18th Century Western Women's

Fashion and Historical Events

1700 - 1709

Early on, women would wear a mantua, which consisted of fabric draped from the shoulders with elbow-length sleeves and wide cuffs. It was usually made of either silk or wool and was initially designed for comfort but changed into a more formal garment later on. Silk with bold patterns was also considered fashionable at the time.

Early 18th Century

The 18th century was a time when significant economic, political, and philosophical changes took place, and fashion was not exempt from change either.


The ideal figure for most of the century featured cone-shaped torsos and wide hips. Stays (18th century equivalent of corsets) would be worn underneath the outer garment to achive the cone-shape. Wide skirts, which were achieved using hoops, came into style in 1710 and could make the waist appear smaller.

Skirts in this decade became more dome-shaped, as opposed to cone-shaped skirts from the previous decade.


Court dress was considered to be strict and demanded formality according to etiquette. Sleeves in the earlier decades would be bell-shaped and there would be ruffles worn underneath.

France was where women's fashion and decorative arts in the 18th century was mainly influenced.


A few new types of garments would be introduced in the first half of the century. The Robe à la Française (right) also called the sack-back gown, was looser-fitting and had pleats at the back.

Clothing in this century, particularly court dress was characterized as very extravagant and expressed the luxury in the lifestyles of the upper-class.


Wide silhouettes were a distinct characteristic of 18th century fashion for both men and women. For women, this was achieved through wearing multiple petticoats or contraptions attatched near the waist. This was in contrast to the tall, narrow look from the late 17th century. The distinction between different clothes for which occasion were also established in this period. Full dress would only be worn in court and formal occasions, though such occasions became more lenient on this as time went on.

Mid 18th Century

Strict rules regarding who in the social heiarchy could wear what, known as Sumptuary Laws, controlled how people dressed.


The mid-1700's was when fashion became more over-the-top. Wicker panniers were worn underneath the skirt to add excessive width to the sides and created a swaying effect while the wearer walked. While excessively wide skirts drew a lot of ridicule, it would remain a staple of court dress until 1760.

Because of this, clothing became expensive and hard to obtain.


Fashion was heavily inspired by the elaborate and intricate characteristics of Rococo art. Though western fashion differed depending on geographical location. For example, French fashion in the 18th century was more showy in comparison to the simple yet practical English styles at the time.

Sumptuary Laws were eventually disregarded during the Enlightenment as popular ideas were appealing to the population.


Fashion in the previous few decades, particularly court dress, was said to be very uncomfortable and restricted movement. The Enlightenment period was a time when various ideas including that of a more egalitarian society became especially popular. During the Enlightenment, clothing outside of court dress became simpler and were designed for comfort rather than display.

Late 18th Century

In the years leading up to the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, the current queen at the time, was infamous in the eyes of the impoverished public as a lavish spender.


Due to the consumer revolution a few decades earlier, fashionable styles became more available and affordable to all social classes in the form of cheaper copies. Waistlines in this decade became much higher and skirt width reduced over the course of a few decades.

As highly disliked as Marie Antoinette was back then, what she wore would still impact fashion trends, even after her execution.


Neoclassical styles in the last decades of the 18th century were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman aesthetics. Light muslin gowns resembling chemises were sometimes worn in place of expensive and elaborate ones. Skirt hoops were eventually discarded except in court and crescent-shaped padding was worn at the center of the back instead. Waistlines rose up to just under the bust and became known as "Empire" waistlines and lasted well into the early 1800's.

Eventually, English styles gained traction as they expressed key values of sobriety, propriety, and responsibility.