OVERVIEW

Womenswear

Wikipedia writes of womenswear in this period:

“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.”

Élisabeth-Charlotte d'Orléans, duchesse de Lorraine, avec son second fils François-Étienne

Fig. 1 - Alexis Simon Belle (French, 1674-1734). Élisabeth-Charlotte d'Orléans, duchesse de Lorraine, avec son second fils François-Étienne, 1722. Source: Grand Ladies

Portrait of the daughter of George II of Great Britain, Princess Amelia Sophia

Fig. 2 - Philip Mercier (French, 1689-1760). Portrait of the daughter of George II of Great Britain, Princess Amelia Sophia, 1728. Source: Grand Ladies

Dress

Fig. 3 - Maker unknown (British). Dress, ca. 1725. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Meseum of Art, C.I.64.14. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1964. Source: The Met

Isabella Farnese, Queen of Spain

Fig. 4 - Jean Ranc (French, 1674-1735). Isabella Farnese, Queen of Spain, ca. 1723. Oil on canvas; 144 x 115 cm (56.7 x 45.3 in). Madrid: Museo del Prado, P02330. Source: Prado

Fashion Icon: 

Menswear

Wikipedia writes of menswear in this period:

“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.”

Coat and waistcoat

Fig. 1 - Maker unknown (French). Coat and waistcoat, ca. 1729. Coat: silk velvet, trimmed with gold; waistcoat: silver brocade, trimmed with gold lace. Moscow: Kremlin Museums, TK-2909. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Sir Robert Throckmorton, 4th Bt (1702-1791)

Fig. 2 - Nicolas Largillière (French, 1656-1746). Sir Robert Throckmorton, 4th Bt (1702-1791), 1728 - 1729. Oil on canvas; 136.5 x 104.8 cm (53 3/4 x 41 1/4 in). Warwickshire: Coughton Court, NT 135620. Source: National Trust Collections UK

Portrait of a Gentleman

Fig. 3 - Fra Galgario (Italian, 1655-1743). Portrait of a Gentleman, 1729. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of a Man

Fig. 4 - Circle of Arnold Boonen (Dutch, 1669–1729). Portrait of a Man, ca. 1720. Oil on canvas; 56.5 x 47.6 cm (22 1/4 x 18 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 68.190. Gift of Marcel Aubry, 1968. Source: The Met

The French Comedians

Fig. 5 - Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721). The French Comedians, ca. 1720. Oil on canvas; 57.2 x 73 cm (22 1/2 x 28 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 49.7.54. The Jules Bache Collection, 1949. Source: The Met

Coat

Fig. 6 - Maker unknown (British). Coat, 1720s. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982.134.2. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn and Alice L. Crowley Bequests, 1982. Source: The Met

CHILDREN’S WEAR

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”).

Swaddling band

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (French). Swaddling band, 1700-1750. Hand embroidered linen; 340.5 cm x 12.5 cm. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, B.13-2001. Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

Portrait of a Baby

Fig. 2 - Mary Beale (English, 1633-1699). Portrait of a Baby, 1690-1730. Oil on canvas; 77.5 cm x 65 cm. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, B.447-1994. Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

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.

A Group Portrait of Four Girls and a Boy in a Landscape

Fig. 3 - William Aikman (Scottish, 1682-1731). A Group Portrait of Four Girls and a Boy in a Landscape, ca. 1720. Oil on canvas; 173 cm x 146.6 cm (68 1/8" x 57 1/8" in). London: Philip Mould & Company. Source: Philip Mould & Company

Charles Ambler with his elder brother Humphry and sister Elizabeth

Fig. 4 - Joseph André Cellony (French, 1686-1746). Charles Ambler with his elder brother Humphry and sister Elizabeth, 1726. Oil on canvas; 175.5 cm x 201 cm. Private Collection. Source: Wikimedia Commons

References:

Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1720-1729
Rulers:

Europe in 1721. Source: Emerson Kent

Events:
  • 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

Primary/Period Sources

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!

Etiquette Books (Digitized)

Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, Eugenia Stanhope, and Philip Stanhope. Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope Esq; Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden: Together with Several Other Pieces on Various Subjects. Dublin: Printed for E. Lynch [etc.], 1774. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008961515.
Courtin, Antoine de. Nouveau Traité de La Civilité, Qui Se Pratique En France Parmi Les Honnêtes Gens. Paris: Durand, 1750. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001921298.
Della Casa, Giovanni. Galateo: Or, A Treatise on Politeness and Delicacy of Manners. London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1774. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000704165.
La Manière de Converser Avec Les Honnestes Gens. Cologne: Schouten, 1701. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011159361.

Secondary Sources

Also see the 18th-century overview page for more research sources… or browse our Zotero library.

Online

Cullen, Oriole. “Eighteenth-Century European Dress.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, n.d. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/eudr/hd_eudr.htm.
Glasscock, Jessica. “Eighteenth-Century Silhouette and Support.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, n.d. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/18sil/hd_18sil.htm.
Victoria and Albert Museum. “Introduction to 18th-Century Fashion,” January 25, 2011. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-18th-century-fashion/.
“Looking at Eighteenth-Century Clothing,” n.d. http://www.history.org/history/clothing/intro/clothing.cfm.
Watt, Melinda. “Textile Production in Europe: Silk, 1600–1800.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, n.d. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/txt_s/hd_txt_s.htm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The Decoration of Men’s Fashion in Eighteenth-Century France,” n.d. https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2015/elaborate-embroidery.

Books/Articles
Ashelford, Jane, and Andreas Einsiedel. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/759883168.
Boucher, François. 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment. Expanded ed. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1987. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/979316852.
Brown, Susan, ed. Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. New York: DK Publishing, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/840417029.
Edwards, Lydia. How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/988370049.
Fukai, Akiko, ed. Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Köln: Taschen, 2006. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/857267477.
Hart, Avril, and Susan North. Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries. London: V&A Publications, 1998. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/170891633.
Hart, Avril, Susan North, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2009. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/846177973.
Hill, Daniel Delis. History of World Costume and Fashion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/768100950.
Hollander, Anne. Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. London: National Gallery, 2002. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/930256016.
Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/450347616.
Ribeiro, Aileen. Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715-1789. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/978716760.
Ribeiro, Aileen. The Gallery of Fashion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/500993037.
Ribeiro, Aileen. A Visual History of Costume: The Eighteenth Century. 4. London: Batsford, 1983. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/436095052.
Rodini, Elizabeth, Elissa Weaver, and Kristen Ina Grimes. A Well-Fashioned Image: Clothing and Costume in European Art, 1500-1850. Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2002. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/694844989.
Takeda, Sharon Sadako, Kaye Durland Spilker, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, Clarissa Esguerra, and Nicole LaBouff. Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. New York: DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2010. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/971876353.
Tortora, Phyllis G., and Sara B. Marcketti. Survey of Historic Costume. Sixth edition. New York: Fairchild Books, 2015. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/972500782.
Vincent, Susan J., and Peter McNeil, eds. A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion: The Age of Enlightenment (1650-1800). London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/967107605.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes, 1600-1900. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1964. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/927414537.
Waugh, Norah, and Margaret Woodward. The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1968. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/894728161.
Pinterest
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Accessories,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-accessories/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Bags & Purses,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-bags-purses/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Children’s Clothing,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-childrens-clothing/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Fabrics & Textiles,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-fabrics-textiles/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Fashion Dolls,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-fashion-dolls/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Footwear,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-footwear/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Headwear,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-womens-headwear/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Jewelry,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-jewelry/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Men’s Headwear,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-mens-headwear/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Mitts & Gloves,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-mitts-gloves/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Pockets,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-pockets/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Stays & Petticoats,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-stays-petticoats/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Stomachers,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-stomachers/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Undated Men’s Clothing,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-undated-mens-clothing/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Undated Portraits of Men,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-undated-portraits-of-men/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Undated Portraits of Women,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-undated-portraits-of-women/.
Pocket Museum. “1700-1799 Undated Women’s Clothing,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1700-1799-undated-womens-clothing/.
Pocket Museum. “1720-1729 Men’s Fashion,” 1720s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1720-1729-mens-fashion/.
Pocket Museum. “1720-1729 Portraits of Men,” 1720s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1720-1729-portraits-of-men/.
Pinterest. “1720-1729 Portraits of Women,” 1720s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1720-1729-portraits-of-women/.
Pinterest. “1720-1729 Women’s Fashion,” 1720s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1720-1729-womens-fashion/.
“18th Century Fashion 1700s-1730s,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/lucindabrant/18th-century-fashion-1700s-1730s/.
“C. 18th Menswear (1720-1740),” 1720s. https://www.pinterest.com/Hattie995/c18th-menswear-1720-1740/.
“Costume in Art - 18th Century,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/maellen/costume-in-art-18th-century/.
Museum at FIT. “Fashion History: 18th Century,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/museumatfit/fashion-history-18th-century/.
“Historic Costume - 18th Century,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/maellen/historic-costume-18th-century/.
“Style: Rococo, 18th Century,” 1700s. https://www.pinterest.com/marquiselem/style-rococo-18th-century/.