1700–50 in Western fashion

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In this English family portrait, the ladies wear pastel-colored dresses with closed skirts and lace caps. Some wear sheer aprons. The lady on the right wears a mantua. The men's long, narrow coats are trimmed with gold braid. c.1730–40

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.

Women's fashion[edit]


Detail of The Two Cousins by Watteau shows an early sacque or robe volante, c. 1717–18.
A rigid, upright posture with a sharp "break" at the bust is characteristic of the stiffly boned stays of the 1730s. These English ladies wear formal mantuas for tea.
Empress Elisabeth Christine in riding costume.

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 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. 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.

Strings of pearls, ribbons, or lace frills were tied high on the neck.


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 tricorne hats for riding and hunting.

When outdoors, ladies also wore elbow-length capes, often lined with fur for warmth.

Fabrics and colors[edit]

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. 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.


Shoes of 1742 (left) and 1731 (right).

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.


An 18th Century toilette began with a heavy white foundation made from white lead, egg white, and a variety of other substances. This was overlayed 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.[1]

Style gallery 1700–1730s[edit]

  1. Adélaïde, Duchesse de Bourgogne wears a riding habit featuring a long coat similar to men's coats, with a matching petticoat.
  2. Empress of Russia Catherine I, in full Court dress. She is wearing a voluminous white gown, with lace trimming the low, square neckline and sleeves, which are gathered at the elbow. Her red velvet mantel is lined with ermine. The portrait was painted in 1717.
  3. Ulrika Eleonora, Queen Regnant of Sweden 1718–1720 wears a typical royal robe and gown.
  4. Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orleans wears the black cap and veil of a widow with a gold-colored gown patterned with acorns and flowers. Her open sleeves are caught with jeweled clasps or pins over a shift with triple lace frills at the elbow. A royal French mantle of blue embroidered with gold fleur-de-lis and lined in ermine is draped around her shoulders, c. 1719.
  5. Attendants at a wedding wear solid-colored mantuas with closed petticoats and open-fronted bodices. Elbow-length sleeves are cuffed. The ruffles of the shift are visible at neck and elbow, England, 1729.
  6. Queen Sophie Dorothea of Prussia wears a rose-colored velvet gown with ermine trim (and possibly lining).
  7. Prussian court fashion: Queen Elizabeth Christine, wife of Frederick the Great, wears a gown with a slightly squared neckline and narrow lace frills at bodice and sleeve. Note the trim on the pocket slits in the skirt of her open gown. She wears a diamond choker around her neck.
  8. Stomacher, silk satin with metallic-thread lace, appliqués, passementerie and tassels. France, 1700-1750. Los Angeles County Museum of Art M.67.8.99.

Style gallery 1740s[edit]

  1. Comtesse de Tessin, 1741, wears a black hood over a lace cap, and a red, fur-lined shoulder cape called a mantle or tippet. She carries a matching fur muff. A large ribbon bow trims her bodice at the neckline.
  2. Mary Edwards, 1742, wears a red gown with a lace-trimmed kerchief or fichu tucked under the ribbon bow on her bodice. Her sleeves are bell-shaped, and she wears a lace hood or cap.
  3. Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode series depicts a fashionable young wife wearing a sack-back jacket and stomacher with a contrasting petticoat. A linen hood or cap is tied under her chin, 1743–45.
  4. Luisa Ulrika of Prussia, Queen of Sweden wears a gown with "split sleeves" (elbow frills and a lower sleeve tight to the wrist). Her overskirt is looped up over her petticoat and she wears a black cap set with diamond studs. Her choker necklace is set with a diamond-studded bow, 1744.
  5. Madame de Sorquainville's open gown is laced with a wide blue ribbon over a stomacher and is worn with a matching petticoat. The front edges of the gown are trimmed with robings, rows of fabric ruched or gathered on both edges. Sleeves are narrower, and are worn with elaborate lace engageantes. She wears a small cap and a black ribbon or frill around her neck.
  6. Surviving Robe à la française in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York features a matching petticoat and is shown with an elaborate stomacher. English, fabric from Holland or Germany, 1740s.
  7. English silk shoes with shoe buckles, 1740s.


Men's fashion[edit]

Jeronimus Tonneman and his son wear collarless coats with deep cuffs and matching waistcoats, worn with breeches, ruffled shirts, silk stockings, and buckled shoes. The young man wears a bag wig and solitaire, 1736.
Philippe Coypel wears a red waistcoat trimmed with gold lace under a plain brown coat. His shirt has lace ruffles. He wears a bag wig with solitaire, 1732.

Hairstyles and headgear[edit]

Wigs in a variety of styles were worn for different occasions and by different age groups.

The large high parted wig of the 1690s remained popular from 1700 until around 1720. During this time various colors were worn, but white was becoming more popular and the curls were getting tighter. Later, wigs or the natural hair were worn long, brushed back from the forehead and clubbed or tied back at the nape of the neck with a black ribbon. From about 1720, a bag wig gathered the back hair in a black silk bag. Black ribbons attached to the bag were brought to the front and tied in a bow in a style called a "solitaire".

Wide-brimmed hats with brims turned up on three sides into tricornes were worn throughout the era.

Style gallery 1700s–1720s[edit]

  1. Sir Isaac Newton in old age, 1709–12. He wears a banyan with a patterned lining. Note the T-shaped cut, without a shoulder seam.
  2. Louis XIV wears a large periwig, justacorps, and stockings over his breeches.
  3. A German prince shows his stiff turned-back cuffs, embroidered in gold, as is the centre of his coat, stockings over his breeches.
  4. Back view of a coat of 1721 shows the center back vent and the pleated gores set into the side seams. The gentleman wears square-toed shoes and carries a tricorne tucked under his arm.

Style gallery 1730s–1740s[edit]

  1. Joseph Leeson of Ireland, later 1st Earl of Milltown, wears a narrow-sleeved blue coat lined in red with a red waistcoat and breeches. He wears a tricorne and tall black riding boots, 1730s.
  2. Man playing cards wears a tricorne. His long brown wig (or possibly hair) is tied back with a black ribbon. His plain coat has deep cuffs.
  3. Dutch gentleman of 1736 wears a collarless grey coat with deep cuffs and a long waistcoat, both lined in sky blue, with matching breeches. His black shoes have square buckles.
  4. English gentleman of 1738 wears a wide-hipped formal coat with applied lace over a plainer contrasting hip-length waistcoat and red breeches. His coat is lined in red. Shoes with elaborate buckles and white stockings complete the ensemble.
  5. American William Bowdoin, 1748, wears a gold-embroidered waistcoat under a dark coat lined in white.
  6. Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel wearing a mulberry-colored coat trimmed with bands of embroidery and fastened with buttons and loops over a pattered waistcoat (barely visible under the coat) and a white shirt with ruffles, 1749.
  7. Man's silk coat with wide cuffs, 1745–50, in a lace-like floral pattern of white on brown, France. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.795.

Children's fashion[edit]

Toddler boys and girls wore low-necked gowns. Leading strings—narrow straps of fabric attached to the gown at the shoulder—functioned as a sort of leash to keep the child from straying too far or falling as they learned to walk.

Children older than toddlers continued to wear clothing which was in many respects simply a smaller version of adult clothing. Although it is often said that children wore miniature versions of adult clothing, this is something of a myth. Girls wore back-fastening gowns, trimmed much more simply than women's. The skirt of a girl's gown was not split down the front, as women's typically were.[2] Girls did not wear jackets or bedgowns. Boys wore shirts, breeches, waistcoats and coats a man would, but often wore their necks open, and the coat was fitted and trimmed differently from a man's, and boys often went bareheaded. During some decades of the 18th Century, boys' shirts and coats had different collars and cuffs than a man's. Even if the size is not apparent, it is usually possible to tell a child's garment from an adult's.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Ashelford, Jane, The Art of Dress


  • Arnold, Janet: Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction c. 1860–1940, Wace 1966, Macmillan 1972. Revised metric edition, Drama Books 1977. ISBN 0-89676-027-8
  • Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500–1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5
  • Baumgarten, Linda: What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America, Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-09580-5
  • Black, J. Anderson and Madge Garland: A History of Fashion, Morrow, 1975. ISBN 0-688-02893-4
  • Cunnington, C.Willett and Phillis Emily Cunnington: Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. London: Faber, 1972.
  • Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, Harper & Row, 1965. No ISBN for this edition; ASIN B0006BMNFS
  • Ribeiro, Aileen: Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe 1715–1789, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-300-09151-6

External links[edit]