“Women’s clothing styles retained the emphasis on a narrow, inverted conical torso, achieved with boned stays, above full skirts. Hoop kirts 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.”
Of 1770s changes in fashion, Wikipedia writes:
“Women: robe à la française or sack-back gown; robe à l’anglaise or close-bodied gown; the Brunswick; tall hair and headdresses
Men: Waistcoats began to shorten; Macaroni imitators”
“Women’s clothing styles maintained an emphasis on the conical shape of the torso while the shape of the skirts changed throughout the period. The wide panniers (holding the skirts out at the side) for the most part disappeared by 1780 for all but the most formal court functions, and false rumps (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time.”
“Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches. 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.
In Boston and Philadelphia in the decades around the American Revolution, the adoption of plain undress styles was a conscious reaction to the excesses of European court dress; Benjamin Franklin caused a sensation by appearing at the French court in his own hair (rather than a wig) and the plain costume of Quaker Philadelphia.
At the other extreme was the “macaroni”.
In the United States, only the first five Presidents, from George Washington to James Monroe, dressed according to this fashion, including wearing of powdered wigs, tricorne hats and knee-breeches.The latest-born notable person to be portrayed wearing a powdered wig tied in a queue according to this fashion was Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia (born in 1779, portrayed in 1795).”
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 children’s wear (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, it was beginning to decline in England and American by the 1770s (Nunn 99).
Babies were then dressed in “slips” or “long clothes” until they began to crawl (Fig. 1) (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 traditionally featured back-opening, stiffened bodices and “leading strings” at the back (Magidson). Leading strings were streamers of fabric used to protect young children from falling or wandering off (“Childhood”)
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).
In the previous decade, a new style for young children emerged: a white frock worn with a colored sash around the waist. 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 may have also been worn, which would show through the translucent white top material (Paoletti). While this style originated with very small children, it quickly became more pervasive. By the 1770s, girls were continuing to wear this style into their older years (Callahan). An American double portrait from 1773 depicts two young siblings: a girl in the novel frock dress style, and a boy in a masculine-looking skirted ensemble (Fig. 2).
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 1770s, this typically happened by the time a boy reached the age of six or seven (Callahan). In the first half of the eighteenth century, boys then began to wear adult menswear fashions. However, by the 1770s this practice was changing. Instead of going directly from short gowns into adult styles, young boys now entered somewhat of a transitional phase. They would wear suits that were more relaxed and looser-fitting than adult menswear, and their shirts may have been open-necked or with a ruffled collar (see Fig. 3) (Callahan).
The following two family portraits are excellent visual resources for childrenswear of the 1770s (Figs. 4 and 5). In both paintings, the youngest children wear white frock ensembles with either pink or blue sashes. The oldest girls in both paintings do not wear the novel frock ensemble, but instead their dress closely resembles that of the decades before. They wear gowns with back-opening bodices and aprons. The older boys all wear menswear suits, though they would have more relaxed fits than suits for adults. This is especially clear in figure 5, where the boys’ collars are very noticeably open. Figure 5 also features an enslaved African boy, who wears a suit and an open collar.
- “1775-95 in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia, September 20, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1775%E2%80%9395_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
- 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.
- 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.
- 1772 – Denis Diderot completed the Encyclopaedia
- 1774-1793 – Louis XVI of France reigned, Marie Antoinette becomes Queen of France and introduces a series of new fashions.
- 1774 – Georgiana Cavendish marries the Duke of Devonshire; she will become a trendsetter in English fashion.
- 1775 – Grand tours to Italy are popular with wealthy European men, who go there to study classical antiquity and to experience polite society.
- 1776 – The American colonies declared independence
- 1778 – King George III of England introduces the Windsor uniform; this starts the lasting trend for royalty to wear liveries, conveying the idea of military discipline and duty.
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