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Women’s dress styles in the 18th century

Fashions through the ages were full of silk and brocade. There were several styles of dress for women during the 18th century.  The first was the “mantua,” a gown that was fitted into the waist at the back and worn open at the front to show a matching or contrasting petticoat that was sometimes quilted for extra warmth and bulk.

From this evolved the graceful “sac,”or sack dress, with pleats at the back that hung unfitted from the shoulders.  A further development of this dress was the “polonaise” style, with its overskirt draped up at three points to show a decorative underskirt—a particular favorite of the French queen Marie Antoinette.

The sackback was the original silk, brocade dress of the 1770’s that had a pleated back.  The fitted bodice, which had by now replaced the stomacher was fastened at the front and laced up at the back under the pleat.  The open-fronted skirt revealed a matching petticoat.  For those of you that are wondering what a “stomacher” is, let me explain.  It is a decorative, V-shaped panel worn attached to the dress and was worn by unmarried women at ceremonial occasions.

Dresses were worn with padding called false-hips.  This “pannier” was introduced in France in about 1718.  These varied in size and shape—some royal court dresses were extremely wide and required a more robust pannier.

Pockets were also sewn into garments.  Pockets were made in pairs and attached to a tape that was tied around the waist under the skirt.  They were reached through a slit in the skirt. Handbags became an indispensable fashion accessory in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Ladies and gentlemen carried their possessions in bags and men sometimes hung money pouches on their belts.

Oh yes, there were bathing suits as far back as 350 B.C.  Allow me to share the story of bathing beauties next time..

About Sally Cowan (39 Articles)
After Keeping You in Stitches for over 45 years, Sally enjoys her memories of events that happened on her way to retirement. Author of 6 books, lectures, teaching, and TV host on PBS and now has time for her many cats and Snuggles, the dog. She also loves playing trumpet in the Anastasia Baptist Church orchestra.

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