Dress Design: An Account of Costume for Artists and Dressmakers



In the early part to the middle of this century the trimmings were chiefly of gold or silver lace, real lace, and purfled silk, mostly of the same material as the dress: a bow was often worn on the breast, and also in the front of the sleeve cuff. Purfled or ruched trimming generally ran down the front of the dress from the neck to the hem of the skirt in the Second Georgian dress, and gathered borders or decorations of curved forms were in use. The skirts usually had only one flounce till the reign of George III, when the trimmings became more elaborate, and gauze and imitation flowers were festooned upon the skirts, with ribbons and tassels and padded designs standing out in strong relief; some charming gimp trimmings are also seen.

The lace ruffles of a fan shape which finished the earlier sleeves till about 1745 were sometimes of lace, interwoven with gold, silver, and coloured silk needlework, and this was no doubt the forerunner of the use of the more solid material itself. The setting of the sleeve finish is interesting to note all through this period, for it was beautifully treated in balancing the effect of the dress. The square cuff with the deep lace fall was big in style, and the later closely-fitted elbow piece, richly gathered, was happily conceived, but no finer setting could have been applied to the sack-back dress than the large fan or double fan with its lace fall. The edges of the early fan-finished sleeves were of curved and scalloped forms, the latter shaping often being seen in the later sleeves.

With George III we notice designs in straw work, decorations of imitation flowers in ribbon-work and various materials, and much taste in the choice of colour schemes, while the tassels of this period were delightful creations. The designs of stuffs at the early part of the century were generally of fine strong colour blends, but in the middle period there was much questionable taste displayed in the heavy massing of patterns, but this soon improved with the striped character crossed by running flowers which was quite ideal in type for costume keeping, grace, and lightness, with a beautiful interchange of colour.

The quilted silk and satin petticoats are a special feature to note in these times; many simple and effective designs were in use, and they added much glitter to the scheme. Aprons were also beautiful examples of needlework, and were worn with the best of dresses to the middle of the century; the earlier ones generally had a scalloped edging, and many had pockets; gold lace edging or fringe was often used in the time of George II, and they were all finely decorated with needlework in gold, silver, or coloured silks. The white aprons were also of consummate needlecraft, and hanging pockets worn at the sides were also a decorated feature, but these only showed when the dress was worn tucked up. The later style of dress became much simpler, consisting chiefly of gathered flounce settings, fichus, and large mob caps; these were often daintily embroidered with tambour work and large bow and sash settings, making delightful costumes.

Bags, muffs, gloves, and shoes were all chosen for the display of needlecraft, while artists and jewellers used all their skill on the fans, patch-boxes, and �tuis, and even the dress materials were often painted by hand, while many painted Chinese silks were also utilised.


The hair was dressed in a simple manner, with two curls parted from the centre of the forehead, and curved inwards on the brow. A loose ringlet or two were brought on to the left shoulder, the rest being gathered into a back-knot. Feathers or flowers were arranged on top, generally with a pair of lace lappets falling to the back; these also adorned the cap, which still bore the front goffered frills set out as in the last reign, but these were diminished in size and were mostly of one row. We note probably the last stage of this style appearing in a print of Hogarth's, dated 1740.

Fig. 82.—Bodice types. Period 1690-1720.

Fig. 83.—Costume type. 1695-1710.

Hoods and capes or cloaks, and long black fichus or wraps, were the chief coverings, as the head-dress did not allow of hats being worn, but with the small frilled caps a little straw hat, or a low-crowned felt with a largish brim, are seen, and a small lace frill round the neck began to appear. Bodices with a low curved neck often had a short skirt or shaped pieces, as well as a shaped short sleeve over a gathered lawn one, while many wore long sleeves to the wrist, and a waistbelt is sometimes noted. There was also the sleeve spreading in width to the elbow, with a turned-up square cuff. The front of the bodice may be remarked with bands fastening across, and this became a feature in many dresses later in this century, otherwise it set closely over the shoulders to a V shape at the waist, and was filled with a stomacher of fine needlework, bows, or the ends of the lawn fichu laced or caught in by a big bow. A full, loose gown, with the fullness pleated to back and front, came in, the front being held by a bow and the back allowed to fall loose or crossed with a large bow at the back of waist, as in the museum specimen, Fig. 85. This became the more elaborate sack-back dress.

Fig. 84.—Period 1700-1725.

The skirts began to be set out in a bell form, and trains were in much favour; the overskirts were parted in front, and many looped up to the back in a similar manner to the last reign. Small aprons of fine embroidery were worn with the best of dresses, and embroidered pockets are seen when the skirts were thrown back. Petticoats of fine quilting became much appreciated, and tall sticks were carried by ladies. Pointed shoes with high heels and latchets tied or buckled, the top of the fronts being mostly cut into four points, or they had a square finish.


The wigs of the full ringlet style were still the fashion, but a simpler character is noticeable, the hair being combed back off the forehead and allowed to fall in looser waves. But many began to set a mode of smaller "coiffure," with their own hair caught in curls by a bow at the back, and curls over each ear. Powder came into use with the smart set, and a big bow and bag to finish the back of wig appeared, giving a smarter appearance to the white hair.

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Plate XX.

  • (a) Gold-embroidered Muslin Dress. 1795-1805.
  • (b) Nine Aprons. Between 1690 and 1850.
  • (c) Dress of Spotted Stockinette. 1795-1808.

Fig. 85.—Bodice types. 1700-1725.

The hat, sometimes of white felt, was the same three-cornered type, edged with feathers and banded with broad gold braids or silver lace. The neckwear was a bind of lawn, with a long fall finished with lace.

The coat remained long to the knees, but took a greater fullness in the side pleats of the skirt. Large buttons and buttonholes, 3 inches long, are seen, with the same on the cuff, which was worn very large, often 9 inches broad, and mostly of a curved outline, and of another coloured brocade; a tight undersleeve is also seen with these. The coat was sometimes heavily decorated with needlework or braids of gold down the front, pockets, seams, and cuffs. The pocket was wide and set higher in the skirt, and the back opening of coat was decorated by several horizontal braids to the two side pleats.

A long, full-skirted waistcoat, of rich materials or needlework, was at times braided and fringed at the skirt with gold, the pockets covered with a large flap, and five buttons fastened it or were placed as decorations just below it. The front buttons were often reduced to four at the waist, as it was still fashionable to show the lawn shirt.

Breeches were of the same cut as in the former reign, with five or six side buttons at the knee, and stockings with embroidered clocks were worn rolled over outside the breeches as before.

Shoes were square at the toes and not quite so long, while the heels were still rather heavy, and red was the mode. They had a high square top at the front instep, and buckles fastened the latchets. Muffs were often carried by the dandies, and walking-sticks, with tassel and loop, were slung on the arm; besides a sword, which, passing through the side pleats and out at the back, helped to set out the coat, which was often stiffened in the skirts. Gloves, with short gauntlets very angular or curved in shape, were trimmed with gold fringe; the backs were also richly embroidered with gold or silver.


Fig. 86.—1725-1750.

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Plate XXI.—23 Boots and Shoes. From 1800-75.

  • 1., 2. 1800-1820.
  • 3. 1810-1828.
  • 5., 8., 9., 10. 1820-1830.
  • 13., 16., 16A. 1830-1855.
  • 4., 6., 7., 12., 14., 15., 17. 1850-1865.
  • 11., 18.-22. 1860-1875.

Fig. 87.—Period 1725-1750.

Fig. 88.—Modes, 1750-1770.

Fig. 89.—Various Styles in Cut Back of Bodice.

The hair was very simply gathered from the forehead and taken up to a knot of curls at the back. Occasionally a group of curls was allowed to fall behind, or a curl was arranged to fall on one shoulder, and waved curls of the Queen Anne type were still seen on many people. Caps, with long dropping points in front, sometimes tied under the chin or with long lappets at the back, were the chief favourites, also a small frilled cap. Shallow-crowned straw hats with various widths of brim; hoods and capes, both short and long, are seen, besides light silks draped from the hair to the waist, feathers, flowers, and ribbons being worn in the head-dress. Richly embroidered aprons were worn with the finest dresses.

The sack-back dress was very full, and started right across the shoulders in two double box-pleats, which were kept trim by being sewn flat for two to four inches down. Sleeves to the elbow were rather full, and gathered at the shoulders, with a square cuff often decorated with a bow in front, and a fan of lace, sometimes in several rows, fell from beneath. Sleeves finishing in a shaped edge are occasionally seen. The skirts were made for the very round hoop setting, and were gathered in flat pleats on either hip. A wide pleat or two came from the shoulders down the front sometimes as a continuation of the sack-back. These pleats, meeting at the waist, formed a V shape, which was filled by an embroidered stomacher, or made of the same material, crossed by bands, bows, or rows of lace. The flat front pleat was occasionally embroidered, and gradually widened to the bottom of the skirt. Very pointed toes to the shoes, and high heels, with tied or buckled latchets, are seen, the tops of the front often being shaped into four points.


Long, full wigs are still seen amongst older men, but several new shapes appear as illustrated (Fig. 90), and the black bow and bag became very large; a black ribbon attached to it, with a bow in front, came round the neck. We also see the ends of the wig made into a long, tight pigtail. Hats were of the same three-cornered shape, rather fuller in size, and the feathered edging was still favoured. A hat of the type of Fig. 105 was also worn; and the loose cap with a tassel was put on when the wig was removed (see Fig. 104).

Fig. 90.—Wig types, 1st half 18th century.

Fig. 91.—List of Dated Shoes and Boots.

  1. 1700-1750.
  2. 1700-1780.
  3. 1700-1780.
  4. 1700-1750.
  5. 1700-1760.
  6. 1720-1780.
  7. 1690-1720.
  8. 1700-1750.
  9. 1700-1740.
  10. 1740-1760.
  11. 1702-1720.
  12. 1730-1750.
  13. 1760-1800.
  14. 1730-1760.
  15. 1740-1770.
  16. 1770-1780.
  17. 1740-1780.
  18. 1786-1796.
  19. 1774-1784.
  20. 1775-1790.
  21. Sole of shoe No. 22.
  22. 1776-1800.
  23. 1780-1790.

The neck had the same lawn bind with a long lace ruffle, and the coat the same full cut as in the last reign, and the large rounded cuff was still in favour, but many varieties of size were now worn. A vertical pocket is seen occasionally on cloth coats, also a cape and turned-down collar are noted, while several appear with a very small upright collar. Buttons were still worn on some coats, right down the front; but on many coats the buttons stopped level with the pocket.

A short-skirted coat came in amongst the dandies towards the end of the reign, and was stiffened out on the skirts; these mostly had a tighter sleeve and cuff. The same decorations continued in use. Waistcoats were much the same, and were cut to the length of the coats, or about four inches shorter; they were buttoned higher, the lace often falling outside.

Breeches were the same in cut, fastened with six buttons and a buckle at the side of the knee. The stockings, usually decorated with clocks, were still worn rolled outside the knee amongst smart people. The stiff high boots or gaiters generally had a full curved piece at the top, and short gaiters to the calf are also to be noticed.

The shoes were square-toed or of a roundish form, with a short or rather high square front, and heels of various heights. Patches and make-up were used by the fops, and swords and sticks carried, the latter being very high, to 46 inches.

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