“The Independent Spirit”

World in conflict, with a self-sufficient America


It was a time of “settling in” for some, & unrest for others in the world.  Women in America were rebuilding a strong country & new roles & relationships.  Everyone was watching Marie Antoinette as she bravely led women from men’s dictates of what to wear into simpler & more comfortable fashion that suited a new world order.





  • “New liberalism with human thought” vs. “old order”
  •   Patriots in the new America & around the world knew the “spirit of independence” would not be won with just a war, but would take forever to achieve.  This attitude prevailed in subsequent revolutions
  •   France was headed to Revolution, & America was ending it*  Revulsion of rigid rules & the uprise of Jacobin ideals led to conflict in Europe
  •   Worldwide concepts of rigidity were giving way as people looked for simpler lives apart from political & court intrigue
  •   George III’s illness created political crisis in England in 1788
  •   1792-1799 was the French Revolution, which started with the Reign of Terror.  The Reign ended when King Louis & Marie Antionette were executed in 1793
  •  The nouveau riche, preceding the breakdown of class, nobility, & the ruling structure, gave rise to the French “Incroyables et Marveilleuses”, “English Macarons”, & “American Dandies”
  •   These political/fashion movements were made up of 2nd generation bourgeois “protesting” political conflicts in their countries


  •   They created extremes of style & fashion to mock fashion of the day & to express their own political positions
  •   American concepts of independence & comfort instead of following rules were embraced in Europe & other countries worldwide
  •   The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, producing a national consciousness in America
  •   American people were exhausted & had to rebuild, but they were happy & terrified at the same time
  •   American cities were affected by war most because rural society was quite self-sufficient since the colonies were first settled
  •   “Aristocrat” became a bad name in America as it indicated the old order & English connections
  •   Women had NO independence.  A woman of any means or status could own nothing
  •   A woman was required to be faithful without fault
  •   Women’s independence was, however, taking root as women ran mills, farms, plantations, & many businesses in additiona to running their households when their men went away
  •   Many women worked in secret under fake names pretending to be men
  •   Women had been instrumental in the war effort.  George Washington had a woman spy
  •   Economic woes due to political strife, caused laws regarding export & import
  •   There came the desire to “have less” & to simplify in America
  •   Even with their hardships, Americans as a whole still had a higher standard of living than anywhere else in the world including Europe
  •   America was forced to provide for themselves & create new relationships with former enemies & friends as a new sovereign nation
  •   Working independently & from within, the new United States became more stabile & self-sufficient
  •   The self-reliance & confidence of Americans caused them to become innovators
  •   Americans were their own best consumers because they did not want to depend on import from other countries
  •   Science & innovation were on the rise around the world, especially in America with the washing machine & steam power
  •   Concepts of “self-hood” resulted in a consumer revolution of sorts in England too (that ended the guilds)

  •   Cotton was easily available from the Indies, India, & the Americas
  •   Printed cotton from India became wildly popular
  •   More elegant fabrics became easily available as the era progressed
  •   Wearing red became a symbol of liberty in France
  •   Medicine, sanitation, health, longevity, & infant mortality were greatly improving worldwide
  •   Paving, lighting, indoor plumbing, clean water supplies, drainage, & emptying slums improved cities
  •   People were washing themselves & their garments regularly for the first time in history
  •   England particularly took pride in urban cleansiness
  •   Replacing linsey woolsey petticoats & horsehair pads, along with having light cotton garments, made for easier cleaning of garments & better sanitation
  •   In American areas west of the major populations of the East Coast, people were self-sufficient.  They grew, hunted, fished their own food
  •   America’s “functional backwoods” fashions became extremely fashionable & popular in Europe & in the eastern United States
  •   Rural Americans made their own fabrics from flax, linen, & wool, & dyed them from natural sources
  •   Brown, orange, red, & pink were prevalent colors used for fabric, as they came from naturally sourced dyes
  •   Green  was the most common & available color of dye, & it was available to people of all walks of life
  •   Rich purple & blue dyes were hard to get everywhere in the world, & especially the US, so those were the colors of royalty & the affluent, although some blues & blue-greens were available to the general populace
  •  Almost all children in America went to school at this time, & some boys went to college as early as age 12 to schools such as William & Mary on the East Coast
  •   A trend towards living in the city began due to work in factories for the common people
  •   Nobility, however, sought a simpler life & moved out to the country
  •   If Nobility could not move to the country, they emulated country life in the city
  •   The first sewing machine was invented in 1790, although it did not work very well for everyday use





  •   The goal of having a simpler life made a somewhat austere silhouette compared to previous era
  •   There was little decoration or ornament on the main garment, so women added scarves, fichus, large hats, aprons, & bibs to express individuality & to create interest
  •   Large derrieres & breasts were the goal, & padding was specific & huge for this
  •  “Rolls & false bums” replaced panniers & hoops quickly at the beginning of the era
  •  “False bums”, “rumps”, and “corks” padded the back now; not sides as in previous eras
  •   While panniers & farthingales continued to be worn for specific activities or functions, most women did not wear them now
  •   French court fashion continued wearing panniers & hoops plus the extreme ornamentation & structure they were the last to abandon them in about 1790
  •   Some of the finest huge pannier museum pieces come from this era, as they were using new fabrics & ornamentation previously not available
  •   Breasts went up; necklines went down
  •   Breasts were pushed up & out; described at the time as “putting apples on a tray”
  •   “Naturalism” after 1780 idealized the Rousseauesque sexual character with emphasis on the butt, breast, & cascading hair
  •   Clothes became simpler, yet were still based on the same sacque & mantua  gowns of previous eras
  •   At the beginning of the era, class distinction was made using fashion
  •   What people wore, & how they wore it separated nobility from others, urban from rural, & upper from lower classes
  •   It  was still the same basic “sacque” every woman wore, however.  A servant’s costume might be just a plainer, simpler version of the own with apron, cap, or fuchu added

GAULLE ET CHEMISE (“Gaulle” & “Underwear”)

  •   Marie Antoinette, Queen of France married to Louis XVI, up until 1780, was forced to wear extreme corsets, structures, & hair not only in Court, but all the time
  •   Marie hated the restrictions, & rebelled by retreating to her “Petite Hameau” farm outside of Paris
  •   In 1780-5, she escaped to the country where she introduced “Gaulle” & “Chemise a la Reign” fashion concepts
  •   “Gaulle” was a loose version of casual court dress, made of simple plain & unadorned fabrics such as cotton
  •    It was typically white, loose fitting & ‘blousy’; tied at the waist by a belt or sash
  •    A “Gaulle” gown might have ruffles or lace in simple adornment
  •    Sleeves became unadorned.  Before that it was common to have 2-3 ruffles on each gown sleeves
  •   “Chemise a la reign” was a simple white garment much like underwear of the era
  •    Famous female painter of the time, LeBrun, depicted Marie in an official portrait wearing “Chemise a la Reign”.  It caused a major scandal, & LeBrun was required to repaint it to show Marie wearing a different outfit with more fabric & decoration
  •   Le Brun’s portrait was scandalous not because of a woman being shown wearing a thin or bare garment, but because she did not show the proper respect for her high station as royalty
  •    Ironically, Marie Antoinette would be executed for having an excessive lifestyle with too much flamboyance
  •   There is some historical confusion about the terms & definitions, but “Gaulle” & “Chemise a la Reign” meant Marie escaped Court structure & constriction to wear comfortable, soft, loose fitting & cool pajama-like clothing around the house
  •   The “little white dresses”, despised yet copied by both nobile & common women, would be the basis for the next era of fashion



  •   There was an “in between” Court structure & the “Gaulle” style concept that Marie introduced
  •   Marie had observed the simple clothing of the rural peasantry as she stayed at her “Petite Hameau” (little farm)
  •   The peasant costume was a basic fitted bodice with simple, somewhat full skirt
  •   Peasants wore a drapey overskirt which was used like an apron to dry their hands or protect them when they sat down
  •   The overskirt petticoat would be washed often, protecting the main skirt & bodice from wear
  •   The peasants would pull up their overskirts & tuck them into their pockets to keep them out of muck
  •   Marie’s version was basically the same, but much fancier
  •   The “dressed up” peasant dress had an embroidered underskirt & multiple petticoats for more fullness
  •   Marie’s overskirt was drawn up by tapes & cords like curtains to get the large ‘pouf’ effect, although some women still tucked them in pockets
  •   The effect of the new draped overskirt was the same as if they had used a small pannier, but the effect was made by the draping instead of a rigid understructure
  •   The new “peasant” or “shepherdess” bodice was made of lovely fabrics in a perfect, tight fit
  •   The bodice & stays were designed to push the “apples” up to the fashionable height of the day
  •   The skirt & petticoat of Marie’s ensemble were very short for the time & revealed the ankle
  •   Marie Antionette was highly criticized for breaking social rules by showing her bare leg & foot
  •   The critical women from all walks of life, however, copied all 3 styles, including baring their legs
  •   The tall powdered hair & ornamentation of Court graced Marie’s “shepherdess” look, along with the bows, frills, lace, contrasting fabrics of Court dress
  •   Urban “shepherdess'” gowns were made of the finest French fabrics & notions
  •   By the time nobility was done with it, the costume looked little like the peasants wore
  •   Parisienne women imitating the style became real “shepherdesses” who brought real sheep into the cities to complete their look.  They carried shepherd’s crooks & wore elaborate hairstyles.  They never actually did anything with the animals, but just stood among them
  •   Real peasant girls wore Marie’s modified “peasant” look too, but with less ornament & lesser quality fabrics & trims.  Peasant girls actually herded real sheep, so continued to use their drapes as aprons & crooks for the intended purpose
  •   French, English, & American fashion evolved the “shepherdess” look into their own versions by combining the concepts of rural America, pastoral England, & the French “gaulle”


  •  Marie Antoinette was guillotined in 1793, accused of overspending on clothing & lifestyle
  •   She & Louis were killed in the “Reign of Terror” which preceded the French Revolution which would replace the French monarchy with the Napoleon Empire
  •   Legend has it Marie wore soft flat purple slippers & her simple white cotton “Chemise a la Reign” to the scaffold, where she apologized for stepping on the executioner’s foot
  •   Courtly manners were being discarded
  •   Upper class & bourgeois people affected uncouth & gruff behavior to prove they were a part of the Jacobite (uprising) or to hide their identity or allegiance during dangerous times
  •   The next fashion era, Regency, actually started in many factions 1793 with introduction of “Gaulle” & “Chemise”, but was not the main trend until 1795 & later

  •   The basic “uniform” for all women  of the era was a fitted or loose bodice, full skirt sometimes open & sometimes closed, showing a decorative petticoat, which had not yet become an undergarment
  •   A gown was called a “robe” at this time.  There were many different types of “robes”, but all were based on the same concept; refined from the previous era
  •   This basic outfit was enhanced or simplified to suit the specific need
  •   By 1789 all skirts narrowed, & became more tailored per “l’anglaise” style
  •   1792 saw the most popular use of the “Open Robe” with skirt back slightly padded using a rump
  •   The visual effect of the new stays, robe design, with padded rumps, gave the appearance by the end of the era of a “Pouter Pigeon”
  •   This “Pouter” silhouette would reemerge in the late 1890’s as the “monobosum” using a corset that trained the body into shape rather than just creating a visual effect


  •   The mantua was still worn by all classes to all occasions.  It was still usually a one piece gown, simpler, looser, & more casual than anything other garment


  •   The “sack” (“sacque”) as modified to “l’anglaise” & “la francaise”, were still the basis of fashion, but focus on understructures became less important
  •   The “sacque” was pulled up


  •   The “polonnaise” still popular, but the hem dropped to ground from its previous above-ankle location in the early part of the era, except in its application of the “shepherdess” look, when it raised to above ankle length briefly
  •   “Polonnaise” had its last crazy heyday & got really big, voluminous, & ornamented right before it was dropped from fashion altogether (until the 1860’s when Haute Couture Worth claimed he invented it)


  •   “Robe a la turque” was a new variation of the robe introduced at this time, although it dragged on the ground so did not gain huge popularity except for evening wear


  •   “Robe a la creole” was introduced by a French woman coming from the West Indies


  •   The “Round Robe” was a combination of “chemise de la reine” and “robe a l’Anglaise”.  Sometimes cut without a waist seam, but usually bodice & skirt were cut separately & then joined at the waist
  •   The back of the “Round Robe” at first had the numerous seams of “en fourreau”, but most were eliminated, except those to the back & back side seams
  •   The bodice of the “Round Robe” had many variations.  It could be gathered at neck & waist, fitted & worn with a fichu, or have a fichu incorporated for a “V” crossover front
  •   The skirt of the “Round Robe” was cut from several widths of material, usually unshaped, & fullness gathered in front with back arranged in box pleats over a pad
  •   The “Round Robe’s” sleeves varied in length between short, to the elbow, or to wrists


  •   The “Open Gown” was worn with a closed robe or petticoat, & was derived from the “Robe a l’Anglaise”.  The cut was the same as that of the closed robe.
  •   The difference between the Open Gown & predecessors was that it always had a waist seam.  The front bodice had the same variations of style as the Round Robe, but was always much more fitted.
  •   The “Open Gown” or “Levite” (a slightly modified version from the basic) had a train at the back, with skirts open in front.  Sometimes the skirts met, or crossed over, or were set far to the sides of the bodice
  •   Sleeves of the “Open Gown” were usually long & fitting





  •   Stays became more important than stomachers
  •   Stomachers disappeared by 1790
  •   Dress parts, such as the front closing bodice, were pinned into the stays for closure
  •   They did not attempt to control the body, but to make a certain shape
  •   The amount of compression was more like wearing a contemporary back support wrap for sports
  •   Stays were unseen under the dress
  •   Commonly made of linen lined with cotton muslin for everyday use & the lower classes, many were highly ornamented of silk brocades with embroidery & trim
  •   Typical colors for lower classes were brown, pink  or green with white lining.  Upper classes might have pink, blue, green, or even bright red
  •   Stays were intent on achieving the straight conical silhouette that pushed the breasts up & out, & were quite rigid
  •   There were fully boned & half boned styles depending on the body of the wearer’s need for support
  •   Bones were of whale baleen or reed, & heavily boned at seams
  •   Early in the era, stays were made of 4 pieces that were boned & then whip stitched together.  These can be recognized by a decorative tape or leather stitched over the seam
  •   Later stays were of 6 parts, & pieced before boning
  •   Early stays laced only in the back, but as the era progressed, front and/or back laces were common & just a matter of preference by the wearer


  •   Most stays of the era included tabs at the bottom for pinning or tieing petticoats & pockets on
  •   Stays manufacture & fitting were strictly the profession of men at this time, although women dressmakers made petticoats & the lighter fabric undergarments
  •   A woman of status would wear as many cotton petticoats as she could
  •   Since no underwear nor pantaloons were worn at this time, an inner petticoat was commonly worn
  •   The inner petticoat might be quilted, or of a flannel or wool fabric
  •   The term “petticoat” meant the actual “robe” or outer garment that could be seen
  •   Underlying petticoats then meant those of plain or embellished cotton muslins that would not be seen
  •   The number & type of these varied greatly according to occupation.  Most typically petticoats were made of a straight tube of fabric, pulled together by a cord at the top, & having at least one self-fabric ruffle on the bottom to help hold the skirt out
  •   Many poor women did not wear under petticoats at all which has interesting legends about young rural girls “hiking up their skirts to show their sunbrowned hips” while dancing
  •   The redingote, a French type of sacque made in silk, was cut more like l’anglaise robe.  It became the standard of country wear at first for casual wear indoors, & later everywhere outdoors
  •   The late 1780’s were especially known for introduction of the “Caraco” & short jackets which were ruffled, fit smoothly at the waist, & then belled out over the back of the robe/gown
  •   Sleeves of both gowns & jackets were more fitted, broader, & tailored than before.  They were not as ornamented & gradually narrowed from 1775 to 1790
  •   When the day dresses lost their trains nearing 1800, the “Pelisse” coat began to be worn
  •   A “Pelisse” was cut like the Round Robe, sometimes in cotton, but usually in warm materials that could be lined with fur
  •   The “Pelisse” in various forms & versions would persist for many decades as preferred outwear
  •   1778 added frills on the bodice, sleeves, & along the front of the open robe
  •   Box pleats were used liberally early in the era
  •   Later, little to no frills were added in favor of the dress itself
  •   Towards 1790, only a few ruffles were used on the neck & sleeves
  •   Fabrics were all of “natural” sourcing: linen, flax, cotton, wool, silk being common & available locally or through easy import
  •   Chintz, crepe, brocade, silk were used more than the cotton after 1778, as the West Indies opened to fabric & raw material trade, & manufacturing processes evolved
  •   Towards 1800, cotton would become the favorite
  •   The huge Court hairdos of Marie Antionette, the “shepherdesses”, & nobility, had their last fling early in the era, then died quickly
  •   These were tall confections of powder or pomeade, & were often wigs or included false hair
  •   Hair by 1790 was left natural by all but the highest elite
  •   Hair was left natural & hidden in a cap, although one dramatic long curl might fall along the breast
  •   Some women used pads to raise the top of the hair a few inches, but this was more to keep the cap on the head than it was for fashion
  •   HUGE white cotton “mob caps” became popular by 1786 because despite more sanitation & garment laundering, women did not wash their hair very often
  •   Caps were very popular in America & Europe because those countries were cold & windy
  •   All classes wore caps; maids wore simple black taffeta hats, while masters wore fine linen with decoration
  •   The unadorned wrist became more important as time went on
  •  The umbrella was accidentally invented, & embraced at this time
  •   Shoes were covered with fabric that matched the robe/gown





—— (above) “Levite 1780” ——


—— (above) “Round Robe 1780” ——


—— (above) “Robe a la turque 1782” ——


—— (above) “Robe a l’anglaise 1785” ——


—— (above) “Robe a la royaliste 1790” ——


—— (above) “Chemise a la reign 1791” ———— (above) “Gown worn by Princess de Coppela 1792” ——

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