In the 18th century, fashion was a world away from what we know it to be today. European and European-influenced countries were influenced by characteristics such as widening silhouettes (this is true for both men and women) and this followed on from the ‘narrow’ look of the 17th century.
Wigs were also very popular and were often white in color, with natural hair being powdered to achieve the ‘fashionable look’. At this point in history, there was beginning to be a distinction made between full dress for court and formal occasions and the type of clothing being worn for everyday activities. What is more interesting is the role that accessories and customization played when it came to the clothing of the 18th century.
The middle ages made embroidery more popular than ever before and were used as a way of enhancing the qualities of luxury textile garments. This is probably what began influencing the use of custom embroidered patches that have continued to be used today. The rich and very powerful medieval church owned huge amounts of embroidered textiles. Alongside clothing, furnishings for the home were also elaborately decorated with applied embroidered motifs.
Cashmere shawls were all the rage in the 18th century and were made from a very soft fabric made from the wool of the Cashmere goat in Kashmir, India. Cashmere shawls were one of the easiest ways people were able to tell a lady’s or gentleman’s class at the time. This trend was adapted to include Paisley shawls in the later years of the 18th century. Because of the cost associated with these accessories being imported, they were a significant indicator of wealth and respectability.
The development of technology is something that added to the improvement of the style of garment customization. The widespread publication of fashion plated began in England and France in the late 18th century. The English periodical, ‘The Lady’s Magazine’, issues its first uncoloured plate in 1770 and a year later its first color hand-tilted plate. Fashion plates were essentially a picture that illustrated the current fashion in clothes and began the idea of consumer culture.
One can never underestimate the transformational power of carrying a purse. Women’s purses have always been one of the best ways to customize an outfit and this is the case in the 18th century too! Purses were generally made from silk and were embroidered with silk ribbons and threads (one thing you can say about the medieval period is their love of adornments and layering of materials).
One of the easiest ways to customize your looks in the 18th century was to tackle other areas of your look and that includes your hairstyle. Hair in this era went from being worn loose to then being frizzed and worn in short curls. Both men and women wore caps and hats, too. The trends that changed with regards to hair are an indication of the importance of looking on trend whilst also being individual was becoming of growing importance. The lower classes wanted to mimic the upper classes and so in some areas such as hair and makeup, this was slightly easier to achieve.