The European Baroque period lasted from approximately 1600 to 1750. This time is largely characterised by achievements in music, but it is also a period during which fashion underwent many changes. This is especially true of women's styles, which shifted to softer and more comfortable gowns in the 1600s. Men witnessed profound fashion changes during the reign of Louis XIV, whose rule lasted from 1643 to 1715.
1600 to 1615
In the early 17th century, European fashion reflected the chasms between people of different social classes, religious beliefs and nationalities. Conservative Protestants, for example, chose a plain dress style that, in a modified version, is still worn by Amish and Mennonite people today. Catholic women from the Spanish court continued wearing late 16th century fashions, such as the French farthingale to create voluminous circles around waists. Large ruffed collars worn around the neck, known as cartwheel ruffs, were also popular throughout Europe. Dress necklines were either very low or very high, and long, taut sleeves ending in deep cuffs matched the cartwheel ruffs.
For men, traditional hose were discarded and breeches became the norm. Men also donned tall or broad hats with brims.
1615 to 1650
Around 1615, fashion styles became more relaxed, with dress waists moving from low and pointed to soft and broad. Dressmakers opted for softer fabrics and cut gowns with much fuller sleeves, often with panes or slashes to reveal a woman's undershirt. By the mid-1620s, women stopped wearing hoops and replaced ruffs with broad lace or linen collars. Women also favoured short strings of pearls, as necklines became wide and straight, and low-heeled shoes decorated with ribbon bows.
Between 1620 and 1640, men's breeches became softer and longer than in previous years. Shoes were replaced with high-topped boots, and men of fashion wore their hair long. More conservative men, on the other hand, wore their hair to only shoulder length.
1650 to 1680
In 1661, Louis XIV reached the legal age for majority rule and ascended to the French throne. His appetite for excess was reflected in the ornate fashion of Western Europe's upper class. Gowns evolved from high-waisted to low-waisted, changing a woman's entire silhouette. Continuing a trend that began around 1615, gowns were softer than in previous years and trimmed with ribbons and jewels. The sexuality of the time was reflected in deep necklines, while loose sleeves sat low on the shoulder and reached only to the forearm.
In the early 1660s, men modelled their fashion after King Louis and began trimming their clothes in ruffles and ribbons. This style was known as "petticoat breeches," and men further copied Louis XIV by wearing heeled shoes adorned with ribbons or rosettes. Jackets were trimmed with lace collars and bows, wide-brimmed hats were bedecked with feathers and stockings were made of lace.
1680 to 1700
In the 1680s, upper-class women began wearing wired lace headdresses to enhance their long, tall silhouettes. That headdress was known as the Fontage, and women continued wearing it into the 18th century. Around this time, the overskirts of gowns were pinned back and up to display elaborately decorated petticoats, and bodices continued to be tightly laced. Puritans, meanwhile, still favoured simpler dress without ornamentation.
Toward the end of his reign, King Louis restrained his fashion extravagances and opted for shoes with shorter heels. As the English monarchy was restored, Englishmen followed the example of Charles II, who opted for a three-piece suit without flair or flamboyance.
- The Costumer's Manifesto: The History of Fashion and Dress; Tara Maginnis, Ph.D.
- Central Washington University: Costume History; Elizabethan
- History of Fashion: Baroque; 2007
- Nicole Kipar's Late 17th Century Clothing History; Female Baroque Clothing: Nicole Kipar; 2003
- History Blog: In the King's Shoes...; 2008
- Apparel Search: 1600 - 1650 Period in Fashion History