OVERVIEW

Womenswear

Wikipedia begins writing of this decade by declaring that:

“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.”

Regarding the transition from the late 18th century into the 19th century, the Victoria & Albert Museum writes:

“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.”

Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife

Fig. 1 - Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825). Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife, 1788. Oil on canvas; 259.7 × 194.6 cm (102.2 × 76.6 in). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977.10. Source: Wikimedia Commons

"Robe vraiment a l'Anglaise..."

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. "Robe vraiment a l'Anglaise...", 1784. Hand-colored engraving on laid paper; 38.7 x 25.4 cm (15 1/4 x 10 in). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 44.1579. Source: Pinterest

Dress of the Year

Fig. 3 - Ann Frankland Lewis (American, d. 1842). Dress of the Year, 1781. Source: Pinterest

Moniteur de la Mode

Fig. 4 - Jules David (French, 1808-1892). Moniteur de la Mode, 1855 (plate #447). Hand-colored engraving. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, b17509853. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robe à la Polonaise

Fig. 5 - Artist unknown (French). Robe à la Polonaise, ca. 1780. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.146a, b. Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Alan S. Davis Gift, 1976. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archduchess Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

Fig. 6 - Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun (French, 1755-1842). Archduchess Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, 1778. Oil on canvas; 273 x 193.5 cm. Vienna: Kunst Historisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, 2772. Das 1778 gemalte Bild wurde im Februar 1779 nach Wien gesendet; 1922 Hofburg. Source: Kunst Historisches Museum Wien

Maria Therese, Archduchess of Tuscany

Fig. 7 - William Berczy (Canadian, 1744-1813). Maria Therese, Archduchess of Tuscany, 1782-1787. Oil on canvas; 33.8 x 30.5 cm. Montréal (Québec): McCord Museum, M986.288. Source: McCord Museum

Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788)

Fig. 8 - Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (French, 1749-1803). Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788), 1785. Oil on canvas; 210.8 x 151.1 cm (83 x 591/2 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 53.225.5. Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Menswear

Regarding menswear of the second half of the 18th century, the Victoria & Albert Museum writes:

“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).”

Redingote Angloise à trois Colets et Bavaroise

Fig. 1 - Pierre-Thomas LeClerc (French, c. 1740– 1799). Redingote Angloise à trois Colets et Bavaroise, 1780. Hand-colored engraving on laid paper; 36.2 x 24.1 cm (14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 44.1474. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection. Source: Museum of Fine Arts

Court coat

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown (Probably British). Court coat, 1775–89. Wool, metal, silk, glass. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2479. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Gilberte Andree, 1960. Source: The Met

Charles Wesley (1757-1834)

Fig. 3 - John Russell (British, 1745-1806). Charles Wesley (1757-1834), ca. 1780. Oil on canvas; 150 x 106 cm. London: England: Royal Academy of Music, 2003.1061. Source: Art UK

Portrait of William Duguid

Fig. 4 - Prince Demah Barnes (American). Portrait of William Duguid, 1773. Oil on canvas; 52.7 × 40 × 2.9 cm (20 3/4 × 15 3/4 × 1 1/8 in). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010.105. Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2010. Source: The Met

CHILDREN’S WEAR

Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (1784–1792)

Fig. 1 - Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) (Spanish, 1746–1828). Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (1784–1792), 1787–88. Oil on canvas; 127 x 101.6 cm (50 x 40 in). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 49.7.41. The Jules Bache Collection, 1949. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

References:

Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1780-1789
Rulers:

Map of Europe in 1789. Source: emersonkent.com

Events:
  • 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

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!

NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
Fashion Periodicals (Digitized)

Etiquette Books (Digitized)

Secondary Sources

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

Online

Books/Articles
Pinterest