“this [is the] time when the concept of fashion, as it is known today, begins. Prior to this point, clothes as a means of self-expression were limited. Guild-controlled systems of production and distribution, and the sumptuary laws made clothing both hard to come by and expensive for the common people. However, by 1750 the consumer revolution brought about cheaper copies of fashionable styles, allowing members of all classes to partake in fashionable dress. Thus, fashion begins to represent an expression of individuality. The constant change in dress mirrored political and social ideals of the time.”
“Between the 1780s and 1800 a very noticeable change took place in the female silhouette. The waistline became higher until it reached the bust. The skirt was reduced in width and hoop petticoats were discarded except at court. In their place crescent-shaped pads were worn at the center back waist beneath the skirt to help fill out the gathers at the back of the dress.”
“As the century progressed, the male silhouette slowly changed. By the middle of the century the wig was usually tied back (known as the tye or bag wig). By the end of the century it was out of fashion altogether except for the most formal occasions. Undergarments and knee breeches did not change very much. Coat skirts gradually became less full and the front was cut in a curved line towards the back. Waistcoats became shorter. The upper leg began to show more and more and by the end of the century breeches fitted better because they were often made of knitted silk. Shoes became low-heeled with pointed toes and were fastened with a detachable buckle and straps or ribbon on the vamp (the upper front part of a boot or shoe).”
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).
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).
Although the tradition was in decline, some infants may have been swaddled. Swaddling was a very long-held European tradition where an infant’s limbs are immobilized in tight cloth wrappings (Callahan). The practice was losing popularity due to popular embrace of the opinions of Locke and Rousseau who opposed the practice (Paoletti).
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 had back-opening bodices and sometimes “leading strings” attached at the back or tied under the arms (Magidson). Leading strings were streamers of fabric used to protect young children from falling or wandering off (“Childhood”)
The fashion for short clothes in the 1780s had emerged in the 1760s: a white frock worn with a colored sash around the waist (Fig. 2). 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 1780s, girls sometimes wore this style of dress even into their teenaged years (Nunn 99).
The 1780s saw a significant development in fashion for young boys. Previously, young boys wore skirted gowns until they were “breeched” by age seven, and then wore adult menswear styles (Reinier). However, new to the 1780s was a transitional type of ensemble for young boys called a “skeleton suit,” which they would wear from approximately ages three to seven (Fig. 3) (Callahan). Skeleton suits “consisted of ankle-length trousers buttoned onto a short jacket worn over a shirt with a wide collar edged in ruffles” (Callahan). Older boys would then wear ensembles resembling adult menswear, although the fit was typically looser and more relaxed.
The Baillie Family, circa 1784, depicts James Baillie with his wife and four children (Fig. 4). Baillie’s wife holds a baby wearing a long gown, which extends well past the baby’s feet. The young boy wears a dark blue skeleton suit with a white collar, which is extremely similar to the one worn in The Oddie Children, circa 1789 (Fig. 5). However, one notable exception is the pink sash tied around his waist. The younger Baillie girl wears a white gown with a blue waist sash, and lifts her skirt to reveal a dark blue underslip. Her ensemble is not unlike those worn by the Oddie girls. The older Baillie daughter wears a more mature style of gown, yet she wears a pervasively fashionable waist sash like her younger siblings.
- “1775–95 in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 16, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1775–95_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.
- Cullen, Oriole. “Eighteenth-Century European Dress.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/eudr/hd_eudr.htm
- “Introduction to 18th-Century Fashion.” Victoria & Albert Museum. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-18th-century-fashion/
- 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.
- 1781 – Uranus is discovered
- 1783 – Treaty of Paris
- 1783 – Britain recognized Independence of American colonies
- 1785 – David’s Oath of Horatii
- 1788 – The Times is published
- 1789 – George Washington elected
- 1789-99 – French Revolution
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