Fashion in the period 1700–1750 in European and European-influenced countries is characterized by a widening silhouette for both men and women following the tall, narrow look of the 1680s and 90s. Wigs remained essential for men of substance, and were often white; natural hair was powdered to achieve the fashionable look.
Distinction was made in this period between full dress worn at court and for formal occasions, and undress or everyday, daytime clothes. As the decades progressed, fewer and fewer occasions called for full dress, which had all but disappeared by the end of the century.
In the early decades of the new century, formal dress consisted of the stiff-bodiced mantua. A closed (or “round”) petticoat, sometimes worn with an apron, replaced the open draped mantua skirt of the previous period. This formal style then gave way to more relaxed fashions.
The robe à la française or sack-back gown was looser-fitting and a welcome change for women used to wearing bodices. With flowing pleats from the shoulders was originally an undress fashion. At its most informal, this gown was unfitted both front and back and called a sacque. With a more relaxed style came a shift away from heavy fabrics, such as satin and velvet, to Indian cotton, silks and damasks. Also, these gowns were often made in lighter pastel shades that gave off a warm, graceful and childlike appearance. Later, for formal wear, the front was fitted to the body by means of a tightly-laced underbodice, while the back fell in loose box pleats called “Watteau pleats” from their appearance in the paintings of Antoine Watteau.
The less formal robe à l’anglaise, Close-bodied gown or “nightgown” also had a pleated back, but the pleats were sewn down to fit the bodice to the body to the waist.
Either gown could be closed in front (a “round gown”) or open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.
Open-fronted bodices could be filled in with a decorative stomacher, and toward the end of the period a lace or linen kerchief called a fichu could be worn to fill in the low neckline.
Sleeves were bell- or trumpet-shaped, and caught up at the elbow to show the frilled or lace-trimmed sleeves of the shift (chemise) beneath. Sleeves became narrower as the period progressed, with a frill at the elbow, and elaborate separate ruffles called engageantes were tacked to the shift sleeves, in a fashion that would persist into the 1770s.
Necklines on dresses became more open as time went on allowing for greater display of ornamentation of the neck area. A thick band of lace was often sewed onto the neckline of a gown with ribbons, flowers, and/or jewels adorning the lace. Jewelry such as strings of pearls, ribbons, or lace frills were tied high on the neck. Finally, one other large element of 18th century women’s dress wear became the addition of the frilled neckband, a separate piece from the rest of the dress. This ornament was popularized sometime around 1730 .
The stays or corset of the early 18th century were long-waisting and cut with a narrow back, wide front, and shoulder straps; the most fashionable stays pulled the shoulders back until the shoulder blades almost touched. The resulting silhouette, with shoulders thrown back, very erect posture and a high, full bosom, is characteristic of this period and no other.
Skirts were worn over small, domed hoops in the 1730s and early 1740s, which were displaced for formal court wear by side hoops or panniers which later widened to as much as three feet to either side at the French court of Marie Antoinette.
The shift (chemise) or smock had full sleeves early in the period and tight, elbow-length sleeves in the 1740s as the sleeves of the gown narrowed. Drawers were not worn in this period.
Woolen waistcoats were worn over the corset and under the gown for warmth, as were petticoats quilted with wool batting.
Free-hanging pockets were tied around the waist and were accessed through pocket slits in the gown or petticoat.
Loose gowns, sometimes with a wrapped or surplice front closure, were worn over the shift (chemise), petticoat and stays (corset) for at-home wear, and it was fashionable to have one’s portrait painted wearing these fashions.
Riding habits consisted of a fitted, thigh- or knee-length coat similar to those worn by men, usually with a matching petticoat. Ladies wore masculine-inspired shirts and tricorn hats for riding and hunting.
When outdoors, ladies also wore elbow-length capes, often lined with fur for warmth.
Fabrics and colors
In the early years of this period, black silk hoods and dark, somber colors became fashionable at the French court for mature women, under the influence of Madame de Maintenon. Younger women wore light or bright colors, but the preference was for solid-colored silks with a minimum of ornamentation.
Gradually, trim in the form of applied lace and fabric robings (strips of ruched, gathered or pleated fabric) replaced the plain style. Ribbon bows, lacing, and rosettes became popular, as did boldly patterned fabrics. Silk gowns and stomachers were often intricately embroidered in floral and botanical motifs, demonstrating great attention to detail and care for an accurate portrayal of nature. A mid-century vogue for striped fabrics had the stripes running different directions on the trim and the body of the gown.
Chintz, Indian cotton fabric with block-printed imaging on a white base, was wildly fashionable. Bans against their importation to protect the British silk, linen and woolen industries did nothing to reduce their desirability. Brocaded silks and woolens had similar colorful floral patterns on light-colored grounds. Blends of wool and silk or wool and linen (linsey-woolsey) were popular. Until the 1730s, European textiles were of inferior quality that could not match the complex fashionable designs of Indian calicoes. Europe was able to produce high quality petit teints (colors that faded with light and washing), but they were unable to produce grand teints (permanent colors resistant to light and wear).
Footwear and accessories
The shoe of the previous period with its curved heel, squarish toe, and tie over the instep gave way in the second decade of the 18th century to a shoe with a high, curved heel. Backless mules were worn indoors and out (but not on the street). Toes were now pointed. This style of shoe would remain popular well into the next period. Shoes at the time had many variations of decoration, some even included metal wrapped threads.
Women, particularly in France, began wearing a boutonnière, or a small bouquet of fresh flowers in a “bosom bottle.” About four inches in length, these glass or tin bottles were small enough to discreetly tuck into the bosom or hair, but also just large enough to contain water to keep the flowers from wilting.
An 18th-century toilette began with a heavy white foundation made from white lead, egg white, and a variety of other substances. This was overlaid with white powder (typically potato or rice powder), rouge, and deep red or cherry lip color.
Tiny pieces of fabric, known as patches, in the shapes of dots, hearts, stars, etc. were applied to the face with adhesive. The fashion is thought to have originated as a way of disguising pox scars and other blemishes, but gradually developed coded meanings. A patch near the mouth signified flirtatiousness; one on the right cheek denoted marriage; one on the left cheek announced engagement; one at the corner of the eye signified a mistress.
Fashion in the years 1750–1775 in European countries and North America was characterised by greater abundance, elaboration and intricacy in clothing designs, loved by the Rococo artistic trends of the period. The French and English styles of fashion were very different from one another. French style was defined by elaborate court dress, colourful and rich in decoration, worn by such iconic fashion figures as Marie Antoinette. After reaching their maximum size in the 1750s, hoop skirts began to reduce in size, but remained being worn with the most formal dresses, and were sometimes replaced with side-hoops, or panniers. Hairstyles were equally elaborate, with tall headdresses the distinctive fashion of the 1770s. For men, waistcoats and breeches of previous decades continued to be fashionable. English style was defined by simple practical garments, made of inexpensive and durable fabrics, catering towards a leisurely outdoor lifestyle. These lifestyles were also portrayed through the differences in portraiture. The French preferred indoor scenes where they could demonstrate their affinity for luxury in dress and lifestyle. The English, on the other hand, were more “egalitarian” in tastes, thus their portraits tended to depict the sitter in outdoor scenes and pastoral attire
Women: Court dress included elaborate and intricate styles influenced by Rococo; hoop skirts; panniers; corsets; petticoats; stays; conical torso shape with large hips; “standardized courtly bodies and faces” with little individuality.
French: Elaborate court dress, colorful,decorative, portraiture inside
English: Simple and practical, inexpensive durable fabrics, outdoor lifestyle,portraiture outside
Men: Coat; waistcoat: breeches; large cuffs; more attention on individual pieces of the suit; wigs for formal occasions; long and powdered hair
Women: New strapless stays cut high at the armpit; grand habit de cour or “stiff-bodied” gown; riding habit
Men: Frock coat; knee length breeches fitted snugly; full shirt sleeves; original Macaroni
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
In the very end of the 1700s, in 1793, Eli Whitney invented a new kind of cotton gin that let people grow a lot more cotton much cheaper than before, and quickly both Native American people and settlers began to wear cotton clothing instead of the more expensive linen and wool.
Nobility Fashion in Canadian History:
The nobility were at the top of the social class structure as no royalty ever resided in New France, let alone visited. (Fun Fact: Prince William, who later became King William IV, is considered the first royal person to visit British North America. He visited from 1786-1787 as part of a Royal Navy contingent). The number of people who made up the nobility class was minuscule in comparison to the inhabitants as New France was not an attractive place for the French upper class. Lives abroad would have denied them all of the luxuries of their daily French lives that they were used to. Those who left largely did so due to their employment (appointed government or military officials) or (given the lack of other nobles and royalty) to boost their place in society.