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The 17th and 18th Century Essay
During the 17th century France, England, and Spain continued to rule Europe; The late 16th century was all about a mannerist style, however, that soon morphed into a Baroque style and quickly spread like wildfire throughout Europe. During this time, early puritan settlers had just made it to America and set up roots in New England; Places such as Holland had developed a prosperous middle class and England relied on the aristocracy as they had in the past. At the time textile machinery was gradually evolving and a new loom was introduced.
In the 17th century fashion plates were being produced in Paris, these plates are similar to a modern-day fashion magazine (picture Vogue painted on a large plate with a caption) and have helped historians set the scene for what garments and everyday life may have looked like back then.
When it comes to men’s costumes not much shifted from the early 16th century to the 17th century, however, they began wearing cravats which were scarf like pieces that separates the shirts and were worn in place of collars.
Instead of doublets which were very popular among men in earlier centuries they began wearing surouts and justacorps; these jackets had straight sleeves with cuffs and buttons down the front and the main difference was the fact that they covered the breeches completely.
Breeches during the 17th century became slimmer and less full then other years and stopped right at the knee. Men’s wigs also grew much larger and were often worn in the natural colors they came in. Some things that stayed the same were shoes, men still preferred shoes over boots.
Women’s costume during the 17th century saw no major changes as well; The necklines became squarer and less reveling and corsets became visible. Corsets became visible at the front of the bodice and formed a V at the waist, since they were visible it meant they became heavily decorated and elaborate.
A new dress cut also appeared at this time, the bodice and skirt were cut together in one length from shoulder to hem; this became known as Mantua and historians believe it to have evolved from middle-eastern robes. The final garment was very full both in the front and back and was always worn over a corset and overskirt. If women were to wear it to a formal event then the skirt was pleated and belted in the back, often skirts were pulled to the back and fastened to have a draped effect on the body.
We saw a change in the shape of women’s shoes during this time, they became more pointed, heels became higher, and the shoes became narrower. The design became more decorated and elaborate and leather became used more and more.
Pantofles were a type of heeled slipper that were becoming increasingly more popular during this time. When it comes to accessories, women began wearing pomander balls as a belt attached to their waist; these balls contained perfume that was placed in a decorated box with holes shaped like apples which helped the women to smell good wherever they went. During this time, some women used “plumpers” which were balls of wax that were used to give their face a rounder look.
Even in the 17th century social rank played a large part in both men and women’s costume, it determined the length of a women’s gown train and the elaborately decorated corsets and shoes were another dead giveaway of social ranking. Trade played a role during this time but one of the only instances we see is women’s Mantua gowns which were though to originate from the middle east. People in Spain continued to partake in the styles of the 16th century while much of the world was beginning to evolve.
When the 18th century begins we see a decline in Baroque style and instead are welcomed with slender curves, less massive styles, and an emphasis on balance. The new style is known as Rococo the era lasted from roughly 1720 to 1789, when the French aristocracy began to obsess over their wealth and finery.
The Rococo was, therefore, the last truly aristocratic style of France. During the 18th century we also see major advances in textile manufacturing; the flyting shuttle which carried yarn across fabric was invented in 1733 and resulted in a more rapid consumption of yarn.
Inventors began developing different and faster methods of spinning yarn, which resulted in a number of new mechanized spinning devices. By the 1800 people were using both steam and water to power these machines. These new technological advances were mostly used on cotton textiles since cotton was much cheaper and more readily available then materials such as silk.
All of this resulted in cotton fabrics becoming more accessible as well as cheaper for people to purchase, we see an increase in cotton clothes and costume during this time as a result. Europe was the center for elaborate and sophisticated textile patterns and America just so happened to be their main purchaser of these patterns and textiles.
Europeans sold expensive decorated fabrics to well off colonists and cheap poor-quality fabrics to poorer colonists at the time. There were also professional weavers who produced their own cloth and textiles and they either did it in their own house or had a studio.
By the 18th century tailors were well established and respected, they helped make men’s suits and coats as well as women’s gowns. Members of the aristocracy as well as upper class wealthy individuals had relied on tailors for many years and enjoyed having their clothing specially made for themselves by skilled tradesmen.
However, for everyday ordinary people they were not afforded this luxury and relied on women at home to make the garments, many who had a limited skillset. These homemade garments looked homemade and poor peopled had a hard time obtaining thread or even purchasing materials because the cost was still very high for them. The poor often purchased used and second-hand garments for special sellers to try and have a wardrobe of their own.
During the 18th century the American colonies imported British goods and tried to stay up to date with European fashions; some people were able to afford importing outfits while others copied styles they had seen and created their own costumes. Working class people dressed for convenience; women often wore a chemise with a petticoat skirt and a short gown often times paired with an apron and a cap to cover her hair.
At this time women did not universally wear drawers; however, hoop skirts were continuing to grow larger and larger and were regarded as an “outrageous” style. Between 1770 and 1780 the hood was supplanted by hip pads and bustles as support garments.
The earliest hoops were made of whalebone but as the style grew many began using metal hoops as well as wicker baskets to hold it together. The robe battante, robe volante, innocente and sacque were all names for an unbelted gown that was loose from the shoulders to the floor and had pleats at the back and on the shoulders. A Pet-en-lair was a short hip length version that was worn with a separate large gathered skirt.
In the 18th century we see a change in men’s collars, most of the time they were made out of white linen or cotton; for the first half of the century the collar gathered at the neck with neck cloths and knotted under the chin. During the second half of the century the neck bands lengthened and evolved into a collar which was sewn onto the actual shirt.
Banyans were loose fitting garments originally known as nightgowns, dressing gowns or Indian gowns and were worn throughout the century. They came in two different styles; the first a type of kimono which was very loose fitting, and the second being a form fitting style similar to a coat with sleeves.
Men preferred fabrics such as cotton calicos, silk damask, velvet. Taffeta, and satin. When men wore shoes outdoors spatterdashers also known as spats or gaiters were worn; these were protective coverings that went from the top of the shoe to right below the knee. Boots also were evolving as well; men began wearing them for hunting, riding, travelling, and serving in the military. Boots became more sturdy and practical as well, jack boots were made of rigid stiff leather and were knee length to protect the legs.
Women’s necklines were still changing and in the 1760’s the necklines were much lower and oval then years prior when they were high cut and square. In the late 1770’s some skirts shortened and women reveled their leg above the ankles which was groundbreaking at the time.
The Chemise a la reine was a white muslin gown that had a waistline as well as a fully gathered skirt. These garments were imported from India and made out of muslin. In the 1780’s women’s hairstyles were not as high as the 1770’s (when the maximum height was reached and women’s hair was a towering structure) the 1770’s was all about fullness with curled hair and locks hanging down the back.
Women’s cloaks were cut to be full and fit over their very wide skirts, although they varied in length some were hooded and many were made out of velvet or wool; for warmer weather women had silk or other lightweight fabric used.
In summary, social life and class structure stand out during the 18th century when it comes to costume and dressing. The upper class showed off their wealth through expensive fabrics and embellishments while the poor lived in simple and practical garments and struggled to buy new clothes often opting to buy used second hand pieces. The lavishness of the 18th century illustrates conspicuous consumption.
During this time, we see influences from other cultures as well as international trade; both evident in men robes, men’s dressing gowns, and women’s dresses as well. We see more use of Indian muslin fabric and oriental design. During this time, there were lots of technological advances made especially in weaving and textile machinery.
This helped to make fabric and yearn cheaper and more readily available for everyday folks. The French revolution marked the end of all of this in 1795 and the revolution brought an abrupt and violent end to the regime.
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Cunnington, C. W. and P. Cunnington. 1972. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. London: Faber and Faber.
Swann, J. 1982. Shoes. London: Batsford, pp.7,14
“Mantua.” Fashion History Timeline, September 29, 2017. https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/mantua/.
Esposito, Bianca. “The Purple Pet En L’air: Part 1.” The Closet Historian, January 1, 1970. http://theclosethistorian.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-purple-pet-en-lair-part-1.html.
Fleming, R.S. “Available for Purchase from These Fine Vendors:” Kate Tattersall Adventures, June 23, 2017. http://www.katetattersall.com/spatterdashes-gaiters-spats-for-protection-warmth-and-disguise/.