Fashion in the 1700s was characterized by a widening silhouette both for men and women. This era embraces the late Baroque or Rococo style, which is a highly ornamental style of the day popularized in France and spread to Central Europe. Clothing at the time was characterized by soft pastels and playful styles. In the mid-century, Europe and colonial America fully embraced the Rococo artistic trends, as fashion became more elaborate and intricate. But the once beloved style also fell out of favor that same century, as Rococo declined in the late 1770s. In the latter years, fashion favored the simpler and less elaborate, which was an influence of the rationalistic ideals during the Enlightenment.
The mantua is a gown made of a long piece of fabric draped over the shoulders. It was loose fitting and was worn without a corset. During the early decades of the 18th century, a more formal mantua became popular. It was stiff-bodied, and had a closed petticoat replaced the open draped mantua of the 1600s. This formal style was commonly worn by English women.
Gowns are commonwear for women for centuries. During this century, necklines on gowns became more open as time went by to give space to more accessories and ornaments on the neck area. Sometimes, a thick band of lace are sewn to the neckline of a gown, with the addition of flowers, ribbons and/or jewels. Accessories like pearl necklaces, ribbons or lace frills were tied high on the neck.
The usual fashion during the 1750s to 1775 was a low-necked gown worn over a petticoat.
During the 1700s, here are the styles of gowns that weretrendy:
- Sack-back gown (robe à la française)
The sack-back gown had a low-cut square neckline, flowing pleats from the shoulders, bell-shaped sleeves and a tight bodice. It usually has large ribbon bows down the front, wide panniers and extravagantly trimmed with ribbons, lace and flowers. These gowns are often made in lighter pastel shades and are made with silks, damasks or Indian cotton, giving it a relaxed style. For formal wear, this gown’s front was fitted to the body through a tightly-laced underbodice. It can be closed in front or opened to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.
The sack back gown of the mid-century featured back pleats hanging loosely from the neckline.
- Close-bodied gown (robe à l’anglaise)
Also known as nightgown, the close-bodied gown also had a pleated back, with pleats sewn down to fit the bodice to the body at the waist. It’s a less formal gown with a snug bodice and a full skirt worn without panniers, usually cut a bit longer in the back. Sometimes, a lace kerchief was worn around the neckline.It can be closed in front or open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.
The close-bodied gown of the mid-century featured back pleats sewn in place to let it fit close to the body, then the pleats are draped in various ways on the skirt.
- Loose white gown (chemise a la reine)
The loose white gown was introduced by Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France and one of the greatest fashion icon of the era. At first it was considered shocking for women because no corset was worn, exposing the natural figure. However, this fashion was eventually embraced by women who wants to use it as a symbol of increased liberation.
- Court dress (grand habit de cour)
The court dress or stiff-bodied gown retained the styles of the 1670s. This gown had a low and oval neckline, baring the shoulders. It had a heavily boned bodice laced closed in the back.
The bedgown or shortgowns are fashionable at-home morning wear for women made of lightweight, printed cotton fabric. These are still worn with petticoats to keep shape, and is usually thigh-length and wrapping or tying at the front. As time passed by, this gown became the staple upper garment of British and American working class from the 18th to 19th century.
Petticoats are still popular during the era. It came in a wide variety of styles, fabrics and weight. Linen and cotton were the material popular for petticoats for warmer months, while wool and flannel were common for winter wear. As time went by, petticoats, as well as gowns, became elaborately draped and embellished with lace and ruffles.
Panniers are small, domed hoops worn underneath the skirts since the 1730s. Pannier means “basket” in French. These are made of wicker and are attached near the hips, adding width to skirts to create a swaying effect when women walked. Smaller hoops were worn for everyday settings, while larger hoops are used for formal occasions. By the 1740s, designers expanded panniers to extreme widths, making it difficult to enter a doorway, causing men to complain that women took up a lot of space. Marie Antoinette even donned a gown that extended to as much as three feet to either side at the French court. This style remained a staple as court dress until 1760s.
Stomachers are inverted triangles inserted at the center of an open bodice. It is held in place with side tabs. Stomachers can be decorated with artificial flowers, ruffles, ribbons and lace.
The stays or corsets of the early 18th century were long-waisted and cut with a narrow back, wide front and shoulder straps. It’s a support garment stiffened with a whalebone, reed or wood. The most fashionable stays pulled the shoulders back until shoulder blades almost touched. The resulting silhouette makes a very erect posture and a high, full bosom.
A woman may start wearing stays as early as toddlerhood. Women also make their own corsets so they fit. If they don’t make their own, she could purchase stays imported from England, but there is no guarantee that a piece will fit.
During the mid-century, strapless stays were cut high at the armpit to enable a woman to stand with her shoulders lightly back, which was a fashionable posture at the time.
Shoes with buckles
From 1720 to 1730, men’s shoes had smaller heels. The shoes became more comfortable, and no longer contains a block toe from the previous period. From the first half of the century, shoes often contained an oblong buckle embedded with stones.
During the 1760s, women’s shoes also had buckles as fasteners. They were made of either shiny metal, or with paste stones. Men wore low-heeled leather shoes fastened with buckles, and are worn with silk with woolen stockings.
The male suit in the early 18th century was known as habit à la française, and it consisted of the justaucorps, a jacket and breeches. The justaucorps is a long, knee-length coat worn by men It is of French origin, and it was worn by men throughout the latter 17th century and throughout the 18th century.
Banyan was worn at home by men as sort of a dressing gown over the shirt, waistcoat and breeches. Intellectuals and philosophers of the period were painted wearing banyans with their own hair and soft cap rather than a wig.
The frock is a knee-length coat with a wide collar. It’s derived from a traditional working class that was worn for hunting and other country pursuits in America and Britain. At the times went by, the frock became fashionable for everyday wear. The frock was sometimes cut with a slit to allow movement. Natural colors were used and were made from wool, silk or woolen cloth.
Men still wore breeches in the 18th century. This time, breeches are usually stopped at the knee, with white stockings worn underneath the heeled, buckled shoes. Breeches are part of the common suit for men. By the mid-century, breeches were fitted snugly and had a fall-front opening.
Wigs were essential for men and women of substance at this period. They were often white. Those who don’t wear wigs powder their natural hair to achieve the fashionable look.
For men during the 1700s to 1720s, the large parted wig remained popular. That time, wigs were available in different colors, but white was becoming a more popular choice. Curls got higher and higher, until the cadogan style of men’s hair became popular. This hairstyle featured horizontal rolls of hair over the ears. Later on, men’s wigs were worn long, brushed back from the forehead or tied back at the nape of the neck. During the 1750s, men’s wigs became generally short and made with a lot of white powder, but the longer ones remained popular with the older generation.
By the 1770s, it was fashionable for women to go for extreme hairstyles. They wore their hair high upon their heads in large plumes. To raise the hair up, they use rolls of horse hair, wool or tow. The front of the hair was arranged in roll curls set horizontally on the head or frizzed out. Then at the back, they tie it up in a knot. Women use a paste called pomatum to stiffen the hair and to hold powder, which was put by people to their hair to make it white.
The tall wigs, short and tight trousers, small hats and delicate shoes are the get-up of the original macaroni trend. Not to be confused with the pasta, the macaroni in mid-18th century England refers to a fashionable man with elaborate dress. This term was also used to mock the men who exceeded ordinary bounds of fashion.
The macaroni trend started when elite men went to Italy as part of the Grand Tour, and developed a taste for the macaroni pasta, which was known little in England back then. They started the Macaroni Club (not a formal club) and would refer to anything fashionable as “macaroni.” These men brought back the foreign fashion tastes they adopted to England. As other men became exposed to the luxurious appeal of the trend, they also began to adapt. By the 1770s, any man can look as if they had been on the Grand Tour just by looking like the macaroni men.
Many people ridiculed and criticized the trend for being effeminate or gender ambiguous, as the style contrasted the British masculine dress at the time. However, some celebrated the trend for demonstrating personal identity. The trend help Britain distinguish itself from France.
During the early 1700s, wide-brimmed hats were turned up on three sides into tricornes. It was an essential style for the “domino,” which was a popular men’s costume for masquerade balls. The domino style consisted of a tricorne hat, mask and a long cape. Women also wore tricorne hats for hunting and riding.