VAV!/August 20, 2013
"During the Colonial period, formal dress clearly marked status in the social hierarchy."
Women's fashion had undergone many characteristic modifications prior to 1750 and more so into the eighteenth century. Fashion trends were being set in the Old World, from France to England, and Colonial women were all too painfully aware of the need to adapt towards a sophisticated and up-to-date appearance.
The popular style of dress, modified for the occasion, was characterized by a full skirted silhouette. The look included form fitting bodices paired with long hoop skirts of washable linen, cotton or wool atop shifts and form fitting corsets (stays). Stays were the rage or curse for women's wear during the Colonial era and were inset with unforgiving whalebone...a feature that could tend to restrict the movements and activities of the wearers. Little wonder why. (Its been recorded that ladies of the day were considered quite the 'loose woman' if not wearing their stays when out in public.) A Stomacher, a bit of inverted triangular fabric that held the front of the gown together, was also part of the overall dress presentation (The Stomacher was carried over from the European representation in women's clothing.)
By 1750-1775, hoop skirts lost their voluminous appearance and panniers were added. Panniers were side-hoops that resembled a woman's hips. They were also referred to as 'false hips'.
The dress style for ladies continued to have emphasis on the narrow waist but, the bodice shifted to a low-necked gown trimmed with fabrics, lace ruffles, or a fichu tucked into the low neckline.The front of the skirt was open to feature a separate petticoat, which made up the ensemble.
By the 1780s, a glimpse of delicate thread stockings held in place with ribbon-like garters, could be seen beneath ankle length skirts that were surprisingly entirely appropriate.
Shoes were made of silk fabrics, worsteds, or leathers and with or without heels featured the 'louis' curved heels.. Often time, depending on the occasion, they may have featured buckles, clasps or ties.
During the century, fingerless gloves or mitts were elbow-length rising just below the edge of the elbow length gown sleeve ruffles or lace. The gloves served as protection from the seasonal elements..
Fussing with a lightweight cap set upon the head was much more preferred than maintaining the impossibly intricate hairstyles and tall headdresses that had come into vogue in the 1770s. Hats made of chips or straw were in vogue between the 1730s to the 1770s and continued to change throughout the decades.
As the 18th century came to a close, fashions were beginning to change...and dramatically so. Styles became slimmer and were made of lightweight fabrics. Women were beginning to shed the Stays as the waistline rose to just beneath the bust. Shawls became a much needed accessory to the entire look.