The Baroque period began in the early 1600s and continued into the mid-1700s. It was a time of indulgence, and the art of the time reflected this through ornate embellishments and impracticality. In fashion, these changes began in France where the court of Louis XIV set new and distinct fashion trends, then spiralled out through the European continent.
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As an import, cotton was banned during the Baroque period to protect the integrity of the European textile market. Without cotton, upper-class undergarments used linen, although linen was not considered fine enough for outerwear. The outer garments of the upper classes were made from silks, brocades and velvets. Lower-class garments were made predominately from wool.
The upper class wore pastels and bright colours. In the early Baroque period, the upper class preferred large floral patterns, but later, the upper class used small scrolling floral patterns and stripes. The middle class wore dark colours and black as a means of showing their wealth. Dying these colours was more difficult and thus more expensive. The poor wore light, dingy shades because they could not afford dyes that would give a pure colour.
Upper class fashion changed significantly during the Baroque period as styles relaxed. Tall lace ruffs once starched to stand up were laid down forming flat collars. Women stopped wearing hoop skirts and instead layered as many as eight petticoats. Sleeves were gathered to create multiple puffs down the arm. Necklines were made lower and cut square. Men's fashions were more elaborate than women's. A man's costume was decorated with as many as 600 bows. Other embellishments were buttons, lace and embroidery. Men traded short, slipper-style shoes for tall boots with a wide top cuff. Both men and women wore their natural hair long and wore elaborately curled wigs in public.
The middle class wanted to dress like royalty, but were more morally conservative. While the general shape of their costumes changed, the middle class continued wearing high necklines and ruffs, which had fallen out of fashion. Portrait evidence shows that the middle class dressed just behind the trend, always one season behind in major fashion changes.
The lower class wore fashions that depended on their occupation. Women who worked directly for the middle class and upper class wore a small ruff, a linen chemise and a wool skirt and apron. Those who worked in the cities or the fields and had little or no contact with the upper class would have had very plain woollen attire, like the fashions of previous generations in their caste.
Children in any social class dressed like miniature adults. Very poor children owned a single wool gown. Older children wore a wool skirt, and in some cases an apron over their chemise. Middle-class and upper-class children wore linen gowns adorned with lace until after their parents potty trained them, at which time they dressed in small versions of adult clothing.
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- The Costumer's Manifesto; The 17th Century; Tara Maginnis Ph.D.; 2008
- Nicole Kipar's Late 17th Century Clothing History; Female Baroque Clothing; Nicole Kipar; 2003
- Nicole Kipar's Late 17th Century Clothing History; Male Baroque Clothing; Nicole Kipar; 2003
- "French Baroque and Rococo Fashions"; Tom Tierney; 2002