“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. Marie Antoinette had a marked influence on French fashion beginning in the 1780s. Around this time, she had begun to rebel against the structure of court life. She abolished her morning toilette and often escaped to the Petit Trianon with increasing frequency, leading to criticism of her exclusivity by cutting off the traditional right of the aristocracy to their monarch. Marie Antoinette found refuge from the stresses of the rigidity of court life and the scrutiny of the public eye, the ailing health of her children, and her sense of powerlessness in her marriage by carrying out a pseudo-country life in her newly constructed hameau. She and an elite circle of friends would dress in peasant clothing and straw hats and retreat to the hameau. It was out of this practice that her style of dress evolved.
By tradition, a lady of the court was instantaneously recognizable by her panniers, corset and weighty silk materials that constructed her gown in the style of à la française or à l’anglaise. By doing away with these things, Marie Antoinette’s gaulle or chemise á la Reine stripped female aristocrats of their traditional identity; noblewomen could now be confused with peasant girls, confusing long standing sartorial differences in class. The chemise was made from a white muslin and the queen was further accused of importing foreign fabrics and crippling the French silk industry. The gaulle consisted of thin layers of this muslin, loosely draped around the body and belted at the waist, and was often worn with an apron and a fichu. This trend was quickly adopted by fashionable women in France and England, but upon the debut of the portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, the clothing style created a scandal and increased the hatred for the queen. The queen’s clothing in the portrait looked like a chemise, nothing more than a garment that women wore under her other clothing or to lounge in the intimate space of the private boudoir. It was perceived to be indecent, and especially unbecoming for the queen. The sexual nature of the gaulle undermined the notions of status and the ideology that gave her and kept her in power. Marie Antoinette wanted to be private and individual, a notion unbecoming for a member of the monarchy that is supposed to act as a symbol of the state.
When Marie Antoinette turned thirty, she decided it was no longer decent for her to dress in this way and returned to more acceptable courtly styles, though she still dressed her children in the style of the gaulle, which may have continued to reflect badly on the opinion of their mother even though she was making visible efforts to rein in her own previous fashion excess. However, despite the distaste with the queen’s inappropriate fashions, and her own switch back to traditional dress later in life, the gaulle became a popular garment in both France and abroad. Despite its controversial beginnings, the simplicity of the style and material became the custom and had a great influence on the transition into the neoclassical styles of the late 1790s.
During the years of the French Revolution, women’s dress expanded into different types of national costume. Women wore variations of white skirts, topped with revolutionary colored striped jackets, as well as white Greek chemise gowns, accessorized with shawls, scarves, and ribbons.
By 1790, skirts were still somewhat full, but they were no longer obviously pushed out in any particular direction (though a slight bustle pad might still be worn). The “pouter-pigeon” front came into style (many layers of cloth pinned over the bodice), but in other respects women’s fashions were starting to be simplified by influences from Englishwomen’s country outdoors wear (thus the “redingote” was the French pronunciation of an English “riding coat”), and from neo-classicism. By 1795, waistlines were somewhat raised, preparing the way for the development of the empire silhouette and unabashed neo-classicism of late 1790s fashions.”
“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).
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 the opposition of Locke and Rousseau (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 sometimes 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 prevailing fashion for short clothes in the 1790s 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: in the 1790s, a very similar style was worn by girls even into their teens. Some portraiture from the later years of the 1790s show young children in a high-waisted white frock dress with no colored sash (see Fig. 3). This style would become the reigning fashion for childrenswear — and womenswear — in the early nineteenth century (Callahan).
A significant development in fashion for young boys occurred in the 1780s. Previously, young boys wore skirted gowns until they were “breeched” by age seven, and then wore adult menswear styles (Reinier). However, boys now wore a transitional type of ensemble for young boys called a “skeleton suit” from approximately ages three to seven (Fig. 2) (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 (Fig. 4).
An American group portrait titled The Cheney Family, circa 1795, is an excellent visual resource for 1790s children’s wear (Fig. 5). The youngest children wear long gowns and short gowns. A young boy wears a skeleton suit while an older boy wears a relaxed variation of a menswear suit. Three girls stand in order of height, each wearing a white frock gown with a pink waist sash.
- “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.
- 1790 – United States President George Washington gives the first State of the Union address, in New York City.
- 1790 – Louis XVI of France accepts a constitutional monarchy.
- 1793 – The Louvre is officially opened in Paris, France.
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