“In the early 18th century women wore a dress known as a mantua for formal occasions. The mantua was an open-fronted silk or fine wool gown with a train and matching petticoat. The train was worn looped up over the hips to reveal the petticoat. The bodice had loose elbow-length sleeves finished with wide turned-back cuffs. A hoop petticoat and several under-petticoats wore worn beneath the outer petticoat.
To give the figure the required shape a corset was worn under the bodice. It was made of linen and stiffened with whale bones inserted between parallel lines of stitching. They fastened with lacing down the back which could be laced tightly to give an upright posture to the torso and to emphasise the waist. A ‘busk’ or strip of bone, wood or metal was sometimes incorporated into the front of the stays.
Hair was worn close to the head with a small linen cap which sometimes had lace lappets, streamers that hung
either side of a woman’s cap. The cap was covered by a hood or hat for outer wear.”
“At the beginning of the 18th century the male silhouette differed greatly from that of today. A typical outfit consisted of a full-skirted knee-length coat, knee breeches, a vest or long waistcoat (which could be sleeved), a linen shirt with frills and linen underdrawers. Lower legs showed and were an important part of the silhouette. Men wore silk stockings and leather shoes with stacked heels of low or medium height. The whole ensemble would have been topped by a shoulder-length full-bottomed wig and a tricorne (three-cornered) hat with an upturned brim.”
Leading into the eighteenth century, attitudes about childhood were changing (Nunn 98). This shift was sparked by new philosophies emerging from the Age of Enlightenment. For example, in his 1693 publication, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John Locke challenged long-held beliefs about best practices for child-rearing.
However, that was not reflected in children’s wear of the first half of the century. In the 1710s, traditions for children’s wear were not unlike those of the previous decade — or the previous century.
Infants were swaddled, as was the long-held European tradition (Tortora and Marcketti). Swaddling was the practice of tightly binding an infants’ limbs, so as to immobilize them (Callahan). The Victoria and Albert Museum possesses a finely embroidered swaddling band dated circa 1700-1750 (Fig. 1). Its elaborate floral embroidery indicates that this was a fashionable “outer swaddling band” (Victoria and Albert Museum).
In the early eighteenth century, babies typically outgrew the swaddling phase between two and four months (Callahan). They were then dressed in “slips” or “long clothes” (Callahan). These were ensembles with a fitted bodice and a very long, full skirt (Fig. 2) (Nunn 99). Babies also wore tight-fitting caps on their heads.
Once a child was becoming mobile, they transitioned into “short clothes” (Callahan). These ensembles allowed for greater mobility because skirts were cut at the ankle (Callahan). Bodices opened at the back and were boned or otherwise stiffened (Callahan). At this phase, toddlers typically had “leading strings” attached to the back of their bodice (Magidson). Leading strings were streamers of fabric used to protect young children from falling or wandering off (“Childhood”).
When boys were deemed mature enough, they underwent a rite of passage known as “breeching” (Reinier). Breeching referred to the first time a boy wore bifurcated breeches or trousers, symbolizing his entrance into manhood. In the first half of the eighteenth century, boys were typically breeched between the ages of four and seven (Callahan). From that point on, boys during this time followed menswear fashions.
This is demonstrated in portraiture of the time. An American portrait circa 1710 depicts eight-year-old Henry Darnall III in fashionable masculine finery (Fig. 3). Standing behind Darnall is an enslaved African boy wearing a modest coat and a metal collar — “a symbol of servitude reminiscent of the shackles that constrained slaves during their voyage from Africa” (Roark 2003, 73). It should be noted that this is the earliest known depiction of an enslaved African in American painting (Roark 2014, 391). A British double portrait from eight years later also depicts five-year-old Edward Harpur in a menswear ensemble (Fig. 4).
Girls, however, did not fully transition into adult dress until their early teens. As girls aged, elements of fashionable womenswear were incorporated into their dress. An American portrait circa 1710 depicts six-year-old Eleanor Darnall wearing an ensemble that resembles fashionable woman’s Mantua (Fig. 5). However, the ensemble includes characteristics unique to childhood dress: Eleanor’s bodice is back-opening and she wears a white apron. This also applies to Catherine Harpur’s ensemble in the British double portrait circa 1718, although her age is unknown (Fig. 4).
“Introduction to 18th-Century Fashion.” Victoria and Albert Museum, January 25, 2011. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-18th-century-fashion/.
- Callahan, Colleen R. “Children’s Clothing.” In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Accessed August 08, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474264716.0003223.
- “Childhood.” In European Renaissance and Reformation, 1350-1600, edited by Norman J. Wilson, 319-321. Vol. 1 of World Eras. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2001. Gale eBooks (accessed August 7, 2020). https://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2653/apps/doc/CX3034600137/GVRL?u=fitsuny&sid=GVRL&xid=480f4328.
- Magidson, Phyllis. “Fashion.” In Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society, edited by Paula S. Fass, 344-348. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale eBooks (accessed August 7, 2020). https://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2653/apps/doc/CX3402800166/GVRL?u=fitsuny&sid=GVRL&xid=0084684d.
- Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume 1200-2000. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor, 2008. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/232125801
- Reinier, Jacqueline S. “Breeching.” In Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society, edited by Paula S. Fass, 118. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale eBooks (accessed August 7, 2020). https://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2653/apps/doc/CX3402800074/GVRL?u=fitsuny&sid=GVRL&xid=360a7a45.
- Roark, Elisabeth Louise. Artists of Colonial America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/302384812
- Roark, Elisabeth L. “Keeping the Faith: The Catholic Context and Content of Justus Engelhardt Kühn’s Portrait of Eleanor Darnall, Ca. 1710.” The Journal of the Maryland Historical Society 109, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 391-427. https://www.mdhs.org/sites/default/files/MHMWinter2014.pdf
- Tortora, Phyllis G., and Sara B. Marcketti. “The Eighteenth Century 1700–1790.” In Survey of Historic Costume, 266–297. New York: Fairchild Books, 2015. Accessed August 07, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781501304194.ch-010.
- Victoria and Albert Museum. “Swaddling Band.” V&A Collections. Accessed August 08, 2020. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O62960/swaddling-band/.
- 1711 – Pompeii discovered
- 1717 – Watteau’s Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera
Resources for Fashion History Research
To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
Have a primary source to suggest? Or a newly digitized periodical/book to announce? Contact us!