The History of Fashion and Dress
17th Century Europe
Read the online "lecture" on dress in the 17th Century below and click on any links that interest you. You are not required to read all the material on all the links, however:
Dress in 17th Century Europe
The trend towards an accelerated rate of change in fashion seen in the 16th Century continued into the 17th Century. However the 17th Century is further complicated by a considerable fragmentation of fashion in the West. Mainstream fashion reflected sharpened divisions among Europeans in religion, nationality and class that had been broadened by the wars of the Reformation and by the "enclosure movement" (aka the early part of the Agricultural Revolution).
So, for example members of various conservative sects of Protestantism in this period develop "plain dress" (a style that in greatly modified form is still worn by Amish and Mennonite people) as a form of anti-fashion, and conservative clergy preach sermons on the sinfulness of fine dress. (see WILLIAM PRYNNE, The Unloveliness of Lovelockes, London, 1628) Conservative Catholics at the Spanish court, on the other hand keep wearing fashions from the previous century well into the 17th Century.
Spanish Infanta of the 1660's from Stibbert based on a Painting by Velasquez
Spanish courtiers at the wedding of Louis XIV of France to Maria Therese, the daughter of the King of Spain, in the 1660's are shown wearing stiffened Whisk collars and ruffs, and the poor Infanta is trapped in a huge "French Farthingale" over 40 years after the French dumped the fashion.
The dress of the poor is noticeably more ragged in this period, as the "Beggar" engravings of Jacques Callot will attest, because in many parts of Europe the peasantry were being displaced from their homes in large numbers by either the numerous religious wars of the period, or the Agricultural Revolution.
Mainstream fashionable dress in the early 17th Century began with the silhouette left over from the previous period, stiffened, slashed, be-ruffed, and stuffed. This "Jacobean" style continued with only slight alteration for another 10-20 years in most places, but even from the beginning, there is a slight visible softening beginning at around 1600. First it is only a greater use of soft fabrics to cover the enormous hoops worn by the women, then lace ruffs begin to be starched less, puffs inside slashings are unstuffed, and finally hoops get discarded altogether.
Henri IV in 1600, Gentleman in the fashion of 1605 (Quicherat)
After 1620 the fashion loses all stiffness whatever, and most ruffs fall into soft pleats, and formerly standing "whisk" collars (like the one seen in Shakespeare's best known portrait) become un-starched "falling collars".
Men's breeches get softer and longer, and the waists of their doublets went higher giving an elongated silhouette. Many men discarded shoes in favor of high topped boots. This is the style people associate with The Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas and Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.
Gentleman in the fashion of 1630. (Quicherat)
Fashionable men wore their hair longer, and it stays long for the rest of the century. Conservative men, especially Protestant clergy, kept their hair shorter--only shoulder length. During the English Civil War the Puritans (and other Protestant religious conservatives) who opposed King Charles I and supported Parliament were derisively called "Roundheads" by their longer haired opponents, and the name has stuck to this day. Londoners were warned by conservative clergy that the sexual confusion caused by young men growing a "lovelock" or long piece of hair, and by women cutting and frizzing hair into bangs was the beginning of a slide into mortal sin.
Women's dress in the same period (1620-40) underwent a very similar style shift, waists rose slightly above the natural waistline, collars softened, hair softened, and hoops went out in favor of a more vertical line. The main exciting innovation is that women's wrists, and eventually lower arms began to be bared again, for the first time since the end of the Roman period. Folding fans, first imported from Asia in the late 16th Century begin to be locally produced and become the fashion as well.
Mid- 17th Century dress continued in the softer style, but had a change in the waistline of both men and women by returning to the natural waist. Clothing and all other decorative arts also begin to acquire an excessive amount of ornamentation in what has come to be called the Baroque style.
The French began a fashion for trimming everything with bunches of ribbon, a style that got taken to the extreme in the early 1660's, when Louis XIV (popularly known as The Sun King) reached his majority and started setting the style for men's dress covered in ruffles and ribbons in a style known as "petticoat breeches".
Women's necklines dropped precipitously among the fashionable (in warm weather), while remaining thoroughly covered in linen among the conservative middle class.
The most powerful women in the second half of the Century are mainly mistresses, and so the "power" look for women becomes increasingly sexy. A fashion begins, late in this era for "dishabille" or dress that looks like a lady just went for a tumble in the broom closet. Conservative writers continue to decry the sensuous look of fashionable women's dress, but these critics increasingly are outnumbered by Restoration poets like Robert Herrick who say "A sweet disorder in the dress/ kindles in clothes, a wantonness.."
Continue reading the lecture:
Late 17th Century Fashion underwent another sharp shift where dress became even more markedly vertical in style. Women's sleeves in this period almost never cover the lower arms, a style that continues for another century.
Menswear takes an important shift during the Restoration of the English Monarchy, when Charles II decides to adopt the three piece suit, and shortly all Englishmen follow this practical, straightforward fashion.
After Louis XIV goes prematurely bald in the 1670's it also becomes the fashion for men to wear wigs instead of their natural hair. Wigs stay in fashion for men until the end of the next century.
Women adopt a wired lace headdress known as the Fontage to further heighten and elongate the silhouette in the 1680's-90's, a style that persists into the first decade of the next century.
Because the political systems in both England and France became more or less fixed in the late 17th Century for roughly the next 100 years (constitutional monarchy in England, absolute monarchy in France), the styles adopted in the last two decades of the 17th Century strongly influence the next century's dress, and the period 1680-1780 is one of the more stable fashion periods in history, undergoing gradual, rather than sudden changes in style.
This Concludes Week #5's Lesson
Return to Class Index
Sir Francis Bacon in
early 17th Century Long Gown |
1. Lady in the fashion of 1605. 2. Lady in the fashion of the end of the reign of
Henri IV. (Quicherat)
Marie de Medici (widow of Henri IV)
1613. Lady in formal dress of 1620. (Quicherat)
Portrait of Marshal de
before 1620, from an engraving of the time. Gentleman in the fashion of 1627 (Quicherat)
Mlle. d'Hautefort (Femmes)
Fashion of the year 1678 from an engraving in the Mercure galant (Quicherat)
Gentleman in the fashion of 1689, (Quicherat)
Mme de Maintenon (Louis XIV's second wife) and
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