Women's Fashion of the 18th Century

Part Five

here be music The Marquise de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1756

The Marquise de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1756

During the 1750s and 60s, the contouche became the most popular dress and was acceptable for formal, such as the official "state" portrait here. It subsequently developed to even more elegance: The front and sides closely hugged the waist now, the front was worn open to reveal a stomacher decorated with lace, embroidery and bows - of which each had a name and gallant meaning. Sometimes the bows would not sit on the stomacher as mere decoration, but be attached to the front of the gown to lace it closed.

More of the jupe was seen, so it had to have a (roughly horizontal) garniture of frills and rosettes. In fact, garniture went riot: artificial flowers, feathers, puffs, rosettes, frills, lace, and of course embroidery were all over the place. Instead of cuffs, the sleeves now had flounces from which multiple layers of bobbin lace flowed.

One of the most influential women of rococo Europe - not only fashionwise - shows off all of these features in her deshabillé, including the choker, tons of artificial pink roses, silver lace, frills with the edges pinked into scalloped shapes (the edges of which, again, are probably scalloped), and high-heeled, silver-embroidered slippers. What she doesn't show is the accessory that made her name immortal: the little bag called pompadour. That came later, long after her death. She herself didn't need one as the wide skirts could still accommodate large pockets which were worn tied around the waist on a waistband, i.e. separate from the rest of the clothing.

Instead of the wide, almost floor-length hoop skirts, smaller short hoops (half paniers) and later hoops like a basket over each hip (considérations or pocket hoops) were more widely worn. Except for highly formal occasions such as weddings and court, the wide and flat paniers were outdated by the early 1750s.

The colours were much like in the previous decades, but wide vertical stripes became popular. They could appear as actual stripes woven into the fabric, often livened up by small flowers winding along them, or as vertical floral garlands.

Hairdos continued deceptively simple and were almost always powdered. Ladies and gentlemen would put on a special cloak, walk into a small room (the powder room) holding up a mask in front of their face, and have servants work a device under the ceiling that shed powder all over them to achieve an even distribution of powder on the wig.


The music is the first aria from the cantata Il Nome (1761) by Johann Adolf Hasse. Sequenced by yours truly.