Now for the fun part.
I’m going to focus on two specific parts of 18th century fashion; the 1740s, since that is the time that my gown is based off of, and the late 1700s. I find the late 1700s and the early 1800s fascinating fashion-wise, since so much changes in such a short amount of time. A large amount of that change is thanks to Marie Antoinette.
By the 1740s, fashion had changed quite a bit from the beginning of the century, but the basics were the same. Court dress did not change in most countries for a long time.
An everyday outfit for a woman would include a chemise and stays, bum pad or small panniers (boned ‘baskets’ that were tied around the waist to create the popular shape), multiple petticoats, and then the top gown or skirt and top worn. A state of ‘undress’ in the 18th century is not what undress is now. Undress was just a more casual outfit that was worn during the day. It was an everyday look, versus an outfit for a formal occasion. It normally included a short jacket with a skirt. Outfits were often finished with stockings and shoes (Louis heels were very popular at the time), an apron, and a hat and gloves to leave the house. Fashion in the 1740s was more about adding width to the hips. This look was achieved with panniers of various sizes. For court dress, or full dress, panniers were much larger than any other event. Court dress in the 1740s consisted of a mantua, which was a stiff bodice. A mantua changed with the times later and became a more loose bodice. Sack-back gowns started in this era. A sack-back gown is a bodice with pleats in the back, making it very loose and flowy. This started as a undress fashion, but as the fashion changed through the century and became more casual, the sack-back became part of full dress fashion. Another more casual look that was created around this time was the sacque. This had the loose pleats of the sack-back with a unfitted front, and was a welcome change from the stiff court gowns that used to be in fashion. Sleeves were quite wide during the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Fabrics that were used more often were velvets, silks, damasks, and other heavy textiles for formal garments, and linens and cottons for informal and undergarments.
As the times changed and more wars were fought, the style became more relaxed. Lighter fabrics were used, such as Indian cotton and silks, and the colours that were popular were pastels. The gowns were less formal during the late 18th century. Sleeves more more fitted, and bum pads were used more than panniers, shifting the weight more to the back than to the side. Decorations became more light and frothy versus the heavy beading and embroidery that was popular in the first half of the century. Another change that came near the end of the century was different textiles from other countries (such as silk from China and cotton from India and the colonies), as well as changes in how the fabric was made.
Marie Antoinette had a huge hand in changing the styles from very formal to more relaxed. Since the European countries often looked to France for style advice, any changes in French gowns moved throughout Europe.
Marie Antoinette was said to have hated the stiff styles of the court at the time. The most well known change in fashion that came directly from Marie Antoinette is the Chemise a la Reine. It was a big deal when she started wearing this at the time since it mirrored undergarments, since it was normally made out of a light linen or muslin, and it was quite unstructured compared to earlier styles. The Chemise a la Reine is related to the styles of the early 19th century (think Jane Austen), and it is said that her clothes were the inspiration to the new, simple style that came in after the French Revolution. This is actually very ironic because the whole reason that the fashion changed so drastically, so quickly, is because everyone was trying to follow the extreme ideas that the French Revolution was based on. The ideas were fully against the luxurious and wasteful way that the monarchy was living, however the clean style was created by the woman who was hated for her lavish spending.
The style of the late 1700s was quite a bit different from the early 1700s, and much of that adjustment was because of the Queen of France. Hemlines raised to about the ankles, and the gowns were more classic and uncluttered. The Round Gown became popular, as well as the Robe a l’Anglaise, which was worn either the English way (with the skirt down), or retrousse (with the over skirt drawn up to create a more fluffy look). The colours that were used were lighter, closer to our vision of Rococo today, with the pastels and elaborate hair styles. Although Marie Antoinette made the gowns themselves simpler, she also created the crazy 18th century hair, which huge hats, ships, and birdcages, as well as anything else you feel like putting in your hair.