Artifact Corner: Women’s Fashion 1760-1830

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at portraits of some of the women in the Delord house, and talking about one of our favorite topics, fashion. The first portrait we will be examining is that of Mahitable Nott Webb Deane. This portrait was painted in 1767, and depicts her in a beautiful mustard colored gown. The next picture we will be looking at is of Margeret Bloodgood in a white, empire-waisted, diaphanous gown typical of the Regency Era. And lastly, we’ll be looking at this portrait of Frances Delord Webb in a gray silk gown painted in 1833 in London. This gown is the epitome of Romantic Era fashion. Let’s learn a bit more about women’s fashions from the 1760’s to the 1830’s.

In the mid 1700’s women’s fashions were anything but tame. Bright colors and bold patterns were all the rage, and the fabric choices themselves were also decident. Stunning silks that were richly embroidered were all the rage, trimmed with silk and velvet bows, ruffles, and other decorative trims. The mid 1700’s was the height of the era’s fashions, everything was bigger and more bold. Women’s clothing styles emphasized a narrow, inverted conical torso, achieved with boned stays, above full skirts. Hoop skirts continued to be worn, reaching their largest size in the 1750s, and were sometimes replaced by side-hoops, also called ‘false hips’, or panniers. The usual fashion of the years 1750–1775 was a low-necked gown (usually called a robe), worn over a petticoat. Most gowns had skirts that opened in front to show the petticoat worn beneath. If the bodice of the gown was open in front, the opening was filled in with a decorative stomacher, pinned to the gown over the laces or to the stays beneath. By the 1780’s and 1790’s, women’s fashions were undergoing a dramatic shift. Women’s clothing styles maintained an emphasis on the conical shape of the torso while the shape of the skirts changed throughout the period. The wide panniers (holding the skirts out at the side) for the most part disappeared by 1780 for all but the most formal court functions, and false rumps (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time.

The nineteenth century opened with a fashion landscape that was changing dramatically and rapidly from the styles of a generation earlier. The French Revolution brought fashions that had been emerging since the 1780s to the forefront. Neoclassicism now defined fashion as both men and women took inspiration from classical antiquity. For women, the high-waisted silhouette in lightweight muslin was the dominant style. The color pallete was more muted and subtle, and the gowns that women wore were not adorned with heavy embroidery. But, like all things in fashion, this simplicity and return to natural form was to be short lived. This style dominated for around 20 years before the fashion tides began to shift again in the 1820’s. The waistlines began to settle more towards the natural waist rather than being directly under the bust. The 1820s were a transitional period away from the “Empire” silhouette and Neoclassical influences. Instead, Romanticism became the chief influence on fashion, as Gothic decoration lavished dresses and historicism inspired styles borrowed from past centuries. Layers of color and an increasingly exaggerated silhouette, for both men and women, created a style of dramatic display by the end of the decade. In the 1830s, fashionable women’s clothing styles had distinctive large ‘leg of mutton’ or gigot sleeves, above large full conical skirts, ideally with a narrow, low waist, achieved through a combination of corsetry to restrict the waist and full sleeves and skirts that made the waist appear smaller by comparison. Heavy stiff fabrics such as brocades were all the rage, and many 18th Century gowns were cut up and repurposed. The fashionable feminine figure, with its sloping shoulders, rounded bust, narrow waist and full hips, was emphasized in various ways with the cut and trim of gowns. Up to about 1835, the small waist was accentuated with a wide belt, as we can see here in the wedding portrait of Frances Henrietta, painted in 1832.

As you can see from the portraits in our collections, women’s fashion was ever changing, very much like fashion today. If you are interested in seeing these portraits in person, and learning more about women’s fashions in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, we open for the season May 23rd! Let us know in the comments which time period and which style of dress was your favorite! Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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