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  • Writer's pictureAisha

Georgian Month: Brief Fashion Timeline

Hello darlings!


This month is ~Georgian month~ so I'm starting it off with a bang by presenting a brief timeline of the fashions of the period!


For the sake of clarity, I am looking at women's fashion from an English perspective between the dates of 1714 to 1830. I won't go into detail after the turn of the century as this was the Regency period, which will get its own month and posts dedicated to it.


This is, as I mentioned in the title, only a brief timeline. The era is expansive and I will not be able to talk about every detail, but I will do my best to give a good overview, and I promise in the future to dedicate some posts to in-depth research on many of the topics mentioned in this post!


Underwear


‘Thus finish’d in taste, while on Chloe you gaze,

You may take the dear charmer for life;

But never undress her- for, out of her stays

You’ll find you have lost half of your wife.’

~The Lady’s Head-Dress, 1777


Chemises, a dress worn beneath the main garment to protect it, were worn by women of every class.

Georgian chemise made by moi.


Corsets, referred to as 'stays' in the 18th century, were also worn throughout the period. They were called a 'pair of stays' as they were often in two parts, fastening at the front and back.


Stays started off as extremely rigid garments, fully boned with no gaps at all between the bones. I went to study some at the Bath Fashion Museum, and they were so stiff they stood by themselves!

Photo taken at Bath Fashion Museum.


The boning of choice was whalebone (or baleen). Whalebone is no longer available to us (for obvious reasons!) but you can find plastic reproductions that mimic the flexibility of whalebone better than steel or spiral bones.


"They were never fastened into those ridiculous whalebones, which are equally dangerous for the stomach and chest" Eugenie de Franval, Marquis de Sade, 1800


There were also informal versions of stays, known as 'jumps' for morning wear or pregnancy, a style which I adore. You can find my pinterest board dedicated to them here.


A multitude of skirt supports were worn throughout the period to give the body the fashionable shape. In the early 18th century, domed petticoats or hoops were worn. As the century progressed, wide but thin shapes became desirable, achieved by wearing pocket hoops or panniers.


Later in the century, the width graduated to the back into false rumps, often filled with cork.


After this point, the waistline gradually rose until no skirt supports were worn at all, except maybe a tiny bustle pad, in order to give the streamlined look so distinctive of the Regency era.


Beneath her clothing a woman would have also worn stockings (hand-sewn, made from a non-stretch fabric), garters (often a simple ribbon tied either above or below the knee) and a pocket tied around the waist, accessed through slits in her skirts.


Styles of Dress


‘It is already common knowledge that the goddess of fashion suffers from quotidian fever, which, it had often been noticed, at a certain degree of heat runs to madness.’

-Sophie de la Roche, Sophie in London, 1786


At the beginning of the Georgian era, fashion remained largely unchanged for quite some time, with some small variations. The mantua, which had already been worn before the Georgian era began, was still fashionable and remained that way until the mid-18th century.

Picture taken at the Bath Fashion Museum.


It was no longer called a mantua, however, but an 'open gown' or 'English gown' (it's now commonly referred to by the French term, Robe a l'Anglaise). The reason it was called an open gown was because it didn't fasten at the front, the gap being filled in by a stomacher, a separate panel from the dress that was pinned to the corset or to the dress itself. The two tabs or 'robings' on either side of the bodice are common on early open gowns.


Sleeves at the beginning of the era were wide and full, the chemise also having wide and full sleeves to fill these out. They often had large 'winged' cuffs, that could have had a lead weight stitched into them to keep them hanging nicely.


(Although it it set slightly earlier than the Georgian era, I thoroughly recommend watching 'The Favourite' for good examples of mantuas with winged cuffs.)

Emma Stone in 'The Favourite.'


At the beginning of the Georgian era, dresses were largely untrimmed. The gorgeous silks spoke for themselves, and the outfit was dressed up or down using accessories.


Fun fact: In France, until 1675, only master tailors (men) had the right to make women’s dresses. In 1765 seamstresses petitioned for their own guild and were granted permission to make dresses, becoming known as Maîtresses Cougufières.


By the mid-18th century, the skirt had widened and opened in the front to show off the petticoat (it was still called a 'petticoat', even though it could now be seen). There had always been quilted petticoats to help to keep warm, but the quilting became more elaborate as it was now on show.


Round hoops were still being worn under skirts, but pockets hoops and panniers were now starting to come into fashion.


At this time, perhaps the most iconic addition to dress in the 18th century, engagantes, came into fashion. These beautiful stacked sleeve ruffles, made from the same fabric as the main dress, were often complimented by a series of additional ruffles made from a lightweight, floaty fabric like organza. These were worn from the 1750s to around 1775.


As the century progressed, the waistline which initially sat quite low on the torso, creating long, conical shapes, was slowly rising, as well as the hairstyles! In the 1770s, the polonaise (a dress with looped up skirts) came into style and hairstyles became very high and elaborate.


(A good film for the late 1700s is 'The Duchess', some beautiful costumes and very high hairstyles!)


Bodices now mostly closed in the front, no longer with the aid of a stomacher. The polonaise and other looped-up skirt styles went out of fashion in the 1780s, being replaced by the Italian gown. False rumps overtook pocket hoops and panniers in popularity, and big behinds were now in trend!

American Duchess' Italian Gown Reproduction.


Printed cottons were the most desirable material towards the end of the period, but because they were being imported from the Indies, English fabric manufacturers protested and the fabrics were banned from being imported or worn in 1721. However, these laws were not easily enforced with the profusion of people wearing them.


Mathieu Marais, Journal et Mémoires

‘A law was passed on 8 July 1721 giving the penalties against those who sell or wear cottons.’ 1721

‘The ladies are again wearing robes of Indian cotton although this has so often been prohibited; another law was passed on the 5 July which will again be ignored in three months time.’ 1723


By the latter half of the 18th century, Europe had learned how to print their own cottons and the law was repealed.


The saque, or sack gown, is probably the most recognisable style of dress from the 18th century. It was a derivation of the mantua, so it is difficult to pin down when exactly it began being worn, but there are examples from the early 1700s. As the century progressed, the shape grew wider at the sides, but remained thin to create a striking and unique look.


It was worn throughout the period, but by the 1780s, it was only being worn for the most formal of occasions, such as court dress.


Court dress stayed largely the same during the 18th century, the saque dress being the most formal garment a woman could wear.


'Mrs Freeman thought it would be a sad worry to her, as she had not been at court since Mr Freeman’s death, and was fearful no suit would do; but luckily on her going to the mantua-maker’s she found no alteration in the fashion for court dress for years, whereas common ones change every month.’ Passages from the Diary of Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys, 1785


In the 1790s, the round gown, or Chemise de la Reine (the Queen's chemise) became popular.


Simplicity in clothing had gripped the nation, and this style of dress was most often made of plain white linen, with perhaps a sash at the waist to add some colour. The waistline was higher than in previous styles, a precursor to the empire-waisted dresses of the Regency period.


Georgian Glossary:


(These are words that I have found in my research which I feel are unknown to modern audiences. I have tried to take them from contemporary sources, so some of their definitions may have changed over time and mean something different in, say, the Victorian period. Keep this in mind when doing research of your own! If you have any corrections or words you would like to add, please do let me know!)


Robings: The tabs on either side of an open robe bodice.

Callamanca: Glazed woollen lining.

Calash: Large hood worn by women, stiffened with cane.

Pattens: A protective over shoe.

Furbelows: Trimming.

Engagantes: Waterfall, or stacked, sleeves.

Criardes: Stiff under petticoats with hip pads and bustles.

Steinkirck: Neckerchiefs worn by women briefly in the 1690s.

Tippets or Palatines: Scarf worn around the neck and shoulders.

Sempstresses or couturières: Seamstresses.

Marchande des modes: Milliner (but also made other things; accessories, caps etc.).

Dress ornaments: Pompons.

Trimmings: Agréments.

Mantelet: Cape.

Pelisse: Plisse.

Court mantilla: Mantille du Cour.

Aune: 118cm.


~


Coming up for the rest of this Georgian month: an in-depth look at the open robe, saque gown and Chemise de la Reine. Let me know which one you're most looking forward to!


Until next time,

Aisha x


Sources:

  • ‘Costume In Detail’ by Nancy Bradfield

  • ‘18th Century Dressmaking’ by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox

  • ‘Aristocrats- The Illustrated Companion to the Television Series’ by Stella Tillyard

  • ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh

  • 'Patterns of Fashion 1' by Janet Arnold

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