Wikipedia summarized 1790s women’s fashion, writing:

“Women’s clothing styles maintained an emphasis on the conical shape of the torso while the shape of the skirts changed throughout the period. The wide panniers(holding the skirts out at the side) for the most part disappeared by 1780 for all but the most formal courtfunctions, and false rumps (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time.Marie Antoinette had a marked influence on French fashion beginning in the 1780s. Around this time, she had begun to rebel against the structure of court life. She abolished her morning toilette and often escaped to the Petit Trianon with increasing frequency, leading to criticism of her exclusivity by cutting off the traditional right of the aristocracy to their monarch. Marie Antoinette found refuge from the stresses of the rigidity of court life and the scrutiny of the public eye, the ailing health of her children, and her sense of powerlessness in her marriage by carrying out a pseudo-country life in her newly constructed hameau.[7] She and an elite circle of friends would dress in peasant clothing and straw hats and retreat to the hameau. It was out of this practice that her style of dress evolved.
By tradition, a lady of the court was instantaneously recognizable by her panniers, corset and weighty silk materials that constructed her gown in the style of à la française or à l’anglaise. By doing away with these things, Marie Antoinette’s gaulle or chemise á la Reine stripped female aristocrats of their traditional identity; noblewomen could now be confused with peasant girls, confusing long standing sartorial differences in class. The chemise was made from a white muslin and the queen was further accused of importing foreign fabrics and crippling the French silk industry.[8] The gaulle consisted of thin layers of this muslin, loosely draped around the body and belted at the waist, and was often worn with an apron and a fichu. This trend was quickly adopted by fashionable women in France and England, but upon the debut of the portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, the clothing style created a scandal and increased the hatred for the queen.[7] The queen’s clothing in the portrait looked like a chemise, nothing more than a garment that women wore under her other clothing or to lounge in the intimate space of the private boudoir. It was perceived to be indecent, and especially unbecoming for the queen. The sexual nature of the gaulle undermined the notions of status and the ideology that gave her and kept her in power. Marie Antoinette wanted to be private and individual, a notion unbecoming for a member of the monarchy that is supposed to act as a symbol of the state.
When Marie Antoinette turned thirty, she decided it was no longer decent for her to dress in this way and returned to more acceptable courtly styles, though she still dressed her children in the style of the gaulle, which may have continued to reflect badly on the opinion of their mother even though she was making visible efforts to rein in her own previous fashion excess.[8] However, despite the distaste with the queen’s inappropriate fashions, and her own switch back to traditional dress later in life, the gaulle became a popular garment in both France and abroad. Despite its controversial beginnings, the simplicity of the style and material became the custom and had a great influence on the transition into the neoclassical styles of the late 1790s.[7]
During the years of the French Revolution, women’s dress expanded into different types of national costume. Women wore variations of white skirts, topped with revolutionary colored striped jackets, as well as white Greek chemise gowns, accessorized with shawls, scarves, and ribbons.[9]

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.”

The Ale House Door

Fig. 1 - Henry Singleton (English, 1766 - 1839). The Ale House Door, c. 1790. Source: Pinterest

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown (French). Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien, 1799. Source: Pinterest

Woman's Dress

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (England). Woman's Dress, 1790-1795. Silk plain weave (taffeta) with silk and metallic thread supplementary weft-patterning; Center back length (a) Overdress): 64 1/2 in. (163.83 cm) Center back length (b) Underdress): 50 1/4 in. (127.64 cm). Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.57.24.10a-b. Costume Council Fund. Source: Pinterest

Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom

Fig. 4 - William Beechey (English, 1753-1898). Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom, c. 1979. oil on canvas; dimensions unknown. Source: Pinterest


[To come…]

Journal de la mode et de gout

Fig. 1 - Artist unknown. Journal de la mode et de gout, no. 7 (April 25, 1790): Plate 1. Source: Pinterest

Man's morning coat

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown. Man's morning coat, England, 1795-1800. shot silk twill, lined with linen, hand-sewn; dimensions unknown. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 940-1902. Source: Pinterest



Historical Context


[To come…]

Europe in 1792. Source: emmersonkent.com


[To come…]

Timeline Entries

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Primary/Period Sources

NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates


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[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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