1750–1795 in fashion

1750–1795 in fashion
Portrait of John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader and their Daughter Anne by Charles Willson Peale, Philadelphia, 1772

Fashion in the period 1750–1795 in European and European-influenced countries reached heights of fantasy and abundant ornamentation, especially among the aristocracy of France, before a long-simmering movement toward simplicity and democratization of dress under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the American Revolution led to an entirely new mode and the triumph of British tailoring following the French Revolution.


Women's fashion

French silk sack-back gown with closed bodice and panniers, trimmed with padded bands of blue satin, chenille blonde lace, flowers of gathered ribbon, feathers and raffia tassels, 1775–1780, V&A Museum no. T.180&A-1965.
Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785.
Stays or corset, English, c. 1780. Linen twill and baleen. M.2007.211.133. Hoop petticoat or pannier, English, 1750-80. Plain-woven linen and cane. M.2007.211.198. Chemise, English, 1775-1800. Plain woven cotton. M.2007.211.428. All, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Woman's silk brocade shoes with straps for shoe buckles, 1770s. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 63.24.7a-b.

Women's clothing styles retained an emphasis toward a conical shape of the torso while the shape of the skirts changed throughout the period. The hoop-skirts of the 1740s were left behind, but wide panniers (holding the skirts out at the side) came into style several times, and the aesthetic of a narrow inverted cone, achieved with boned stays, above full skirts remained.

By the 1780s, panniers had for the most part disappeared (with the exception of court functions), and false rumps (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time.

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.

Mrs. Hallett (right) captures the exact transition between the tight bodice and elbow-length, ruffled sleeves of the mid-18th century and the natural waist and long sleeves typical of the 1790s.


The usual fashion of the years 1750–1780 was a low-necked gown (usually called in French a robe), worn over a petticoat. Most gowns had skirts that opened in front to show the petticoat worn beneath. If the bodice of the frock was open in front, the opening was filled in with a decorative stomacher, pinned to the frock over the laces or to the corset beneath.

Tight elbow-length sleeves were trimmed with frills or ruffles, and separate under-ruffles called engageantes of lace or fine linen were tacked to the smock or chemise sleeves. The neckline was trimmed with a fabric or lace ruffle, or a neckerchief called a fichu could be tucked into the low neckline.

The robe à la française or sack-back gown featured back pleats hanging loosely from the neckline. A fitted bodice held the front of the gown closely to the figure.

The robe à l'anglaise or close-bodied gown featured back pleats sewn in place to fit closely to the body, and then released into the skirt which would be draped in various ways. Elaborate draping "a la polonaise" became fashionable by the mid 1770s, featuring backs of the gowns' skirts rucked up either through loops or through the pocket slits of the gown.

Front-wrapping thigh-length shortgowns or bedgowns of lightweight printed cotton fabric were fashionable at-home morning wear, worn with petticoats. Over time, bedgowns became the staple upper garment of British and American female working-class street wear.[1]

Jackets and redingotes

Toward the 1770s, an informal alternative to the dress was a costume of a jacket and petticoat, based on working class fashion but executed in finer fabrics with a tighter fit.

The Brunswick dress was two-piece costume of German origin consisting of a hip-length jacket with "split sleeves" (flounced elbow-length sleeves and long, tight lower sleeves) and a hood, worn with a matching petticoat. It was popular for traveling.

The caraco was a jacket-like bodice worn with a petticoat, with elbow-length sleeves. By the 1790s, caracos had full-length, tight sleeves.

As in previous periods, the traditional riding habit consisted of a tailored jacket like a man's coat, worn with a high-necked shirt, a waistcoat, a petticoat, and a hat. Alternatively, the jacket and a false waistcoat-front might be a made as a single garment, and later in the period a simpler riding jacket and petticoat (without waiscoat) could be worn.

Another alternative to the traditional habit was a coat-dress called a joseph or riding coat (borrowed in French as redingote), usually of unadorned or simply trimmed woolen fabric, with full-length, tight sleeves and a broad collar with lapels or revers. The redingote was later worn as an overcoat with the light-weight chemise dress.


The shift, chemise (in France), or smock, had a low neckline and elbow-length sleeves which were full early in the period and became increasingly narrow as the century progressed. Drawers were not worn in this period.

The long-waisted, heavily boned stays of the early 1740s with their narrow back, wide front, and shoulder straps gave way by the 1760s to strapless stays which still were cut high at the armpit, to encourage a woman to stand with her shoulders slightly back, a fashionable posture. The fashionable shape was a rather conical torso, with large hips. The waist was not particularly small. Stays were usually laced snugly, but comfortably; only those interested in extreme fashions laced tightly. They offered back support for heavy lifting, and poor and middle class women were able to work comfortably in them. As the relaxed, country fashion took hold in France, stays were sometimes replaced by a lightly boned garment called "un corset," though this style did not achieve popularity in England, where stays remained standard through the end of the period.

Panniers or side-hoops remained an essential of court fashion but disappeared everywhere else in favor of a few petticoats.

Free-hanging pockets were tied around the waist and were accessed through pocket slits in the side-seams of the gown or petticoat.

Woolen or quilted waistcoats were worn over the stays or corset and under the gown for warmth, as were petticoats quilted with wool batting, especially in the cold climates of Northern Europe and America.


Shoes had high, curved heels (the origin of modern "louis heels") and were made of fabric or leather. It was particularly common for shoe buckles to be worn as an "ornament" to the foot in high society, principally at grand parties, and made an important feature of the "dandy" image. These were either polished metal, usually in silver (sometimes with the metal cut into false stones in the Paris style), or with paste stones, although there were other type. These buckles were often quite large and one of the world's largest collections can be seen at Kenwood House.

Hairstyles and headgear

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was one of the most influential figures in fashion during the 1770s and 1780s, especially when it came to hairstyles.

The 1770s in fashion were notable for extreme hairstyles and wigs which were built up very high, and often incorporated decorative objects (sometimes symbolic, as in the case of the famous engraving depicting a lady wearing a large ship in her hair with masts and sails—called the "Coiffure à l'Indépendance ou le Triomphe de la liberté"—to celebrate naval victory in the American war of independence). These coiffures were parodied in several famous satirical caricatures of the period.

By the 1780s, elaborate hats replaced the former elaborate hairstyles. Mob caps and other "country" styles were worn indoors. Flat, broad-brimmed and low-crowned straw "shepherdess" hats tied on with ribbons were worn with the new rustic styles.

Hair was powdered into the early 1780s, but the new country fashion required natural colored hair, often dressed simply in a mass of curls.

Style gallery – 1750s–1770s

  1. 1754 portrait of Madame Henriette de France wearing a sleeveless red brocade gown and petticoat with a very wide pannier.
  2. 1755 portrait of Madame de Pompadour wearing a floral gown with matching petticoat. Her sleeves end in flounces worn over lace engageantes. Her stomacher is decorated with a vertical row of ribbon bows.
  3. 1759 portrait of Madame de Pompadour shows her petticoat trimmed with flounces to match her gown. She wears a small lace ruff around her neck.
  4. Lady Mary Fox wears a grey silk hooded Brunswick gown with striped ribbon ornaments, 1767.
  5. Mrs John Winthrop of Boston, Massachusetts, in the fashionable dress of 1773. Her indoor cap is trimmed with striped and dotted ribbons, and her gown is trimmed with robings of ruched fabric (strips of fabric gathered on two sides). A lace fichu fills in her neckline.
  6. Side view of a frock of 1774 shows pleated robings and striped ribbon rosettes.
  7. Lady Worsley wears a red riding habit with military details, copying those of the uniform of her husband's regiment (he was away fighting the American rebels) on the cutaway coat and a buff waistcoat, 1776.
  8. Marie Antoinette wears panniers, a requirement of court fashion for the most formal state occasions, 1778

Style gallery – 1780s

  1. The Ladies Waldegrave wear transitional styles, 1780–81. Their hair is powdered and dressed high, but their white caracos, like shorter dresses à la polonaise, have long tight sleeves.
  2. Marie Antoinette in chemise dress, 1783. She wears a sheer, striped sash and a broad-brimmed hat. Her sleeves are poufed, probably with drawstrings.
  3. French robe à l'anglaise with fashionable closed bodice, 1784–87, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  4. Marie Antoinette wears the popularized turban, with a scarf rapped around it. Her collar is heavy with lace, and her crimson petticoat is trimmed in fur, 1785.
  5. Fashion plate of 1786 shows a caraco and petticoat, worn with a wide-brimmed summer hat of straw with elaborate trimmings.
  6. Miss Constable, 1787, wears a chemise dress with plain sleeves and a narrow sash. She wears her hair down in a mass of curls under her straw hat.
  7. The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge wear colorful dresses in the new style, one blue and one striped, with sashes and high-necked chemises beneath. The Marquise de Rougé wears a scarf or kerchief wrapped into a turban.
  8. Elizabeth Sewall Salisbury wears an oversized mob cap trimmed with a wide satin ribbon and a kerchief pinned high at the neckline. America, 1789.

Style gallery – 1790–95

  1. Redingote or riding coat of ca. 1790, with "pouter-pigeon" front. This lady wears a mannish top hat for riding and carries her riding crop.
  2. Self-portrait of Rose Adélaïde Ducreux with harp.
  3. 1791 illustration of woman playing with an early form of yo-yo (or "bandalore") shows slight bust draping, which in more extreme form became the "pouter pigeon" look.
  4. Sketch by Isaac Cruikshank (father of George), showing both male and female middle-class English styles of the early 1790s.
  5. La Comtesse Bucquoi wears a sashed gown with a high-necked, frilled chemise beneath, a turban on her head, and a newly fashionable scarlet shawl. 1793.
  6. Mrs. Richard Yates, 1793, wears a very conservative gown with a kerchief and a gathered mob cap with a large ribbon bow.
  7. María Rita de Barrenechea y Morante, Marchioness of la Solana
  8. The Duchess of Alba wears a simple white gown, with a red sash and bow on her low collar. She wears her hair loose and free. This portrait shows the influence of French fashion in Spain at the end of the 18th century, 1795.


In Following the Fashion (1794), James Gillray caricatured figures flattered and not flattered by the high-waisted gowns then in fashion.

Men's fashion


Elijah Boardman wears a cutaway tailored coat over a waist-length satin waistcoat and dark breeches. United States, 1789.
Charles Pettit wears a matching coat, waiscoat, and breeches. Coat and waistcoat have covered buttons; those on the coat are much larger. His shirt has a sheer frill down the front. United States, 1792.
Pair of man's steel and gilt wire shoe buckles, c. 1777–1785. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.80.92.6a-b

Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches of the previous period. What changed significantly was the fabric. 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 "maccaroni".

In the United States, only the first five Presidents since George Washington until James Monroe dressed according to this fashion, including wearing of powdered wigs and knee breeches.[2][3] 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).[4][5]


The skirts of the coat narrowed from the gored styles of the previous period, and toward the 1780s began to be cutaway in a curve from the front waist. Waistcoats extended to mid-thigh to the 1770s, and gradually shortened until they were waist-length and cut straight across. Waistcoats could be made with or without sleeves.

As in the previous period, a loose, T-shaped silk, cotton or linen gown called a banyan was worn at home as a sort of dressing gown over the shirt, waistcoat, and breeches. Men of an intellectual or philosophical bent were painted wearing banyans, with their own hair or a soft cap rather than a wig.[6]

A coat with a wide collar called a frock, derived from a traditional working-class coat, was worn for hunting and other country pursuits in both Britain and America.

Shirt and stock

Shirt sleeves were full, gathered at the wrist and dropped shoulder. Full-dress shirts had ruffles of fine fabric or lace, while undress shirts ended in plain wrist bands. A small turnover collar returned to fashion, worn with the stock. The cravat reappeared at the end of the period.

Breeches, shoes, and stockings

As coats became cutaway, more attention was paid to the cut and fit of the brits. Breeches fitted snugly and had a fall-front opening.

Low-heeled leather shoes fastened with buckles were worn with silk or woolen stockings. Boots were worn for riding. The buckles were either polished metal, usually in silver (sometimes with the metal cut into false stones in the Paris style), or with paste stones, although there were other types. These buckles were often quite large and one of the world's largest collections can be seen at Kenwood House.

Hairstyles and headgear

Wigs were worn for formal occasions, or the hair was worn long and powdered, brushed back from the forehead and clubbed (tied back at the nape of the neck) with a black ribbon.

Wide-brimmed hats turned up on three sides called tricornes were worn in mid-century. Later, these hats were turned up front and back or on the sides to form bicornes. Toward the end of the period a tall, slightly conical hat with a narrower brim became fashionable (this would evolve into the top hat in the next period).

Style gallery 1750–1770

  1. Man's 3-piece suit has coat, waistcoat and breeches of cut, uncut and voided silk velvet, France, c. 1755. The waistcoat buttons match the coat buttons, but are smaller. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.947a-c.
  2. Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel in a dark red coat with deep cuffs worn over a long gold brocade vest or waistcoat. His shirt has full sleeves gathered at the wrists with ruffles, 1756.
  3. Man's fitted double-breasted banyan, an at-home gown or informal coat, made in the Netherlands of Chinese silk, 1750–60. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.797.
  4. Suit of 1761 features a dark blue coat and waistcoat with fine embroidery on the edges, deep cuffs, and pocket flaps. Hair is tied back but not powdered. The waistcoat reaches to mid-thigh.
  5. M. Gilbert DesVoisins, Councillor of State in Ordinary wears a shirt with front and wrist ruffles of fine lace. 1761
  6. Informal country clothes of 1760–62. The long collared coat without cuffs is a frock.
  7. Comte d'Angiviller wears a rose-colored coat with a fur lining over a flowered white satin waistcoat with gold braid or embroidery. His shirt has a lace frill down the front. French fashion emphasizes rich fabrics over cut and tailoring, c. 1763.
  8. John Hancock's coat and waistcoat are trimmed with narrow gold braid, and his shirt has a small turnover collar. 1765.
  9. David Hume wears a reddish collarless dress coat and matching waistcoat trimmed with bands of gold. His shirt sleeves are gathered into wrist bands with tiny pleats (visible by his left hand) and have fine lace ruffles, 1766.

Style gallery 1770–1795

  1. Samuel Adams wears a plain coat with wide revers, a small stand-up collar, deep cuffs, and large pocket flaps. His shirt has small sleeve ruffles and is worn with a narrow stock. 1772.
  2. Paul Revere's shirt has full sleeves with gathers at shoulder and cuff, plain wristbands, and a small turnover collar.
  3. Naturalists Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster wear collared frock coats and open shirt collars for sketching. The portrait depicts them in Tahiti, 1775–80.
  4. Another portrait of Georg Forster depicts him in a collarless dress coat and matching waistcoat with covered buttons, c. 1785. His shirt has a pleated frill at the front opening and his hair is powdered, c. 1785.
  5. Yellow wool suit with silk velvet trim shows the influence of English tailoring on European fashion[7]. Spain, c. 1785, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.801a-c.
  6. 1780s suit of matching coat, waistcoat and breeches. The waistcoat is hip length, 1780s.
  7. Francisco Cabarrús holds the popular tricorne and wears a yellow-mustard suit of matching coat, waistcoat and breeches; the waistcoat is hip length, 1788.
  8. Baron de Besenval wears a short patterned red waistcoat with his grey coat and black satin breeches. His coat has a dark contrasting collar, and his linen shirt has plain fabric ruffles, Paris, 1791.
  9. French fashions of 1790–95 include a tailcoat of silk and cotton plain weave with silk satin stripes, shown over two layered figured silk vests. (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
  10. The Duke of Alba, 1795, a portrait by Francisco de Goya, who depicts this nobleman wearing plain colors in the newly fashionable English style, although the duke still powders his hair. He is wearing long riding boots that reach the breeches.

Children's fashion

During most of this period, the clothes worn by middle- and upper-class children older than toddlers (especially by girls) continued to be uncomfortable-looking miniature copies of the clothes worn by adults, with the exception that girls wore back-fastening bodices and petticoats rather than open-fronted robes (see the illustration of the 1778 young French girl below). However, towards the end of the period, there was a change to styles that were more practical for children's play —skeleton suits with long trousers for boys, and loose ankle-length skirts for girls.

  1. Young Irish girls wear back-fastening bodices and sheer, embroidered aprons, 1762.
  2. Prince and Princess von Mecklenberg wear the miniature versions of adult costume that were standard for upper-class children, 1764.
  3. American boy wears a frock with a pink satin lining over a buff-colored waistcoat and a collared shirt with wrist frills, 1765.
  4. An American girl of 1767 wears a pink satin back-fastening gown over a smock and black shoes with low heels.
  5. Queen Charlotte of Portugal as a child.
  6. The cumbersome outfit of the young daughter of a French bourgeois, 1778.
  7. Miss Willoughby wears the loose, sashed white frock that is the English girl's equivalent of the fashionable lady's chemise dress, with a straw hat, 1781–83.
  8. Spanish boy in an early skeleton suit with a round frilled collar and waist sash, 1784.
  9. Marie Antoinette and her children on an 1785–1786 portrait, showing the change to loose ankle-length skirts for little girls. Her son wears a light blue skeleton suit.
  10. Young William Fitzherbert wears fall-front breeches, a full shirt, and a narrow black stock, c. 1790.

Working class clothing

Working-class people in 18th century England and the United States often wore the same garments as fashionable people—shirts, waistcoats, coats and breeches for men, and shifts, petticoats, and dresses or jackets for women—but they owned fewer clothes and what they did own was made of cheaper and sturdier fabrics. Working class men also wore short jackets, and some (especially sailors) wore trousers rather than breeches. Smock-frocks were a regional style for men, especially shepherds. Country women wore short hooded cloaks, most often red. Both sexes wore handkerchiefs or neckerchiefs.[8][9]

Men's felt hats were worn with the brims flat rather than cocked or turned up. Men and women wore shoes with shoe buckles (when they could afford them). Men who worked with horses wore boots.[8]

  1. Working-class woman wears a short dress or bedgown, a patched and mended petticoat, and neckerchief, c. 1764.
  2. Everyday day dress in England reflected fashionable styles. The man wears a coat with stylish large buttons over a double-breasted waistcoat and breeches. His hat brim is not cocked and he wears a spotted neckerchief. The woman wears a green apron over a skirted jacket and petticoat.
  3. Two men at an alehouse wear felt hats. The man at the right wears a short jacket rather than a coat.
  4. English countryman wears a round felt hat and a smock-frock. The countrywoman wears a short red cloak and a round hat over her cap, 1790s.

Contemporary summaries of 18th century fashion change

These two images provide 1790s views of the development of fashion during the 18th-century (click on images for more information):

This caricature contrasts 1778 (at right) and 1793 (at left) styles for both men and women, showing the large changes in just 15 years
This caricature contrasts the hoop-skirts (and highheeled shoes) of 1742 with the high-waisted narrow skirts (and flat shoes) of 1794



  • 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
  • de Marly, Diana: Working Dress: A History of Occupational Clothing, Batsford (UK), 1986; Holmes & Meier (US), 1987. ISBN 0-8419-1111-8
  • 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: The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, Yale University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-300-06287-7
  • Ribeiro, Aileen: Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe 1715–1789, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-300-09151-6
  • Rothstein, Natalie (editor): A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics, Norton, 1987, ISBN 0-500-01419-1
  • Steele, Valerie: The Corset: A Cultural History. Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-09953-3
  • Styles, John: The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-300-12119-3
  • Takeda, Sharon Sadako, and Kaye Durland Spilker, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 - 1915, LACMA/Prestel USA (2010), ISBN 9783791350622
  • Tozer, Jane and Sarah Levitt, Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes 1770–1870, Laura Ashley Press, ISBN 0-9508913-0-4

External links

Surviving 18th century clothing

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