Tag Archives: Fashion

Oh, where art thou from Watteau?

Ever wondered where watteau style gowns got their name from? 

This cheeky fellow . . .

Or at least we’ll imagine he’s cheeky.  He looks more depressed to me but since he did die from tuberculosis laryngitis within the year this portrait was painted, I imagine he had good reason to be dour.  He was only 36.

The short of it is,  Antoine Watteau had a thing for sack back gowns, those über-fahsionable loose dresses worn over a tight bodice with vertical pleats extending from shoulder to hem.  You may know them better as the robe à la française as they were commonly worn throughout 1715 to 1775 by french ladies. 

So what was special about Monsieur Watteau?  Throughout his career, he was the man with the plan to create scenes of fêtes galantes, essentially what you would spend your time doing if you were rich, idle, and oh-so-fabulous.  Afternoon parties among pastures, courting and dancing, you say?  Ha, I think not.  But, if we are to take Watteau’s paintings with any literal merit, instead of say, metaphorical, we shall have to surmise otherwise.  I say, court on!

What’s interesting about Watteau is that his work was never commissioned by an aristocrat.  Although his paintings showcased more than a handful of lords and ladies and he did create the fête galante genre, he was an artiste to the bourgeois.  As such,  his paintings bear a certain melancholy, an underlining dissipation that refuses to be dispelled by worldly charms. 

But I digress. 

I told you I would show you watteau gowns showcased by Watteau and I will.   One particular detail to note is how often we see the posterior of sack back gowns rather than the anterior. 

 from Rendez-vous de chasse (hunting party), Watteau, 1720

Gersaint’s Shop Sign, Watteau, 1721

More on Pandora Dolls

A few posts ago I blogged about pandoras, those exquisite little fashion dolls so essential to 18th century style.  Well, I found a website where you can acquire one of your own, albeit modernly made, but none the less fabulous  They are inspired by a mixture period drawings, actual garments, and Queen Anne Style wooden dolls. 

A great gift for the 18th century connoisseur or doll collector in your life.  Visit Susan Parris’ site to check out the dolls.

Pandora me this, Pandora me that

Pandora:  a miniature fashion doll wearing an exact replica of the latest haute couture, sent to ladies all over Europe so they could order on-trend fashions.  This term originated in France as Grande Pandore or Petite Pandore to describe evening and day fashions, respectively.

Pandora, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1755-1760

In the days before glossy magazines, pandoras were the primary means of disseminating fashion gospel.   Ladies waited with abated breath for the dolls to arrive because only then could they visit their modiste and order the correct cut, cloth, and style.  The dolls were outfitted head to toe, wearing coiffures, jewerly, hats and shoes, along with their gowns and embellishments.   Some were even dressed with complete underclothes.  

Depending on the occassion, Pandora’s were requested in almost any attire imaginable, but for most ladies, two dolls were sent to their homes, whenever the fashion’s required updating. One was typically arrayed in evening attire, the other in day wear. 

There is some suggestion that Pandoras were in use as early as the 14th century, but they didn’t become part of the veritable fashion trade until the 17th and 18th centuries.  Below is a young girl holding a pandora, as we may safely assume by her expression, supplicating her father for the latest fashions or merely showing them off.  Notice the pouf a la Marie Antoinette topped with feathers and myriad other adornments.  Notice too the girl’s expectant, happy face; the father’s indulgent, if a little annoyed, expression.  Based on how my husband acts in regard to fashion, I imagine that’s how most men felt about the Pandora during that time!

Christopher Anstey with his daughter, by William Hoare.  1776-1778.

National Portrait Gallery, London.

Evolution of a Stocking

Hogarth’s The Rake at Rose Tavern, Scene III of The Rake’s Progress, 1733.  In particular note the prostitute in the lower left portion, seated on a chair, fiddling with her shoes.  She is wearing silk gore clock stockings popular in the period.


During the early 1700s, stockings for both sexes were fashioned alike.  Often they were brightly colored, the embroidery contrasting with the gore (a wedge insert at the instep).  Opulent embroidery was common among the upper classes while the lower classes bought plain stockings, most likely made of wool.  If one could afford it, machine-knitted stockings were a much sought after luxury following the invention of the Derby Rib machine in 1758.  This machine allowed for the production of an elastic type sock, a more comfortable invention that its stretch-free predeccesor.  Until the early part of industrialization, the lower classes had to make do with the outmoded and  imperfect method of hand-knitted socks.

Although few intact stockings remain, we do know a vast array of colors and styles were available.  Hosiers experimented with different fabric and designs, moving from the silk gore clock to the silk or cotton lace clocks, and later even stripes, zigzags, and of course the oldest fashion, plain.  The finest ones were commonly made of silk, cotton or worsted, and cost a pretty penny indeed.  Around 1738, they would set a shopper back as much as £1 2s, more than a fifth of some domestics’ wages.

Fit & Design

As early as the1670s, gore inserts revolutionized fit and comfort.  These wedge shaped additions also provided decorative embellishments like embroidery and contrasting colors, although both were seen in lesser detail on earlier socks. 

Antique Lace has several pictures of a pristine gore clock stocking, albeit from the United States, dating from 1720-1740.  The stocking below is typical of European designs for the period.


Going the way of most fashions, gore clocks reached their zenith in the 1750s and were slowly replaced by embroidery without the gore.  Flower and nature motifs also appeared in the middle of the century, followed by the increasinlgy simpler styles (if more complicated methods).

In the latter part of the century, white or cream dominated the stocking scene.  Women were particularly inclined toward lace clocks, a method popularized after the 1760s where open-work patterns took on a–you guessed it–lacy appearance. 

Men’s styles altered dramatically around the 1770s through the 80s.  Stripes were worn by dandies and saw a comeback in the late 80s.  Horizontally striped, aka banded, stocking were popularized around the 1790’s.  This is also about the time the zigzag pattern appeared, although the stripes would remain the dominant fashion.

If you’re interested in the process of making stockings or desire a more comprehensive study, make sure to visit Knitting Together.  They have quite a nice virtual museum.  Another good resource is Notes on 18th century stockings.  This one has lots of links for further inquiry.

From Panniers to Polonaise

The story goes a something like this:  One day around 1730 two pleasantly plump English ladies wanted to take a stroll in the Tuileries gardens.  But the weather was, at least for these Brits, sticky and warm, and, for all the ladies in onerous garb, stifling hot.  To avoid the inevitable thigh-to-fabric rub beneath their walking dresses, the ladies devised a plan.  They thought of donkeys carrying baskets.  Next, they envisioned themselves, their skirts flowing around them, inches away from their skin.  Thus, the pannier was born.

(And yes, pannier is the name for a basket slung over a beast of burden)

Worn between the 1730s until the 1770s, panniers spread the appearance of ladies’ hips to shocking widths.  It’s hard to imagine now, but the most fashionable could not fit in many doorways without turning aside.  Collapsible panniers were created to render this problem obsolete but gentlemen scoffed at the idea of widening door frames merely for ladies’ whims.  They had, of course, encountered a similar caprice earlier with Marie Antoinette’s towering coiffure, the pouf.  The notion of hip widths of eight feet were just another frippery to be endured.

Tired limbs were another casualty that resulted from these large hoops.  Elbows suffered from behaving as wings from ladies’ sides and so a second invention ensued: the elbow pad, fastened near the lower waist so the arms would not despair of fatigue.  This silly business thrived until the Polonaise gown came into vogue in the 1770s.

1775-1780, altered several times; rosettes and green trim are 19th century

Styled to look like a tiered cake, with rings and cording beneath the skirts, the Polonaise gown imitated milkmaids who tucked up their skirts to avoid the muck.  Pocket slits appeared on the open skirt, allowing a stylish lady to tuck the fabric however she fancied that day.  Despite the necessity of three small panniers (at a minimum) to achieve this style, overall the look was poufed yet streamlined, the waist nipped in with petticoats underneath.

Robe a la Polonaise, 1770s

18th Century Wig-Curlers

Periwigs or perukes were worn until the middle 1770’s, their popularity waning in the private sphere during the reign of George III.  Public figures, however, including men of the judicial bench, clergy, and the Speaker of the House of Commons persisted in wearing wigs for decades thereafter.  In fact, one record establishes a episcopalian bishop donning faux hair until his death in 1860. 


As you can see from the above caricature, wigs were part of the cumbrous fashion ensemble, often towering and expansive, and as such, required judicious upkeep.  Enter the odd object below, the wig-curler.  Made of clay, it was heated as one would curling tongs, tapered toward the center to retain the best possible curl. 

The following is a wig description from George Clinch’s English Costume from Prehistoric Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century:

Also, here’s a sampling of wigs from a French Perruquier (wigmaker) if you’re curious. 

For more information regarding wigs of the period, American Revolution, despite its misleading name, is a font of knowledge on 18th Century French and British costume.

Dress Me! 18th century Girly Garb

The glamour, the elegance, but man, oh, man, the work. I complain about my dressing abulations in the 21st century when at most this involves a dress, tights, boots, and accessories. But these ladies? How horrifying. No wonder they had little time for pursuits outside fashion.

Youtube has some great videos about getting dressed 18th century style. I particularly like the opening of Dangerous Liasons, which shows an aristo’s morning routine for both a man and a woman.

This video gives a nice, if general, overview from shift to the whole shebang.

And last, but not least, these drawings are amateur, but pretty wonderful. I particularly like 0:06, 0:16, 0:46 (the redingote), and 0:54 (notice the belt and the grey/yellow. Love it.) Some of them are quite Georgiana Cavendish.

Coiffure v. Coiffeur

Easily confused with one another, coiffure and coiffeur have the same letters, only rearranged. Unlike blond and blonde, they have also two distinct meanings, however closely related. 

Coiffure (ending in e) is a hairstyle.  In the latter 18th century we hear the term pouf, a coiffure that refers to the elaborately constructed hairstyle teased over pads with the addition of horsehair for volume and the essential ribbons/decorations to produce towering effects.  Powder is, of course, used. 

Coiffeur, on the other hand, is a male hairdresser.  Marie Antoinette had her favorite, Léonard Autié, the man responsible for the essential Antoinette style – the pouf.  Translated into English in 1909 and full of anecdotal Louis XV and XVI court references, his book, Recollections of Léonard Autié: Hairdresser to Marie Antoinette is available here on google books.


One might say there were as many pouf styles as there were aristocratic women.  Poufs celebrated social and political occasions; one’s love of a collection of items, be they portraits or dogs or whatnot (called pouf au sentiment); the queen with feathers a la reine.  One of Antoinette’s most fondly remember coiffures was the “pouf a la Belle Poule.”  Complete with a model of a frigate at full mast, floating atop curls and powder, it celebrated the triumph of the eponymous French ship over an English vessel Arethuse off the coast of Brest  in 1778.

Middle to Late 18th Century Coiffure Evolution

Notice the difference between Madame de Pompadour’s coiffure in the 1750’s and Marie Antoinette’s in the 1770’s – it’s striking. 

by François Boucher, 1757

Pompadour wears her natural hair closer to her head.  Brushed back from the forehead and temples, the hair is twisted in a small bun at the crown.  The detailing, pearls and ribbons(or in this case, flowers), is simpler than the vast ornamentation displayed in the pouf.


Marie Antoinette by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, 1775

Antoinette first wears the pouf to Louis XVI’s coronation in 1774 and starts a trend of neck-breaking coiffures that only mellows (at least in terms of height) when her fondness for the petite trianon and the queen’s hamlet call for more natural styles.  Instead of tall and ungainly, the coiffure now frizzes from the temples and fat sausage curls cascade down the neck.  In lieu of feathers or figurines, the top of the head is covered with a large  puffy hat secured with a band of ribbon.  


Vigée Le Brun, 1785, Konopiste Castle, Prague

For a great b&w sketches of coiffures worn in France during the 18th century, see americanrevolution.org.  Also worth a looksie is ladyreading.net for a collection of Antoinette portraits through her life.

Marie Antoinette wore muslin

Chemise á  la Reine (also “gaulle”)

The simple gaulle shift Marie Antoinette popularized in her middle reign at Versailles is ubiquitous in her image today.  We see it in her famous portrait by Elizabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun where she is a confection of gauzy white ruffles, her cheeks pink and fresh, a green ribbon trailing in her hands, a flush colored rose clutched in her fingers.  Assumed by everyone from Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (who received the shift as a gift from Antoinette, as one fashionable friend to another) to the Princesse de Lamballe, even one of Antoinette’s earliest opponents, Madame du Barry, found the gaulle divine.


Madame Du Barry

Eventually after Antoinette’s death in 1793, the gaulle revolutionized fashion, leading  to the pared down looks of Jane Austen’s time in the early 19th century. 

Caroline Weber describes the gaulle in great, succinct detail in Queen of Fashion:

“By the summer of 1780, one of her [Marie Antoinette’s] favorite ensembles for Trianon was a white muslin shift known as gaulle, which Bertin had copied from “Creoles” and colonialist’s wives unable to wear the silk in the Caribbean heat.  This garment was slipped over a flexible cloth bodice instead of whalebone stays, and was free of any other structuring elements except a ruffled drawstring neck, puffy sleeves held up by ribbon “bracelets,” and a wide ribbon sash at the waist.  Wearers accessorized it sometimes with a saucy white apron, sometimes with a white fichu, and almost always with a soft white bonnet or wide-brimmed straw hat, perched atop hair that was loose and unpowdered.”

Spring Cleaning? Recycle Your Bras

I’ve a confession to make: I used to own more lingerie than a drag queen (and I say that with all compliments, ladies!).  Victoria’s Secret was my little secret and beneath my superwoman exterior, I languished in silks, satins, and the  velvets, the softer the better.  Dressing for the boudoir was such an exquisite pleasure for me, I’m embarrassed to say I used to buy indiscriminate of need.  Pretty white eyelet with scalloping?  Gotta have it.  Sultry black lace with ribbons and piping?  Well, suffice it to say, even if I wasn’t a sure thing, the lingerie was.

Flash forward to today:  the novelty’s worn off and sadly, instead of being one of life’s little pleasures, matching undergarments now seems rather superfluous.  In fact, this post should  be filed under “I used to be sexy” because nowadays, I’ll throw on any old thing and rush out the door.   Pitiful, right?

But spreading the love got me thinking and when I spring clean in the next couple weeks, I’m going to donate some of my gently used (washed, of course) bras to charity.  The Bra Recyclers is a wonderful organization, operating out of Arizona, where you can ship your bras (provided that they’re still in good, wearable condition) and play your part in supporting bosom buddies.   Just remember to wash your bras and fill out the form before shipping them off!

Georgian word of the day: Fichu

A woman’s triangular kerchief worn to fill the low-cut neckline of a bodice.  As necklines descended with daring plunges and ample cleavage, the fichu became popular among the more modest (or as can be imagined below, the cold) set.   1795-1805