OVERVIEW

Womenswear

Wikipedia writes of 1750s fashion and portraiture:

“Women: Court dress included elaborate and intricate styles influenced by Rococo; hoop skirts; panniers; corsets; petticoats; stays; conical torso shape with large hips; “standardized courtly bodies and faces” with little individuality.

French: Elaborate court dress, colorful,decorative, portraiture inside.

English: Simple and practical, inexpensive durable fabrics, outdoor lifestyle, portraiture outside.”

Mr and Mrs Andrews

Fig. 1 - Thomas Gainsborough (English, 1727 - 1788). Mr and Mrs Andrews, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas; 69.8 x 119.4 cm. London: National Gallery, NG6301. Bought with contributions from The Pilgrim Trust, The Art Fund, Associated Television Ltd, and Mr and Mrs W. W. Spooner, 1960. Source: The National Gallery

Robe à la française

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown (English). Robe à la française, ca. 1750. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum. Source: Pinterest

Woman's dress (Robe à la française) with Matching Stomacher and Petticoat

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (French). Woman's dress (Robe à la française) with Matching Stomacher and Petticoat, ca. 1755-1760. Chinese export silk-brocaded satin, silk and silk chenille looped fringe; center back length: 160 cm, waist: 59.7 cm (center back length: 63 inches, waist: 23.5 inches). Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988-83-1a--c. Purchased with the John D. McIlhenny Fund, the John T. Morris Fund, the Elizabeth Wandell Smith Fund, and with funds contributed by Mrs. Howard H. Lewis and Marion Boulton Stroud, 1988. Source: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Dress, Mantua, Bodice, Train

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (British). Dress, Mantua, Bodice, Train, 1750 - 1770. Silk brocade, gold, linen. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, K.2013.67.1. Source: National Museum of Scotland

Portrait of a Woman in Dark Blue

Fig. 5 - Arthur Devis (British, English, (1712–1787)). Portrait of a Woman in Dark Blue, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas. Birmingham: Birmingham Museums, 1953P457. Source: Birmingham Museums

Menswear

Wikipedia writes:

“Men: Coat; waistcoat: breeches; large cuffs; more attention on individual pieces of the suit; wigs for formal occasions; long and powdered hair”

“Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches of the previous period. However, changes were seen in both the fabric used as well as the cut of these garments. More attention was paid to individual pieces of the suit, and each element underwent stylistic changes. Under new enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits, the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets characteristic of “full dress” or formal attire earlier in the century gradually gave way to carefully tailored woollen “undress” garments for all occasions except the most formal. This more casual style reflected the dominating image of “nonchalance.” The goal was to look as fashionable as possible with seemingly little effort. This was to be the new, predominant mindset of fashion.”

Royal Company of Archers Uniform Coat

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (British). Royal Company of Archers Uniform Coat, ca. 1750. Wool, linen, wood, silk. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, A.1993.62 A. Source: The National Museum of Scotland

Jean Charles Garnier d'Isle (1697–1755)

Fig. 2 - Maurice Quentin de La Tour (French, 1704-1788). Jean Charles Garnier d'Isle (1697–1755), ca. 1750. Pastel and gouache on blue paper, laid down on canvas; 64.5 x 54 cm (25 3/8 x 21 1/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.439. Purchase, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 2002. Source: The Met

Man's waiscoat, breeches, and vest

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (Probably French). Man's waiscoat, breeches, and vest, ca. 1750. Silk polychrome velvet, brocaded; jacket: 94.9 cm breeches: 80 cm vest 83.8 cm (jacket: 37 3/8 in breeches: 31 1/2 in vest 33 in). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2016.489.1-3. William Francis Warden Fund and funds donated by Doris May. Source: MFA Boston

Waistcoat

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (French). Waistcoat, 1750-55. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.54.25. Gift of Mrs. Alice Frankenberg, 1954. Source: The Met

CHILDREN’S WEAR

Leading into the eighteenth century, new philosophies emerging from the Age of Enlightenment were changing attitudes about childhood (Nunn 98). For example, in his 1693 publication, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John Locke challenged long-held beliefs about best practices for child-rearing. A slightly later child development theorist was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Locke and Rousseau both put forwards general principles about children’s dress. However, their ideas were not clearly reflected in childrenswear until the second half of the century.

Swaddling was a very long-held European tradition where an infants’ limbs are immobilized in tight cloth wrappings (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). However, Locke and Rousseau believed that swaddling infants was bad for health and physical strength (Paoletti). While the tradition was continued throughout the first half of the century, the practice did begin to decline in the second half.

Babies were then dressed in “slips” or “long clothes” until they began to crawl (Callahan). These were ensembles with very long, full skirts that extended beyond the feet (Fig. 2) (Nunn 99). Babies also wore tight-fitting caps on their heads. Locke and Rousseau advocated that young children receive more regular hygiene. They also believed that dressing children in many layers of heavy fabrics was bad for their health. For those reasons, linen and cotton fabrics were preferred for babies and very young children because they were lightweight and easily washable (Paoletti).

Once a child was becoming mobile, they transitioned into “short clothes” (Callahan). These ensembles ended at the ankles, allowing for greater freedom of movement (Callahan). In the 1750s short clothes still featured a boned or stiffened back-opening bodice, though they were less structured by the 1760s (Callahan).

At this phase, toddlers typically had “leading strings” attached to the back of their bodices (Fig. 3) (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 decade 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 did not fully transition into adult dress until their early teens. However, elements of fashionable womenswear were incorporated into their dress as they aged.

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

Anne Byrd Carter (Mrs. Charles Carter, 1725-1757) With Two Children

Fig. 2 - John Hesselius (American, 1728–1778). Anne Byrd Carter (Mrs. Charles Carter, 1725-1757) With Two Children, ca. 1750-1757. Winston-Salem, NC: Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, MESDA Object Database record S-5126. Source: Colonial Virginia Portraits

Dress bodice

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (English). Dress bodice, 1750-1759. Spitalfields silk. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 162-1899. Given by Mrs Morgan. Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

The Grymes Children

Fig. 4 - John Hesselius (American, 1728–1778). The Grymes Children, ca. 1750-1755. Oil on canvas; 142.24 x 167.64 cm (56 x 66 in). Richmond: Virginia Museum of History & Culture, 1893.3. Source: Colonial Virginia Portraits

Dr Samuel Walthen with His Wife and Children

Fig. 5 - George Knapton (English, 1698–1778). Dr Samuel Walthen with His Wife and Children, 1755. Oil on canvas; 114.7 x 160.8 cm. Birmingham: Birmingham Museums Trust, 1952P8. purchased from Martin Asscher, 1952. Source: Art UK

An American painting circa 1750-1755 depicts four children of Philip Grymes and Mary Randolph Grymes (Fig. 4). From left to right, they are Lucy, John, Phillip, and Charles. Lucy wears a blue gown with a back-opening bodice and white apron. Extremely similar ensembles can be seen in portraiture of young girls throughout this decade, as well as previous decades. John also wears a gown, signifying that he has not yet been deemed mature enough to be breeched. Nonetheless, his ankle-length red gown and blue coat appear influenced by menswear. John also holds a fashionable tricorne hat in his left hand. Phillip is only one year older than John, yet he wears a brown men’s suit with a light blue waistcoat. Charles, the smallest child, may have been as young as two at the time of painting. He wears a short, loose white gown — seemingly in line with the philosophies of Locke and Rousseau.

A 1755 family portrait of Dr Samuel Walthen with his wife and children is another excellent visual resource for 1750s childrenswear. The youngest child wears a white gown with a stiffened bodice and a tight cap on their head. They are fascinated by a doll being held by the second-youngest child, who also wears a white gown and fitted cap. The oldest child, on the left, wears a fitted cap and a pink gown with clearly visible leading strings.

References:

Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1750-1759
Rulers:

Map of Europe in 1750. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Events:
  • 1750 – Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
  • 1752 – Gregorian calendar adopted
  • 1759 – Voltaire’s Candide is written

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.
Cariou, Gail, Werner Wicke, and Elizabeth Tait. Lady’s Gown: 1730-1770 : A Visual Guide to Cut and Construction. Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 1997. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/612948817.
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/.
Pinterest. “1750-1759 Men’s Fashion,” 1750s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1750-1759-mens-fashion/.
Pinterest. “1750-1759 Portraits of Women,” 1750s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1750-1759-portraits-of-women/.
Pinterest. “1750-1759 Women’s Fashion,” 1750s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1750-1759-womens-fashion/.
“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/.