At the end of the 18th century in pre-revolutionary America as well as in the reforming political climate of Europe, a dispersion in fashion trends appeared for a short period of time that would mirror the greater ideological changes of the century. In France, the disappearance of the court at Versailles suppressed extravagant fashion for a period, and the flare and flaunt of King Louis XIV’s noble class was replaced by the Republic’s simplification in style: mens fashions looked to the proletarian class somewhat and womens fashions sought the appeal of a Classical, Antiquity-inspired, aesthetic. Fashion in France also had strong implications for fashion elsewhere.
In England, there was a temporary shift away from the flare and excess luxury of the Georgian period and styles for both men and women were tempered in their tailoring for various reasons. Social class was less bound by costume than before and England, too, was adjusting its taste in fashion to a general cultural shift that applauded the country lifestyle over the aristocratic lifestyle. In both France and England, wigs fell out of fashion and a general sobriety dictated the cut and color of men’s and women’s clothing.
The change to a more comfortable attire for both men and women during this period was a culmination of periods of successive unrest in the political and cultural realms of 18th century Europe (and by extension, the 18th century American colonies). Although there were fitful bursts of extravagance in fashion circles, such as the style of the Macaronis in England, and the fad for women’s panniers (the undergarments women wore to amplify their skirts) towards the late 1700’s, there was a general tendency towards a universalism in clothing that expressed itself in simple lines and comfortable fabrics as well as in the manufacture of garments en masse. The lines of distinction between the classes and the political and economic hierarchies began to meld and fashion confirmed itself as the mirror of these changes, as it continues to do today.
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image: Print, women’s fashion’s in the style of Antiquity, c. 1800
image: Painting by Gerard of Mme Barbier-Walbonne, 1796
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