward the 1780s began to be cutaway in a curve from the front waist. Waistcoats extended to mid-thigh to the 1770s, and gradually shortened until they were waist-length and cut straight across. Waistcoats could be made with or without sleeves.
As in the previous period, a loose, T-shaped silk, cotton or linen gown called a banyan was worn at home as a sort of dressing gown over the shirt, waistcoat, and breeches. Men of an intellectual or philosophical bent were painted wearing banyans, with their own hair or a soft cap rather than a wig.
A coat with a wide collar called a frock, derived from a traditional working-class coat, was worn for hunting and other country pursuits in both Britain and America.
Shirt and stock
Shirt sleeves were full, gathered at the wrist and dropped shoulder. Full-dress shirts had ruffles of fine fabric or lace, while undress shirts ended in plain wrist bands. A small turnover collar returned to fashion, worn with the stock. The cravat reappeared at the end of the period.
Breeches, shoes, and stockings
As coats became cutaway, more attention was paid to the cut and fit of the breeches. Breeches fitted snugly and had a fall-front opening.
Low-heeled leather shoes fastened with buckles, and were worn with silk or woolen stockings. Boots were worn for riding.
Hairstyles and headgear
Wigs were worn for formal occasions, or the hair was worn long and powdered, brushed back from the forehead and clubbed
(tied back at the nape of the neck) with a black ribbon.
Wide-brimmed hats turned up on three sides called tricornes were worn in mid-century. Later, these hats were turned up front and back or on the sides to form bicornes. Toward the end of the period a tall, slightly conical hat with a narrower brim became fashionable (this would evolve into the top hat in the next period).
Style gallery 1750-1770
- Georg Friedrich Händel 2.jpg of Georg Friedrich Händel in a dark red coat with deep cuffs worn over a long gold brocade vest or waistcoat. His shirt has full sleeves gathered at the wrists with ruffles, 1756.
- Crowle1760s.jpg features a dark blue coat and waistcoat with fine embroidery on the edges, deep cuffs, and pocket flaps. Hair is tied back but not powdered. The waistcoat reaches to mid-thigh.
- Voiriot DesVoisins.jpg wears a shirt with front and wrist ruffles of fine lace. 1761
- Reynolds fane detail.jpg of 1760-62. The long collared coat without cuffs is a frock.
- Comte d'Angiviller.jpg wears a rose-colored coat with a fur lining over a flowered white satin waistcoat with gold briad or embroidery. His shirt has a lace frill down the front. French fashion emphasizes rich fabrics over cut and tailoring, c. 1763.
- JohnHancockLarge.jpeg's coat and waistcoat are trimmed with narrow gold braid, and his shirt has a small turnover collar. 1765.
- David Hume.jpg wears a reddish collarless dress coat and matching waistcoat trimmed with bands of gold. His shirt sleeves are gathered into wrist bands with tiny pleats (visible by his left hand) and have fine lace ruffles, 1766.
- J S Copley - Nicolas Boylston.jpg wears a deep green banyan and a turban-like cap. 1767.
Style gallery 1770-1795
- J S Copley - Samuel Adams.jpg wears a plain coat with wide revers, a small stand-up collar, deep cuffs, and large pocket flaps. His shirt has small sleeve ruffles and is worn with a narrow stock. 1772.
- J S Copley - Paul Revere.jpg's shirt has full sleeves with gathers at shoulder and cuff, plain wristbands, and a small turnover collar.
- Forsterundsohn.jpg Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster wear collared frock coats and open shirt collars for sketching. The portrait depicts them in Tahiti, 1775-80.
- Georg Forster.jpg of Georg Forster depicts him in a collarless dress coat and matching waistcoat with covered buttons, c. 1785. His shirt has a pleated frill at the front opening and his hair is powdered, c. 1785.
- Fischer gainsborough.jpg suit of matching coat, waistcoat and breeches. The waistcoat is hip length, 1780s.
- Francisco Cabarrús.jpg holds the popular tricorne and wears a yellow-mustard suit of matching coat, waistcoat and breeches; the waistcoat is hip length, 1788.
- Besenval, baron de2.jpg wears a short patterned red waistcoat with his grey coat and black satin breeches. His coat has a dark contrasting collar, and his linen shirt has plain fabric ruffles, Paris, 1791.
- José Álvarez de Toledo, Duque de Alba.jpg, a portrait by Francisco de Goya, who depicts this nobleman wearing plain colors. The coat resembles those that would be on fashion so on, although the duke still powders his hair. The most remarcable thing is the fact that he is wearing long boots that reach the breeches.
During most of this period, the clothes worn by middle- and upper-class children older than toddlers (especially by girls) continued to be uncomfortable-looking miniature copies of the clothes worn by adults, with the exception that girls wore back-fastening bodices and petticoats rather than open-fronted robes (see the illustration of the 1778 young French girl below). However, towards the end of the period, there was a change to styles that were more practical for children's play — skeleton suits
with long trousers for boys, and loose ankle-length skirts for girls.
- Lowry bateson family detail.jpg wear back-fastening bodices and sheer, embroidered aprons, 1762.
- Georg David Matthieu 001.jpg wear the miniature versions of adult costume that were standard for upper-class children, 1764.
- J S Copley - Boy with Squirrel.jpg wears a frock with a pink satin lining over a buff-colored waistcoat and a collared shirt with wrist frills, 1765.
- John Singleton Copley Young Lady with a Bird and Dog.jpg wears a pink satin back-fastening gown over a smock and black shoes with low heels.
- Carlota Joaquina de Boubon.jpg as a child.
- 1778-Bourgeois-daughter-fashion.jpg of the young daughter of a French bourgeois, 1778.
- George Romney 002.jpg wears the loose, sashed white gown that is the English girl's equivalent of the fashionable lady's chemise dress, with a straw hat, 1781-83.
- Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 067.jpg in an early skeleton suit with a round frilled collar and waist sash, 1784.
- Marie Antoinette Adult8.jpg on an 1785-1786 portrait, showing the change to loose ankle-length gowns for little girls. Her son wears a light blue skeleton suit.
- Sir william fitzherbert boy hi.jpg wears fall-front breeches, a full shirt, and a narrow black stock, c. 1790.
Working class clothing
Working-class people in 18th century England and America often wore the same garments as fashionable people—shirts, waistcoats, coats and breeches for men, and shifts, petticoats, and gowns or jackets for women—but they owned fewer clothes and what they did own was made of cheaper and sturdier fabrics. Working class men also wore short jackets, and some (especially sailors) wore trousers rather than breeches. Smock-frocks
were a regional style for men, especially shepherds. Country women wore short hooded cloaks, most often red. Both sexes wore handkerchiefs or neckerchiefs.
Men's felt hats were worn with the brims flat rather than cocked or turned up. Men and women wore shoes with shoe buckles (when they could afford them). Men who worked with horses wore boots.
- John Collet The Elopement detail.jpg wears a short gown or bedgown, a patched and mended petticoat, and neckerchief, c. 1764.
- Henry Singleton The Ale-House Door c. 1790.jpg day dress in England reflected fashionable styles. The man wears a coat with stylish large buttons over a double-breasted waistcoat and breeches. His hat brim is not cocked and he wears a spotted neckerchief. The woman wears a green apron over a skirted jacket and petticoat.
- George Morland 001.jpg at a alehouse wear felt hats. The man at the right wears a short jacket rather than a coat.
- George Morland A Windy Day.jpg countryman wears a round felt hat and a smock-frock. The countrywoman wears a short red cloak and a round hat over her cap, 1790s.
Contemporary summaries of 18th century fashion change
These two images provide 1790s views of the development of fashion during the 18th-century (click on images for more information):
- Arnold, Janet: Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C.1860-1940, Wace 1966, Macmillan 1972. Revised metric edition, Drama Books 1977. ISBN 0-89676-027-8
- Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500-1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5
- Baumgarten, Linda: What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America, Yale University Press,2002. ISBN 0-300-09580-5
- Black, J. Anderson and Madge Garland: A History of Fashion, Morrow, 1975. ISBN 0-688-02893-4
- de Marly, Diana: Working Dress: A History of Occupational Clothing, Batsford (UK), 1986; Holmes & Meier (US), 1987. ISBN 0-8419-1111-8
- Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, Harper & Row, 1965. No ISBN for this edition; ASIN B0006BMNFS
- Ribeiro, Aileen: The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750-1820, Yale University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-300-06287-7
- Ribeiro, Aileen: Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe 1715-1789, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-300-09151-6
- Rothstein, Natalie (editor): A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics, Norton, 1987, ISBN 0-500-01419-1
- Steele, Valerie: The Corset: A Cultural History. Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-09953-3
- Styles, John: The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 9780300121193
- Tozer, Jane and Sarah Levitt, ''Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870, Laura Ashley Press, ISBN 0-9508913-0-4
Surviving 18th century clothing