Dress Design: An Account of Costume for Artists and Dressmakers


The hair was treated in much the same manner as with George I up to the end of this reign—gathered back from the forehead to a bunch of curls at the back. The small hats and caps, often worn together, continued of the same character; the dresses also remained similar in cut. The sack-back dress was supreme in the fifties, when it was set with panniers, together with the hoops, but the latter were not so much worn towards the end of this reign, except for the "grand dress." Quilted petticoats were much worn, but flounces are not a feature on the skirts till the latter part of this period. The simpler dress was of various lengths, and was at times worn quite short up to 1740. The corset bodice was still in use, with lawn sleeves: square cuffs and lace ruffles held the lead throughout this time, but the fan-shaped sleeve finish to the elbow, in the same material as the dress, began to appear about 1750, generally with a waved or scalloped edge. Pointed toes and high-heeled shoes continued, with either tied or buckled latchets, and long gloves and mittens were in use.

Fig. 92.—Three hoops and four pannier forms.

Quilted designs on Petticoats, 18th century.

Fig. 93.


Wigs with double points at the back, short curled or of long pigtailed shapes, some with side curls, others curled all round the front, were worn. Large bows and bags, or no bows, finished the back hair, and the bow to the front of the neck was in use from the early part of this reign. Long coats, as in the last reign, and short coats with stiffened skirts were used; many with braided seams and fronts, also a braided opening at the back. Large round cuffs and big square ones, caped coats, and coats with turn-down collars were all in the mode, and the "maccaroni" fashions started about 1760, with absurdities in small hats, clubbed wigs, and very short coats. High sticks and crook sticks, canes and swords continued in use.

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Plate XXII.

  • (a) Linen Dress. 1795-1808. Pattern of Bodice, see p. 316.
  • (b) Silk Bodice. 1825-30.
  • (c) Silk Bodice. 1818-25.

Fig. 94.—Wig types, second half 18th century.

The pocket flaps were of a curved form, with a rounded centre still, and many of the shoes had a high square front, high heels, and square toes: according to the caricature prints of Boitard, the fashionable hats were smaller in 1730, and much larger ten years later; very full skirts at the former date, and smaller and less stiffened at the latter. Stockings were often still worn outside the knee. Shoes reached an extreme high square front at the latter date, and gloves with curved or square cuffs are to be noted.

Fig. 95.—First Half Eighteenth Century.


This long reign, like that of Queen Victoria, embraces several changes of style. Up till about 1785 white powder was still used for the hair, reaching its fullest extravagance in the middle of the seventies, set with pearls, bandeaus, caps, lace, flowers and feathers, and about 1776 the top was widened considerably. The front hair, gathered from the forehead, was pressed in a forward curve over a high pad, with one to three curls at the sides and one at the shoulders, the back hair being arranged in a loose loop, curled on the top and set with a large bow at the back; a small round hat with very small low crown (usually decorated with flowers and silks gathered into puffs, or ribbons and small feathers) was tilted right on the front. About 1780 large mob caps with a big bow on the front came in, and were generally worn together with the tall-crowned hat or the large-brimmed hat in favour at this time. A cape with smallish hood worn in the earlier reigns was supplanted about 1777 by the calash, a huge hood set out with whalebone which came to cover the full head-dresses. The heavier caped or hooded cloak, sometimes with side opening for the arms, and usually trimmed with fur, still remained in use to 1800.

Fig. 96.—Costume notes, 1770-1780.

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Plate XXIII.

  • (a) Muslin Dress with Tinsel Design. 1798-1810.
  • (b) Silk Dress. Period George IV.
  • (c) Satin and Gauze Dress. 1820-30.

Fig. 97.—Head Dress. Period 1780-1795.

Fig. 98.—Hats and Caps during period 1780-1795.

Fig. 99.—Hats during period 1790-1800.

The bodice retained the same shape as in the former reign, rather longer in the points back and front, with a large fan finish to the sleeve, double or single; this became supplanted by a much-gathered elbow-piece, sometimes eight inches deep, gathered in four rows. Small drawn gathers started round the waist of the skirt, for the side panniers and hoops were being less worn, except for the "smart gown," but bunching, reefing, and looping took their place in effect, and quilted petticoats remained while this character of dress lasted. The later sack-back dress was sewn tighter to the body, and usually started in a narrower set at the back, while the full pleat from the shoulder down the front went out, and the neck was more displayed by lower bodice fronts, which continued to be set with bows, jewels, lace, or embroidery. Sack-back jackets were often worn in the seventies; when the sack began to disappear, it took the form of overlapped seams on the bodice. The decorated side pockets are noted in prints showing tuck-up dresses to 1775. The jacket bodice of the same form described in the preceding reign was perhaps more in evidence till 1780, not so long in the skirt as in the earlier reigns, but after this date it took a longer skirt, which was often pleated at the back, with a very low neck and short waist.

Fig. 100.—Period 1780-1795.

About 1780 we find a change of style appearing in a shorter waist, with less pointed setting, having often a rounded point or square tabs, and even a shaped finish to the corset front, which was sometimes used like a waistcoat effect under the cut-away dresses seen after 1770 (see Fig. 99, p. 221). A general tendency to imitate male attire is apparent, and the front of the bodice was set with lapels and straps buttoned across (though I have noted this latter character in the early part of this century), and long coats with this character were much worn, with two or three capes. The sleeves are sometimes set over a tight undersleeve, in fact the longer sleeve to the wrist became fashionable. With this change a short gathered skirt is seen on some bodices, and the full gathered skirt was bunched out at the back on a bustle, of which I give an illustration (p. 212), the low neck being filled with a large lawn fichu; a wide belt was generally worn, or a wide sash and bow at the back or side is seen with the lighter dresses, these being simple in style, just gathered at the waist, with short full sleeves set with a frill, and another frill was also arranged round the neck.

Fig. 101.

About 1790 the mode again began to change to a classic style, still higher in the waist, with a short tight sleeve, at times puffed in the upper part, or an outer and under sleeve, as per illustration A, Plate XXII (see p. 215). The fronts of this type of bodice were mostly buttoned or pinned up to the shoulders over a tight underfront, the skirt opening about 18 inches at the sides, thus saving a fastening at the back. I have illustrated some very interestingly cut jackets of this period from my collection, as A, Plate XXIV (see p. 231); the sleeves were very long and were ruckled on the arm, as likewise were the long gloves or mittens of this time. A long scarf or drape was carried with this style, and a round helmet-like hat in straw or a turban was adopted. High sticks were still carried by ladies till the nineties, and umbrellas or parasols; the former came into vogue about 1770, the latter about six years later. Muffs of beautifully embroidered silk and satin were set with purfled trimmings, gold and silver lace, or bows and ribbons; otherwise they were of furs or feathers. They remained rather small up to 1780, when a very large shape set in, which continued till the end of the reign; the quantity of beautiful fans of this century must be so well known as to need no description. The highest artistry was concentrated on them.

Fig. 102.—Period 1790-1800.

Fig. 103.—Costume notes, 1790-1800.

Fig. 104.—Lounge Caps worn during removal of Wig.

Shoes at the beginning of this reign were set on very high spindle heels; the toe-front became rounded, the instep-front a pointed shape, and wide latchets were buckled till about 1785, but fashion discarded them earlier; for about 1780 the shoes became very small at the heel, and pointed again at the toe. When the latchets went out, the pointed instep remained for a time, but a low round front appeared, and the heel practically vanished just before 1800. These later shoes were decorated on the front by needlework or incised leather openwork underlaid with another colour. The soles at this time were extremely quaint in shape, and the shoes were tied sandal fashion up the ankle.

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Plate XXIV.

  • (a) Outdoor Silk Jacket. 1798-1808.
  • (b) Embroidered Muslin Bodice. 1816-30.
  • (c) Embroidered Muslin Bodice. 1824-25.
  • (d) Satin and Gauze Bodice. 1820-30.


The wigs, which were rather high in the front of the crown in the earlier part, began to cast off the most eccentric forms, and became just curled, rather full at the sides, and tied with a bow at the back: dull pink powder became a favoured hue from about 1780; most people began to return to their own hair, and one might see many without long hair in the nineties. The last type of dressing the hair in imitation of the wig form was a long, tightly braided pigtail at the back, with one or even two side curls over the ear, and side whiskers were allowed to fill up to them; thus when the short hair set the fashion, side whiskers came in.

Hats were still worn of the three-cornered shape, but the favourites became a front cockade hat and a hat with a rounded crown and rather wide brim, sometimes turned up on one side; a short type of top-hat was also often seen, and later became the fashion. The same lawn and lace cravat developed into more of a plain white stock, with a frilled shirt-front.

The coat was worn much tighter in the arms and was smartly cut, with the fronts running away into a narrow tailed skirt. The pockets often began to take a plain square form, with or without buttons; the buttons on the front of the coat stopped at the waist—many cuffs are seen without them; and the side pleats, set more to the back, were pressed and narrower. Both the plain and turn-over collars were set up high in the neck, large cut-steel buttons were introduced in the early seventies, and many fancy china buttons, besides the gilt silver and paste ones were in use. A new type of coat made its appearance with a high turn-over collar and large lapels, and a sudden cut-in of the coat-front high in the waist, giving a very long-tailed effect to the skirt. A cuff shape with these was mostly made in one with the sleeve and buttoned at the side towards the back, and when the cuff was additional, it seldom had buttons, as formerly.

A greatcoat with one, two, or three capes was a picturesque garment, and a leather-covered bottle was often carried when riding a distance, of which I have an example in my collection.

Fig. 105.

Waistcoats, which had become much shorter, were now giving place to a type with a straight-across front and turned-back lapels at the neck; these large lapels were mostly worn outside over the coat lapel. The waistcoats were often double-breasted with an embroidered design down the front between the double row of buttons, and the straight pockets of these had no flaps; they shortened at the waist in character with the lapelled coat, but were worn lower than the cut-in shape of the coat, showing about 3 inches when the coat was fastened. Breeches became very tight, and trousers begin to appear after 1790. Striped stockings and suits were much in favour. Top-boots with rather long brown tops were worn, or high boots with a curved top, with a gold tassel set in front, were seen. The shoes with latchets and buckles had a low front on the instep, and from about 1780 took a rather pointed oval toe shape; the heels were mostly worn shorter. Swords were not so much in use except on great occasions, but sword-sticks were carried, and heavy club-sticks were fashionable before 1800. Patches were little used after the seventies, but the snuff-box was still indispensable. The double long purse with central rings and tassels at the ends was carried, of knitted silk or of leather, the former with steel beads and coloured silks worked together after 1780: small bag purses were also in use, usually set in gilt mounts and made in the same methods with a tassel below.

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Plate XXV.

  • (a) Silk Dress. 1800-10.
  • (b) Cotton Dress. 1800-10.
  • (c) Embroidered Muslin Dress. 1820-30 (Pattern, see p. 339).
  • (d) Silk Gauze Dress. 1824-30.

Fig. 106.

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