Wikipedia summarizes women’s gowns of the 1700’s writing:

“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 was looser-fitting and a welcome change for women used to wearing bodices.[1] 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. With a more relaxed style came a shift away from heavy fabrics, such as satin and velvet, to Indian cotton, silks and damasks. Also, these gowns were often made in lighter pastel shades that gave off a warm, graceful and childlike appearance.[2] 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.

Necklines on dresses became more open as time went on allowing for greater display of ornamentation of the neck area. A thick band of lace was often sewed onto the neckline of a gown with ribbons, flowers, and/or jewels adorning the lace. Jewelry such as strings of pearls, ribbons, or lace frills were tied high on the neck. Finally, one other large element of 18th century women’s dress wear became the addition of the frilled neckband, a separate piece from the rest of the dress. This ornament was popularized sometime around 1730.”

Princess Sophia Dorothea with her husband Frederick William

Fig. 1 - Antoine Pesne (French, 1683-1757). Princess Sophia Dorothea with her husband Frederick William, 1734. Oil on canvass; dimensions unknown. Private collection. Source: Pinterest

Isabel de Farnesio

Fig. 2 - Jean Ranc (French, 1674-1735). Isabel de Farnesio, 1723. Oil on canvas; 144 x 115 cm. Madrid: Museo del Prado, P02330. Source: Museo del Prado

Robe à la Française

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (French). Robe à la Française, 1730-50. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.64.32.1. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1964. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ashley Cowper with his Wife and Daughter

Fig. 4 - William Hogarth (French, 1697-1764). Ashley Cowper with his Wife and Daughter, 1731. Oil paint on canvas; 53.3 x 61.2 cm. London: Tate Britain, T00809. Source: Tate Britain


About men’s fashion, Wikipedia says:

“The male suit, also known as the habit, made of three parts: the justaucorps, a jacket, and breeches. In the early 18th century the jacket continued to have a full skirt. Fabrics for men were primarily silks, velvets, and brocades, with woolens used for the middle class and for sporting costumes.

In the early 18th century, men’s shoes continued to have a squared toe, but the heels were not as high. From 1720-1730, the heels became even smaller, and the shoes became more comfortable, no longer containing a block toe. The shoes from the first half of the century often contained an oblong buckle usually embedded with stones.

Upper class men often wore a cane as part of their outfits, suspending it by a loop from one of their waistcoat buttons to allow their hands to properly hold snuff-boxes or handkerchiefs. The cane was thus less functional and rather for the sake of fashion.

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. They were an essential element to the “domino”, a stylish costume for masquerade balls, which became an increasingly popular mode of entertainment. The “domino” style consisted of a mask, a long cape, and a tricorne hat, all usually constructed of dark colors.”

Portrait du Duke de Richelieu

Fig. 1 - Jean-Marc Nattier (French, 1685-1766). Portrait du Duke de Richelieu, 1732. oil on canvas; 239 × 117.5 cm (94.1 × 46.3 in). Lisbon: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Source: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian


Fig. 2 - Artist unknown (probably French). Ensemble, ca. 1730. (a) wool; (b) silk; (a, b) metallic thread; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004.411a, b. Isabel Shults Fund, 2004. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art



Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1730s

Map of Europe in 1730s. Source: Emerson Kent


[To come…]

Timeline Entries

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Primary/Period Sources

NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates



[To come…  Have a primary source to suggest?  Contact us!]

[To come…  Have a primary source to suggest?  Contact us!]

Secondary Sources

Also see the 18th century overview page for more research sources… or browse our Zotero library.
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