Sunday, June 21, 2009
Fashion in the 18th Century
In the period 1700-1790, fashion was heavily influenced by Europe and its aristocracy, reaching heights of fantasy, with abundant ornamentation. Under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the American Revolution, there was a movement toward simplicity and democratization of dress, leading to an entirely new mode of British tailoring following the French Revolution.
The Rococo period (1730-1780) was marked stylistically by the same convoluted detail and elaborate decoration which characterized the Baroque period (1600-1750) immediately preceding it. But despite this similarity, the Rococo style had, at its center a radical difference.
Where every aspect of the fine and decorative arts of the Baroque period had at its core an extreme solidity and heaviness, Rococo art , music and furniture had, as its basis, a lightness and fluidity which grew more pronounced as it progressed. Rococo forms in the decorative arts typically seem to float upwards in complex curvilinear patterns, defying both physical and emotional gravity.
Women's clothing styles remained confining and cumbersome for most of the period. It is important to note that during this time, women's garments largely reflected their improving status in society. In the 1740's, imposing hoop skirts gave way to wide panniers, changing the shape and silhouette of the floor-length gowns that were commonplace. By the 1780's, the pannier itself disappeared, though still seen at high court functions, 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. By 1795, waistlines were somewhat raised, preparing the way for the development of the empire silhouette. The usual fashion of the years 1750-1780 was a low-necked gown 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 bodice beneath. 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.
For underwear, a smock or chemise was worn with short or elbow-length sleeves and a low neckline. The long-waisted, heavily boned stays of the 1740's with their narrow back, wide front, and shoulder straps gave way by the 1760's 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 (corset) for all but the most formal court occasions. Free-hanging pockets were tied around the waist and were accessed through pocket slits in the side-seams of the gown or petticoat. Woolen 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.
Shoes had high, curved heels (the origin of modern "louis heels") and were made of fabric or leather. It was particularly common for shoe buckles to be worn as an "ornament" to the foot in high society, principally at balls and parties, and made an important feature of the "dandy" image. These were either polished metal, usually in silver (sometimes with the metal cut into false stones in the Paris style), or with paste stones, although there were other types.
The 1770's fashion were notable for extreme hairstyles and wigs which were built up very high, and often incorporated decorative objects, sometimes symbolic. These coiffures were parodied in several famous satirical caricatures of the period. By the 1780's, 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.
The Enlightenment caused a number of changes in men’s values as well. Intelligence and wit were prized about physical prowess of any kind and the army became a profession only resorted to by the poorer, younger sons of the gentry. A such, military dress played less of a part in the fashion inspiration for men’s clothes. Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistband and breeches of the previous period. However, what changed significantly was the fabric. Under new enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits, the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets characteristic of formal attire earlier in the century gradually gave way to carefully tailored woolen garments for all occasions except the most formal. The skirts of the coat narrowed, and toward the 1780's began to be cutaway in a curve from the front waist. Waistcoats extended to mid-thigh to the 1770's, and gradually shortened until they were waist-length and cut straight across. Waistcoats could be made with or without sleeves. 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. 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 with the cravat reappearing at the end of the period. 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.
When we think of corsets we automatically think of women, but men have actually been wearing corsets for just as long. A trim and slim physique has always been fashionable for both men and women. When 17th and 18th century fashion dictated that men should look physically fit with broad shoulders and a narrow waist the corset was used to create this look.
Low-heeled leather shoes fastened with buckles, and were worn with silk or woolen stockings. Boots were worn for riding. The buckles were polished metal, usually in silver (sometimes with the metal cut into false stones in the Paris style), or with paste stones, although there were other types. Buckles were often ludicrously large.
Wigs were worn for formal occasions, or the hair was worn long and powdered, brushed back from the forehead and tied back at the nape of the neck usually 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, evolving into the top hat in the next period.
One thing that is remarkable about this period is that 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.