The 18th century was a time in history known as the Age of Enlightenment and was marked with revolution throughout the Western world. While in the past, fashion was modelled after nobility, the Age of Enlightenment introduced a new concept in the fashion realm: The styles of the middle class were adopted by the upper class.
The mantua debuted in the 1690s and its popularity continued throughout the mid-18th century. The mantua is characterised as a loose dress that was draped over the shoulders and worn open in the front, revealing a coordinating petticoat.
The front part of the dress was pinned back with buttons or ribbons and featured a train, the length of which was determined by social class rank. In the early part of the century, the mantua could be worn with cuffed sleeves that reached the elbows and with elbow-length gloves.
The Hoop Skirt
The hoop skirt gained popularity during the 1720s and remained a staple in women's clothing for the remainder of the century. Fashioned out of linen and shaped with whalebone or cane, the hoop was worn over undergarments and under the petticoat. The hoop gave the petticoat its shape, which ranged from round to fan shaped.
During the 1740s, wide-hoop skirts reached their height in popularity and it wasn't uncommon for the hoop's width to be wider than arm-span of the lady who wore it. However, this style fell out of fashion by the mid-1750s, with the exception of it being worn during weddings or in the royal court.
Robe a l'Anglaise
During the 1780s, the middle class began to have a strong impression upon the fashion world. Dresses were often made out of printed cotton rather than silk, and the robe a l'anglaise became the most popular dress style.
The dress was a descendant of the mantua, and like the mantua, it had an opening in the front that showed a petticoat made from the same pattern. However, the robe a l'anglaise was not drawn up on the sides and did not feature an ornate chemise, as the mantua did during the early part of the century.
The fashion world, which revolved around fashions popular in France, moved toward simplified styles during the French Revolution in the late 1780s and 1790s. This style was heavily influenced by the dresses worn by women in ancient Greece.
White cotton dresses with empire waists were the style by the late century, which gave way to the Victorian style of the 1800s. Women also began to wear flat sandals and shoes, a complete departure from the high-heeled style that dominated the first 90 years of the century.
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- Union County College; "The Eighteenth Century;" Dr. Harold Damerow; April 29, 2003
- Victoria & Albert Museum: Mantua
- La Couturiere Parisienne; Women's Fashion of the 18th Century, Part One; 2010
- Victoria & Albert Museum: Side Hoop & Shift 1700s
- La Couturiere Parisienne; Women's Fashion of the 18th Century, Part Three; 2010
- La Couturiere Parisienne; Women's Fashion of the 18th Century; 2010