“European countries and North America was characterized by greater abundance, elaboration and intricacy in clothing designs, loved by the Rococo artistic trends of the period. The French and English styles of fashion were very different from one another. French style was defined by elaborate court dress, colourful and rich in decoration.”
“Women’s clothing styles retained the emphasis on a narrow, inverted conical torso, achieved with boned stays, above full skirts. Hoop skirts continued to be worn, reaching their largest size in the 1750s, and were sometimes replaced by side-hoops, also called ‘false hips’, or panniers. Court dress had little or no physical comfort with restriction of movement. Full size hoops skirts prevented sitting and reminded those wearing them to stand in the presence of the King. Stays forced a proper standing posture. Garments like these could not be washed often because of the fabrics from which they were made. The Enlightenment produced a backlash against sumptuary laws which asserted a stagnant social hierarchy. During the Enlightenment, court dress stayed almost the same while outside of court dress, fashion became less extravagant and shifted more towards comfort rather than courtly display.”
“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 woolen “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.”
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 forward general principles about children’s dress. However, it was not until the 1760s that their ideas were clearly reflected in childrenswear (Paoletti).
Swaddling was a very long-held European tradition where an infant’s limbs are immobilized in tight cloth wrappings (Callahan). However, Locke and Rousseau believed that swaddling infants was bad for their 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 (Nunn 99). Babies also wore tight-fitting caps on their heads.
Once a child was becoming mobile, they transitioned into “short clothes” (Callahan). Unlike long clothes, these ensembles ended at the ankles, allowing for greater freedom of movement (Callahan). Short gowns featured back-opening, stiffened bodices and typically had “leading strings” at the back (Magidson). Leading strings were streamers of fabric used to protect young children from falling or wandering off (“Childhood”). A portrait of three-year-old James Badger from 1760 depicts him in a rather masculine-looking skirted short clothes ensemble (Fig. 1).
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. This typically happened by the time a boy reached the age of seven (Callahan). From that point on, they would be dressed in menswear fashions (see Fig. 2) — although suits for children were now becoming more relaxed (Callahan).
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).
By the mid-1760s, a new style for young children emerged: a white gown worn with a colored sash around the waist (Fig. 3). This style was worn by very young children of both sexes. The most common sash colors were pink and blue, although they were not used to indicate gender. A colored underslip could also be worn, which would show through the translucent white top fabric (Paoletti). While the style originated with very small children, it quickly became more pervasive as the century continued.
An English family portrait circa 1766 depicts the newly emerging white gown style on three young children (Fig. 3). The couple’s daughter is depicted at the center of the painting, wearing a white frock with a pink sash and tight-fitting cap. Two sons are depicted on either side, wearing white frocks with blue sashes. Blue leading strings are visible on the back of the leftmost boy.
As it was in previous decades, girls typically did not transition into adult dress until their early teens. While the ensemble of a young girl may incorporate elements of fashionable womenswear, she would wear a back-opening bodice (see Fig. 4) and possibly an apron as well.
The group family portraits titled The Children of George Bond of Ditchley (Fig. 5) and The Pybus Family (Fig. 6) were painted in 1768 and 1769 respectively. In both portraits, the youngest children wear the novel white gown and colored sash ensemble. Also in both portraits, older boys dress in menswear suits. There is, however, a discrepancy between the dress of older girls. Two older girls stand on the lefthand side of the 1769 painting. Both girls wear aprons and their silhouettes mirror fashionable womenswear, following the childrenswear traditions of the past. However, in the 1768 painting a tall, older girl wears what appears to be a scaled-up version of what her younger siblings wear. This inconsistency is indicative of the transition occurring in older girls’ dress, which would be complete by the end of the century.
- “1750-1775 in Western Fashion”. Wikipedia. Accessed September 16, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1750%E2%80%9375_in_Western_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.
- Paoletti, Jo Barraclough. “Children and Adolescents in the United States.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: The United States and Canada, edited by Phyllis G. Tortora, 208–219. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Accessed August 28, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/BEWDF/EDch3029.
- 1760 – George III becomes King of Great Britain.
- 1763 – Treaty of Paris is signed.
- 1764 – The “Spinning Jenny,” a machine using multiple spindles for spinning yarn, is invented by James Hargreaves.
- 1765 – The caraco emerges as a women’s jacket style in the 1760s.
- 1765 – American Revolution begins.
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