We Make History


An Introduction to

Ladies' Fashions
of the Georgian Era of the 18th Century


Lord Scott

















Ladies' Clothing underwent a number of stylistic changes during the 18th century; a few dramatic but mostly subtle. The following little article is an introductory overview, not an exhaustive guide. Please do research on the exact decade and type of person you would like to portray.

Lord Scott

Outer Garments, The Gown and Associated Articles:

There were several different cuts and styles of ladies’ gowns during this period. The “Robe a l’Anglaise” (English gown, mantua) and “Robe a la Francaise” (French gown, sacque, sack back gown) were perhaps the two most common gown styles for most of the century though each went through a number of variations and adaptations.
Ladies gowns were composed of  several basic pieces. The bodice (aka “pair of bodies”) covered the back, shoulders, sides and left and right front. It was quite fitted. Sewn onto the bodice were fitted sleeves of about ¾ length which often sported fabric or lace flounces at their ends. In the front, center was worn the stomacher. This was a firm, stiff article which covered the stomach and lower bosom (styles tended to be low cut by modern standards) and attached to the bodice by means of pins, laces or hooks and eyes. A square piece of linen or cotton cloth known as a "fichu" was often folded and worn around the neckline for daywear.
The skirt was sewn onto the bodice and hung nearly to floor length (longer if a rear train was desired). It covered the back but was open in the front to reveal a petticoat. (A gown which did not open in the front was called a “round gown.”) This petticoat was a skirt which was meant to be revealed (in contrast to petticoats used as underwear) and like the stomacher was of a fabric which either matched or made a pleasant contrast to the gown.
During the 1770s it became a popular option to bunch or drape the skirt up somewhat on the sides and/or rear. This style was known as “a la Polonaise.” About the same time a style of bodice emerged which closed in front without the use of a stomacher.
An alternate outfit common to working women or used as day or casual wear by more leisurely women would consist of a jacket, skirt and petticoat. The jacket was, in effect, a replacement for the bodice. One common short style of such a jacket was known as the “Caraco” or “Pet-en-l’air.” Some jackets closed in front while others laced and were worn with a stomacher.
Ladies’ gowns could range from quite plain to unbelievably luxurious and ostentatious. Cotton, silk and linen were all used as were plain, striped, printed (usually with medium to large designs), brocaded and embroidered fabrics. Most fabrics tended to have some weight or stiffness to them at least until the mid 1780s when lighter weight silks and cottons began to catch on. Lace and other trim as well as many types of ornamentation were very common.
In the 1780s and 90s a completely new style of round gown known as the “chemise gown” was popularized by imitators of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. This dress was made of gathered fabric of a light, flowing weight and consisted of skirt, bodice and sleeves. It was initially mocked by many who declared that women were running about in their undergarments (thus the name “chemise” gown) but it caught on quickly with younger, fashionable ladies and proved to be the harbinger of the soon to come Regency era styles.
The "sporty look" for the 18th century was the "Riding Habit", an ensemble inspired by the uniforms of military officers. The coat was much like a gentleman's regimental coat but tailored for a woman. It was worn with a waistcoat, skirt, cocked hat and of course the proper undergarments.


Stays (aka Corset):
Thin or large, old or young, all ladies wore them and you cannot have an accurate 18th century look without one. The corset of the time was heavily boned and was tightly laced in the back for a serious fit. It was worn under the gown but over the chemise. It was conical in shape, completely unlike the “hourglass” corsets of the Victorian era a century later. The purpose of the corset was to create erect posture and to force the breasts up and together into a position known as “rising moons.” During this period (in contrast to the late 19th and early 20th centuries) for a fashionable woman to show much of her bosom (particularly with evening wear) was not generally considered to be sexual or even immodest. It was simply feminine; being a woman. But to reveal the ankles or legs was another matter entirely.

Hoopskirts were a part of ladies fashion for a long, long time. The terms hoopskirt, hooped skirt and hoops were all used in the 18th century, but for the oblong variety we often utilize the term “pannier”, which means "basket" in French. The pannier was to the 18th century what the farthingale had been to the 16th and what the crinoline would be to the middle decades of the 19th.
In the early part of the 18th century hooped skirts were shaped like inverted cones and were not overly large. In the 1720s the prevailing style was large, round and dome shaped, much like what was seen later with the hoops of the 1850s. In the 1730s the pannier shrunk just a little and became a rounded oval with the slightly longer ends toward the sides. By 1745 the pannier became a very wide oblong which was fairly flat to the front and back. It continued in this basic shape for general use until around 1770 when the round hoopskirt came back into vogue for a time.
The pannier was made of wood, whalebone or reeds and was designed to hold out the upper petticoat and skirt, creating width and therefore a horizontally oriented look. It was constructed to be one wide article but an adaptation known as “pocket hoops” or “side panniers” also appeared which featured a small structure of cloth and boning on each hip connected by a waistband. The advantages of this variation were less weight and the extra utility of actually being able to use it as pockets for money, keys, a small mirror or what have you.
The width of panniers could range from modest to extreme. Generally speaking, the larger panniers were reserved for more formal occasions just as were the largest hoops during the mid-1800s. The pannier maintained its popularity into the 1770s and then began to fade. In the 1780s & ‘90s it was only being used for formal occasions and by 1800 was utilized only for court apparel, the most formal style of all. Not long after, the pannier disappeared altogether as the vertical emphasis of the Regency era swept all before it and rendered the pannier an anachronism which has never since returned to fashion.

Bumroll, Bustle, Rump Pad:
These items used for skirt support went in and out of fashion for centuries. During this period such items were typically made of carved cork or stuffing sewn up in linen or cotton fabric with a tie coming out of each side. The article would be tied around the waist under the skirt (and outer petticoat if not wearing a round gown) and served to give them bulk and a lift to the rear (bustle, rump pad) or rear and sides (bumroll). They were sometimes used by ladies not wearing a pannier but could also be worn along with one for extra support to the rear. When the chemise dress came into vogue during the 1780s a small bustle was usually worn to give that fashion its characteristic rear lift.

Petticoats and Pockets:
In addition to the upper petticoat which with most styles was meant to be seen, there were also one or more petticoats underneath which were regarded as underwear. Cloth “pockets” were common. These were a pair of flat cloth pouches sewn onto a cloth band which tied around the waist underneath the outer garments. They were accessed through slits in the sides of the skirt.

Shift (aka Chemise):
The shift was the bottom undergarment worn under all others. It was usually of linen or cotton and in appearance was something like a calf-length nightgown. A woman in only her chemise was considered “naked”.


Much of what has been said regarding men’s shoes applies. For instance “Shoes ... were usually of leather though fancy shoes or dance slippers might be of silk (and could wear out in an evening or two). Shoes were usually black or brown but were known in many colors, especially among the wealthy. The buckle could be made of pewter, brass, silver or gold. Very wealthy Europeans would sometimes have them encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones.”
A difference would be that ladies’ shoes tended to be narrower and were often more pointed in appearance as opposed to the usual boxy look of the men’s. They were sometimes fabric covered and could be decorated with ribbon, lace or other materials. Depending on the occasion ladies could choose from the ubiquitous medium to high heeled shoes with buckles, low or no heeled dancing slippers or even “pumps” which were shaped very similar to the common modern variety.

These were long, coming up at least over the knee and were fastened by garters around the leg. They were made from silk, wool or cotton.

Hats, Caps & Bonnets:
Various styles were in vogue depending on who you were and what you were doing at the time. The mob cap was as ubiquitous for women as the tricorn was for men. It was made of cotton or linen gathered to a band and covered much of the hair which was piled up underneath it. Several styles of cloth bonnet were utilized including one with long “lappets” down each side of the face and the “calash” which was large enough to fit over high hair styles but was collapsible for ease of storage when not being used. Fashionable ladies might wear a “cartwheel” hat of straw, perhaps bedecked with silk flowers and tied under the chin with a ribbon.
Both men and women typically wore some type of headwear (whether wig and/or hat, cap, bonnet, etc.) during most of their comings and goings. This was especially true outdoors not only for fashion’s sake but also for the practical reason of protection from the elements. Ladies in particular tried to avoid getting sun on their faces to a degree which might darken their fair complexions. In contrast to the later 19th century, both men and women commonly wore some type of headwear while indoors as well. Men were even known to dance with hat on head or in hand during a ball.

Hair and Wigs:
Hairstyles were for a time kept fairly close to the head but then rose in height, sometimes extravagantly so, particularly in the 1770s. Many cartoons of the time poked fun at fashionable ladies for their ponderous coiffures. In the 1780s the "hedgehog" style came in which was moderately high but wide as well and often worn with a broad-brimmed hat. Women (like the men) also commonly used wigs and hair pieces as well as white powder.

Fans, Jewelry and Cosmetics:
The fan was an important accessory for many ladies and an entire “language” was developed in order to use it for communicating from across a room. Jewelry of gold, silver and pewter was worn and often included precious or semi-precious stones.
A white (“fair”) complexion was considered very desirable and many ladies would utilize make-up to attain it. Beauty marks of various shapes were in fashion for a time and cosmetics in general (particularly rouge on the cheeks) were used far more than in the subsequent 19th century. Many persons bore the scars of smallpox on their faces which undoubtedly were an added incentive toward utilizing an artificial covering. Even some men did so.

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© 2001-2007 Lord Scott of We Make History


An 18th Century Fashion Primer
An Introduction to Gentlemen's Clothing of the 18th Century
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