The Vintage Fashion Guild writes:
“The fashion canvas of the 18th century changed radically as the 19th century began and simpler, lighter brushstrokes were applied. Fashion in the first two decades mimicked classical Grecian drapery with its fluid lines. Bodices were minimal, cut to end under the bust thereby achieving a high waist that defined the silhouette. Necklines were predominantly low. Sleeves could be long or short. The fiddle-back bodice, with side, back and shoulder seams that were placed to form a diamond shape, was typical of this period. The use of tiny piping to finish seams began in this decade. Dresses generally opened in the front, with pins or drawstrings as the closures, while the skirts of the dresses had side openings, if any at all. The desired effect was one of simplicity. White was the most popular color and any applied trimming was used sparingly. Fabrics were lightweight, with embroidery and details that did not interrupt the aesthetic flow. Outerwear consisted of Spencer jackets (waist-length jackets named after Lord Spencer), pelisses (a type of sleeved cloak) and the ubiquitous long shawl.”

Wikipedia summarizes the silhouette of the early 19th century, writing:

“During the first two decades of the 19th century, fashions continued to follow the basic high-waisted empire silhouette, but in other respects neoclassical influences became progressively diluted. Dresses remained narrow in front, but fullness at the raised back waist allowed room to walk. Colors other than white came into style, the fad for diaphanous outer fabrics faded (except in certain formal contexts), and some elements of obvious visible ornamentation came back into use in the design of the dress (as opposed to the elegant simplicity or subtle white-on-white embroidery of the dress of ca. 1800).”

Portrait of Antoine-Georges-François de Chabaud-Latour and His Family

Fig. 1 - Jacques-Luc Barbier-Walbonne (French, 1769-1860). Portrait of Antoine-Georges-François de Chabaud-Latour and His Family, 1806. Oil on canvas; 221 x 174 cm (87 x 68 1/2 in). Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, 2003.105. Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund. Source: RISD Museum

Women, 1800-1819 Part 1, Plate 069

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Women, 1800-1819 Part 1, Plate 069, 1800-1819. New York: The Costume Institute, Plate 069. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: Pinterest

Neoclassical dress

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown. Neoclassical dress, ca. 1805. Hand-embroidered cotton gauze dress with train. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of Miss Fisher

Fig. 4 - John Hoppner (English, 1785-1810). Portrait of Miss Fisher, 1800-1805. Oil on canvas; (30 x 25-1/8 in 39 x 34 in (framed).). Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 76.233. Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Source: Pinterest


Wikipedia summarizes the silhouette of the early 19th century, writing:

“This period saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishment from serious men’s clothing outside of formalized court dress—it would not reappear except as an affectation of Aesthetic dress in the 1880s and its successor, the “Young Edwardian” look of the 1960s. Instead, cut and tailoring became much more important as an indicator of quality. This transformation can be attributed in part to an increased interest in antiquity stemming from the discovery of classical engravings, including the Elgin Marbles. The figures depicted in classical art were viewed as an exemplar of the ideal natural form, and an embodiment of Neoclassical ideas. Therefore, in the 18th century, dress was simplified and greater emphasis was put on tailoring to enhance the natural form of the body.

This was also the period of the rise of hair wax for styling men’s hair, as well as mutton chops as a style of facial hair.

Breeches became longer—tightly fitted leather riding breeches reached almost to the boot tops—and were replaced by pantaloons or trousers for fashionable street wear. The French Revolution is largely responsible for altering standard male dress. During the revolution, clothing symbolized the division between the upper classes and the working class revolutionaries. French rebels earned the nickname sans-culottes, or “the people without breeches,” because of the loose floppy trousers they popularized.

Coats were cutaway in front with long skirts or tails behind, and had tall standing collars. Lapels were not as large as they had been in years before and often featured an M-shaped notch unique to the period.

Shirts were made of linen, had attached collars, and were worn with stocks or wrapped in a cravat tied in various fashions. Pleated frills at the cuffs and front opening went out of fashion by the end of the period.

Waistcoats were high-waisted, and squared off at the bottom, but came in a broad variety of styles. They were often double-breasted, with wide lapels and stand collars. Around 1805 large lapels that overlapped those of the jacket began to fall out of fashion, as did the 18th century tradition of wearing the coat unbuttoned, and gradually waistcoats became less visible. Shortly before this time waistcoats were commonly vertically striped but by 1810 plain white waistcoats were increasingly fashionable, as did horizontally striped waistcoats. High-collared waistcoats were fashionable until 1815, then collars were gradually lowered as the shawl collar came into use toward the end of this period.

Overcoats or greatcoats were fashionable, often with contrasting collars of fur or velvet. The garrick, sometimes called a coachman’s coat, was a particularly popular style, and had between three and five short caplets attached to the collar.

Boots, typically Hessian boots with heart-shaped tops and tassels were mainstay in men’s footwear. After the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Wellington boots, as they were known, became the rage; tops were knee-high in front and cut lower in back. The jockey boot, with a turned-down cuff of lighter colored leather, had previously been popular but continued to be worn for riding. Court shoes with elevated heels became popular with the introduction of trousers.”

Ignacio Garcini y Queralt (1752–1825), Brigadier of Engineers

Fig. 1 - Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) (Spanish, 1746–1828). Ignacio Garcini y Queralt (1752–1825), Brigadier of Engineers, 1804. Oil on canvas; 104.1 x 83.2 cm (41 x 32 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 55.145.1. Bequest of Harry Payne Bingham, 1955. Source: The Met

Beau Monde Regency Fashion Men's Morning Walking & Riding

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Beau Monde Regency Fashion Men's Morning Walking & Riding, 1807. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of the Artist

Fig. 3 - John Vanderlyn (American, 1775–1852). Portrait of the Artist, 1800. Oil on canvas; 64.1 x 53 cm (25 1/4 x 20 7/8 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 18.118. Bequest of Ann S. Stephens, in memory of her mother, Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, 1918. Source: The Met


Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d'Ognes (died 1868)

Fig. 1 - Marie Denise Villers (French, 1774–1821). Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d'Ognes (died 1868), 1801. Oil on canvas; 161.3 x 128.6cm (63 1/2 x 50 5/8in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.120.204. Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917. Source: The Met


Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1800-1809

Napoleonic Europe, 1805-1815. Source: Map Mania

  • 1803 – U.S. purchased Louisiana from France
  • 1804 – Napoleon crowned emperor. During his reign, he puts France at the forefront of fashion innovation and design.
  • 1806-1828 – Wars of independence in Latin America. La Belle Assemblee, a British women’s magazine, is published for the first time and includes features on fashion.
  • 1810 – British-born Edward Cartwright had patented the first power loom in 1785, but the design was in need of modification. Between then and the early 19th century it underwent improvements and by 1820 was commonly used in both Britain and the US.
  • 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!

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

    Secondary Sources

    Also see the 19th-century overview page for more research sources... or browse our Zotero library.