“In the early decades of the new century, formal dress consisted of the stiff-bodiced mantua. A closed (or ’round’) petticoat, sometimes worn with an apron, replaced the open draped mantua skirt of the previous period. This formal style then gave way to more relaxed fashions.
The robe à la française or sack-back gown was looser-fitting and a welcome change for women used to wearing bodices. With flowing pleats from the shoulders was originally an undress fashion. At its most informal, this gown was unfitted both front and back and called a sacque. With a more relaxed style came a shift away from heavy fabrics, such as satin and velvet, to Indian cotton, silks and damasks. Also, these gowns were often made in lighter pastel shades that gave off a warm, graceful and childlike appearance. Later, for formal wear, the front was fitted to the body by means of a tightly-laced underbodice, while the back fell in loose box pleats called ‘Watteau pleats’ from their appearance in the paintings of Antoine Watteau.
The less formal robe à l’anglaise, Close-bodied gown or ‘nightgown’ also had a pleated back, but the pleats were sewn down to fit the bodice to the body to the waist.
Either gown could be closed in front (a ’round gown’) or open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.
Open-fronted bodices could be filled in with a decorative stomacher, and toward the end of the period a lace or linen kerchief called a fichu could be worn to fill in the low neckline.
Sleeves were bell- or trumpet-shaped, and caught up at the elbow to show the frilled or lace-trimmed sleeves of the shift (chemise) beneath. Sleeves became narrower as the period progressed, with a frill at the elbow, and elaborate separate ruffles called engageantes were tacked to the shift sleeves, in a fashion that would persist into the 1770s.”
“The male suit, also known as the habit, made of three parts: the justaucorps, a jacket, and breeches. In the early 18th century the jacket continued to have a full skirt. Fabrics for men were primarily silks, velvets, and brocades, with woolens used for the middle class and for sporting costumes.
In the early 18th century, men’s shoes continued to have a squared toe, but the heels were not as high. From 1720-1730, the heels became even smaller, and the shoes became more comfortable, no longer containing a block toe. The shoes from the first half of the century often contained an oblong buckle usually embedded with stones.
From about 1720, a bag wig gathered the back hair in a black silk bag. Black ribbons attached to the bag were brought to the front and tied in a bow in a style called a ‘solitaire’.
Wide-brimmed hats with brims turned up on three sides into tricornes were worn throughout the era. They were an essential element to the ‘domino’, a stylish costume for masquerade balls, which became an increasingly popular mode of entertainment. The ‘domino’ style consisted of a mask, a long cape, and a tricorne hat, all usually constructed of dark colors.”
Leading into the eighteenth century, attitudes about childhood were changing (Nunn 98). The 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 childrenswear of the first half of the century. In the 1720s, traditions for childrenswear were not unlike those at the start of the 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. Girls, however, did not fully transition into adult dress until their early teens.
A whimsical group portrait by William Aikman circa 1720 (Fig. 3) depicts five young siblings. The two youngest children wear short clothes accessorized with white lace aprons. They would have both worn leading strings, which are visible on the back of the second-youngest child. It should be noted that while they are assumed to be girls, their ensembles would have also been appropriate for very young boys. The two older girls do not wear those clear symbols of childhood. However, their bodices open and close at the back rather than the front. The young boy wears a red menswear ensemble very similar to styles worn earlier in the century.
A 1726 group portrait by Joseph André Cellony (Fig. 4) depicts Humphry, Elizabeth and Charles Ambler as children. The fashionable ensembles worn by Humphry and Elizabeth, the two standing children, act as a visual display of wealth. They appear to wear very expensive polychrome silk brocades. Elizabeth’s ensemble includes features of leading womenswear styles, including gathered sleeves with wide cuffs and a train. However, her sheer white apron unmistakably marks her as a child. Both of Elizabeth’s brothers, who appear to be younger than her, wear menswear. Charles, seated, wears a blue suit and fashionable red stockings worn over the hem of his breeches. Humphry’s ensemble appears to be more extravagant, in large part due to the sumptuous fabric of his waistcoat. In his hand he holds a fashionable tricorne hat.
- “1700–50 in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1700%E2%80%9350_in_Western_fashion
“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.
- 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/.
- 1721 – Smallpox vaccine developed
- 1724 – R. Holden of Dundee, Scotland, began bleaching linen with a compound made from kelp
- 1728 – Silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite starts work in London
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