Fashion in the period 1795–1800, or the Directoire style, by the mid-1790s, neoclassical clothing had come into fashion in France. Several influences had combined to bring about this simplification in women’s clothing: aspects of Englishwomen’s practical country outdoor-wear leaked up into French high fashion, and there was a reaction in revolutionary France against the stiffly boned corsets and brightly colored satins and other heavy fabrics that were in style in the Ancien Régime (see 1750–1795 in fashion). But ultimately, Neo-classicism was adopted for its association with classical republican ideas [with reference to Greece, rather than republican Rome, which was now considered politically dangerous]. This renewed fascination of the classical past was encouraged by the recent discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and would likely have not been possible outside such a specific geographic and historical setting that allowed the idea of the past made present to become paramount.
Along with the influences of the Pompeii and Herculaneum excavations, several other factors came together to popularize neoclassical dress. Starting in the early 1790s, Emma Hamilton began her performances of attitudes, something that was considered by contemporaries as entirely new. These attitudes were based loosely on the ancient practice of pantomime, though Emma’s performances lacked masks and musical accompaniment. Her performances created a fusion between art and nature; art came alive and her body became a type of art. As an aid to her performances of tragic mythological and historical figures, Emma wore the clothing á la grecque that would become popular in mainstream France in the coming years. A simple light colored chemise made from thin, flowing material was worn and gathered with a narrow ribbon under the breasts. Simple cashmere shawls were used as headdresses or to give more fullness to the drapery of the chemise. They also helped to prevent broken lines in the performance so that the outstretched arms were always connected with the body, escalating the effect of fluid movement, and oftentimes, a cape or a cloak was worn to emphasize the lines of the body in certain poses. This highlighted the continuity of surface of line and form in the body of the performer to emphasize the unity, simplicity, and continuously flowing movement from one part of the body to the next. The hair was worn in a natural, loose, and flowing fashion. All of these properties blended together to allow an extensive play of light and shadow to reveal and accent certain parts of the body during the performance, while covering others. Emma was highly capable in her attitudes, and the influence of her dress spread from Naples to Paris as wealthy Parisians took the Grand Tour.
There is also some evidence that the white muslin shift dress became popular after Thermidor through the influence of prison dress. Revolutionary women such as Madame Tallien portrayed themselves in this way because it was the only clothing they possessed during their time in prison. The chemise á la grecque also represented the struggle for representation of the self and the stripping down of past cultural values. Also, a simplification of the attire worn by preteen girls in the 1780s (who were no longer required to wear miniature versions of adult stays and panniers) probably paved the way for the simplification of the attire worn by teenage girls and adult women in the 1790s. Waistlines became somewhat high by 1795, but skirts were still rather full, and neoclassical influences were not yet dominant.
It was during the second half of the 1790s that fashionable women in France began to adopt a thoroughgoing Classical style, based on an idealized version of ancient Greek and Roman dress (or what was thought at the time to be ancient Greek and Roman dress), with narrow clinging skirts. Some of the extreme Parisian versions of the neoclassical style (such as narrow straps which bared the shoulders, and diaphanous dresses without sufficient stays, petticoats, or shifts worn beneath) were not widely adopted elsewhere, but many features of the late-1790s neoclassical style were broadly influential, surviving in successively modified forms in European fashions over the next two decades.
With this Classical style came the willingness to expose the breast. With the new iconography of the Revolution as well as a change in emphasis on maternal breast-feeding, the chemise dress became a sign of the new egalitarian society. The style was simple and appropriate for the comfort of a pregnant or nursing woman as the breasts were emphasized and their availability was heightened. Maternity became fashionable and it was not uncommon for women to walk around with their breasts exposed. Some women took the “fashionable maternity” a step further and wore a “six-month pad” under their dress to appear pregnant.
White was considered the most suitable color for neoclassical clothing (accessories were often in contrasting colors). Short trains trailing behind were common in dresses of the late 1790s.
In this period, such styles are commonly called “Directoire style” (referring to the Directory government of France during the second half of the 1790s), fashionable women’s clothing styles were based on the Neoclassical silhouette — dresses were closely fitted to the torso just under the bust, falling loosely below. Women dressing like statues coming to life; fillet-Greek classical hairstyle; simple muslin chemise w. ribbon; sheer; empire silhouette; pastel fabrics; natural makeup; bare arms; blonde wigs;
Fashion in the period 1795–1805 in European and European-influenced countries saw the final triumph of undress or informal styles over the brocades, lace, periwigs and powder of the earlier 18th century. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, no one wanted to appear to be a member of the French aristocracy, and people began using clothing more as a form of individual expression of the true self than as a pure indication of social status. As a result, the shifts that occurred in fashion at the turn of the 19th century granted the opportunity to present new public identities that also provided insights into their private selves. Katherine Aaslestad indicates how “fashion, embodying new social values, emerged as a key site of confrontation between tradition and change.”
For women’s dress, the day to day outfit of the skirt and jacket style were practical and tactful, recalling the working class woman. Women’s fashions followed classical ideals, and tightly laced corsets were temporarily abandoned in favor of a high-waisted, natural figure. This natural figure was emphasized by being able to see the body beneath the clothing. Visible breasts were part of this classical look, and some characterized the breasts in fashion as solely aesthetic and sexual.
By the end of the eighteenth century, a major shift in fashion was taking place that extended beyond changes in mere style to changes in philosophical and social ideals. Prior to this time, the style and traditions of the “Ancien Régime” prevented the conceptualization of “the self”. Instead, one’s identity was considered malleable; subject to change depending on what clothes one was wearing. However, by the 1780s, the new, “natural” style allowed one’s inner self to transcend their clothes.
During the 1790s, there was a new concept of the internal and external self. Before this time, there had only been one self, which was expressed through clothing. When going to a masquerade ball, people wore specific clothing, so they could not show their individuality through their clothing. Since, for everyday dress, most people wore similar clothing, people used accessories to show their individuality. These accessories and the detail on the clothing were more important than the shape of the dress.
Incorporated in this new “natural” style was the importance of ease and comfort of one’s dress. Not only was there a new emphasis on hygiene, but also clothing became much lighter and more able to be changed and washed frequently. Even upper class women began wearing cropped dresses as opposed to dresses with long trains or hoops that restricted them from leaving their homes. In a sense, women were influenced by male fashion, such as tailored waistcoats and jackets to emphasize women’s mobility. This new movement toward practicality of dress showed that dress became less of a way to solely categorize between classes or genders; dress was meant to suit one’s personal daily routine. It was also during this time period that the fashion magazine and journal industry began to take off. They were most often monthly (often competing) periodicals that allowed men and women to keep up with the ever-changing styles.
Inspired by neoclassical tastes, the short-waisted dresses sported soft, loose skirts and were often made of white, almost transparent muslin, which was easily washed and draped loosely like the garments on Greek and Roman statues. Since the fabric clung to the body, revealing what was underneath, it made nudity à la grecque a centerpiece of public spectacle. Thus during the 1795–1820 period, it was often possible for middle- and upper-class women to wear clothes that were not very confining or cumbersome, and still be considered decently and fashionably dressed.
Among middle- and upper-class women there was a basic distinction between “morning dress” (worn at home in the afternoons as well as mornings) and evening attire — generally, both men and women changed clothes in preparation for the evening meal and possible entertainments to follow. There were also further gradations such as afternoon dress, walking dress, riding habits, travelling dress, dinner dress, etc.
In the Mirror of Graces; or the English Lady’s Costume, published in London in 1811, the author (“a Lady of Distinction”) advised:
In the morning the arms and bosom must be completely covered to the throat and wrists. From the dinner-hour to the termination of the day, the arms, to a graceful height above the elbow, may be bare; and the neck and shoulders unveiled as far as delicacy will allow.
Morning dresses were worn inside the house. They were high-necked and long-sleeved, covering throat and wrists, and generally plain and devoid of decoration.
Evening gowns were often extravagantly trimmed and decorated with lace, ribbons, and netting. They were cut low and sported short sleeves, baring bosoms. Bared arms were covered by long white gloves. Our Lady of Distinction, however, cautions young women from displaying their bosoms beyond the boundaries of decency, saying, “The bosom and shoulders of a very young and fair girl may be displayed without exciting much displeasure or disgust.”
A Lady of Distinction also advised young ladies to wear softer shades of color, such as pinks, periwinkle blue, or lilacs. The mature matron could wear fuller colors, such as purple, black, crimson, deep blue, or yellow.
Many women of this era remarked upon how being fully dressed meant the bosom and shoulders were bare, and yet being under-dressed would mean one’s neckline went right up to one’s chin.
Due to the importance of showing social status, the fashion industry was very much influenced by society during the Regency era. One’s position was determined by the person’s wealth, etiquette, family status, intelligence, and beauty. Women financially and socially relied on their husbands. The only socially-acceptable activities in which women could participate centered around social gatherings and fashion, the most important component of which was attending evening parties. These parties helped to build relationships and connection with others. As etiquette dictated different standards of attire for different events, afternoon dress, evening dress, evening full dress, ball dress, and different type of dresses were popular.
Women’s fashion in the Regency era started to change drastically. It popularized the empire silhouette, which featured a fitted bodice and high waist. This “new natural style” emphasized the beauty of the body’s natural lines. Clothing became lighter and easier to care for than in the past. Women often wore several layers of clothing, typically undergarments, gowns, and outerwear. The chemise, the standard undergarment of the era, prevented the thin, gauzy dresses from being fully transparent. Outerwear, such as the spencer and the pelisse, were popular.
The empire silhouette was created in the late 18th century to about early 19th century, and referred to the period of the First French Empire. This adoption had been linked with France’s Relation and adopted of Greek and Roman principles. The style was often worn in white to denote as a high social status. Josephine Bonaparte was the one of the figureheads for the Empire waistline, with her elaborated and decorated Empire line dresses. Regency women followed the Empire style along the same trend of raised waistlines as French styles, even when their countries were at war. Starting from 1780s and early 1790s, women’s silhouette became slimmer and the waistlines crept up. After 1795, waistlines rose dramatically and the skirt circumference was further reduced. Few years later, England and France started to show the focus of high waist style and this led to the creation of Empire style.
The style began as part of Neoclassical fashion, reviving styles from Greco-Roman art which showed women wearing loose fitting rectangular tunics known as peplos which were belted under the bust, providing support for women and a cool, comfortable outfit especially in warm climate. The empire silhouette was defined by the waistline, which was positioned directly under the bust. The Empire silhouette were the key style in women’s clothing during the Regency era. The dresses were usually light, long and fit loosely, they were usually in white and often sheer from the ankle to just below the bodice which strongly emphasized thin hem and tied around the body. A long rectangular shawl or wrap, very often plain red but with a decorated border in portraits, helped in colder weather, and was apparently lain around the midriff when seated—for which sprawling semi-recumbent postures were favored. The dresses had a fitted bodice and it gave a high-waist appearance.
The style had waxed and waned in fashion for hundreds of years. The shape of the dresses also helped to lengthen the body’s appearance. The clothing can also be draped to maximize the bust. Lightweight fabrics were typically used to create a flowing effect. Also, ribbon, sash, and other decorative features were used to highlight the waistline. The empire gowns were often with low neckline and short sleeves and women usually worn them as evening dresses. On the other hand, day gowns had higher neckline and long sleeves. The chemisette was a staple for fashionable ladies. Although there were differences between day dresses and evening dresses, the high waistline was not changed.
Hairstyles and headgear
During this period, the classical influence extended to hairstyles. Often masses of curls were worn over the forehead and ears, with the longer back hair drawn up into loose buns or Psyche knots influenced by Greek and Roman styles. By the later 1810s, front hair was parted in the center and worn in tight ringlets over the ears. Adventurous women like Lady Caroline Lamb wore short cropped hairstyles “à la Titus”, the Journal de Paris reporting in 1802 that “more than half of elegant women were wearing their hair or wig à la Titus”, a layered cut usually with some tresses hanging down.
In the Mirror of Graces, a Lady of Distinction writes,
Now, easy tresses, the shining braid, the flowing ringlet confined by the antique comb, or bodkin, give graceful specimens of the simple taste of modern beauty. Nothing can correspond more elegantly with the untrammeled drapery of our newly-adopted classic raiment than this undecorated coiffure of nature.
Conservative married women continued to wear linen mob caps, which now had wider brims at the sides to cover the ears. Fashionable women wore similar caps for morning (at home undress) wear.
For the first time in centuries, respectable but daringly fashionable women would leave the house without a hat or bonnet, previously something often associated with prostitutes. However most women continued to wear something on their head outdoors, though they were beginning to cease to do so indoors during the day (as well as for evening wear). The antique head-dress, or Queen Mary coif, Chinese hat, Oriental inspired turban, and Highland helmet were popular. As for bonnets, their crowns and brims were adorned with increasingly elaborate ornamentations, such as feathers and ribbons. In fact, ladies of the day embellished their hats frequently, replacing old decorations with new trims or feathers.
Fashionable women of the Regency era wore several layers of undergarments. The first was the chemise, or shift, a thin garment with tight, short sleeves (and a low neckline if worn under evening wear), made of white cotton and finished with a plain hem that was shorter than the dress. These shifts were meant to protect the outer-clothes from perspiration and were washed more frequently than outer clothes. In fact, washer women of the time used coarse soap when scrubbing these garments, then plunged them in boiling water, hence the absence of color, lace, or other embellishments, which would have faded or damaged the fabric under such rough treatment. Chemises and shifts also prevented the transparent muslin or silk dresses from being too revealing.
The next layer was a pair of stays or corset. However, high-waisted classical fashions required no corset for the slight of figure, and there were some experiments to produce garments which would serve the same functions as a modern brassiere. (In the Mirror of Graces, a “divorce” was described as an undergarment that served to separate a woman’s breasts. Made of steel or iron that was covered by a type of padding, and shaped like a triangle, this device was placed in the center of the chest.) “Short stays” (corsets extending only a short distance below the breasts) were often worn over the shift or chemise (not directly next to the skin), and “long stays” (corsets extending down towards the natural waist) were worn by a minority of women trying to appear slimmer than they were (but even such long stays were not primarily intended to constrict the waist, in the manner of Victorian corsets.)
The final layer was the petticoat, which could have a scooped neckline and was sleeveless, and was fitted in the back with hooks and eyelets, buttons or tapes. These petticoats were often worn between the underwear and the outer dress and was considered part of the outer clothing not underwear. The lower edge of the petticoat was intended to be seen, since women would often lift their outer dresses to spare the relatively delicate material of the outer dress from mud or damp (so exposing only the coarser and cheaper fabric of the petticoat to risk). Often exposed to view, petticoats were decorated at the hem with rows of tucks or lace, or ruffles.
“Drawers” (underpants with short legs) were only beginning to be worn by a few women during this period. They were tied separately around the waist.
Stockings (hosiery), made of silk or knitted cotton, were held up by garters below the knee until suspenders were introduced in the late 19th century and were often of a white or pale flesh color
Outerwear and shoes
During this time period, women’s clothing was much thinner than in the eighteenth century so warmer outerwear became important in fashion, especially in colder climates. Coat-like garments such as pelisses and redingotes were popular, as were shawls, mantles, mantelets, capes and cloaks. The mantelet was a short cape that was eventually lengthened and made into a shawl. The redingote, another popular example, was a full-length garment resembling a man’s riding coat (hence the name) in style, that could be made of different fabrics and patterns. Throughout the period, the Indian shawl was the favoured wrap, as houses and the typical English country house were generally draughty, and the sheer muslin and light silk dresses popular during this time provided less protection. Shawls were made of soft cashmere or silk or even muslin for summer. Paisley patterns were extremely popular at the time.
Short (high-waisted) jackets called spencers were worn outdoors, along with long-hooded cloaks, Turkish wraps, mantles, capes, Roman tunics, chemisettes, and overcoats called pelisses (which were often sleeveless and reached down as far as the ankles). These outer garments were often made of double sarsnet, fine Merino cloth, or velvets, and trimmed with fur, such as swan’s down, fox, chinchilla, or sable. On May 6, 1801, Jane Austen wrote her sister Cassandra, “Black gauze cloaks are worn as much as anything.”
Thin, flat fabric (silk or velvet) or leather slippers were generally worn (as opposed to the high-heeled shoes of much of the 18th century).
Metal pattens were strapped on shoes to protect them from rain or mud, raising the feet an inch or so off the ground.
Gloves were always worn outside the house. When worn inside, as when making a social call, or on formal occasions, such as a ball, they were removed when dining. About the length of the glove, A Lady of Distinction writes:
If the prevailing fashion be to reject the long sleeve, and to partially display the arm, let the glove advance considerably above the elbow, and there be fastened with a draw-string or armlet. But this should only be the case when the arm is muscular, coarse, or scraggy. When it is fair, smooth, and round, it will admit of the glove being pushed down to a little above the wrists.
Longer gloves were worn rather loosely during this period, crumpling below the elbow. As described in the passage above, “garters” could fasten longer gloves.
Reticules held personal items, such as vinaigrettes. The form-fitting dresses or frocks of the day had no pockets, thus these small drawstring handbags were essential. These handbags were often called buskins or balantines. They were rectangular in shape and was worn suspended by a woven band from a belt placed around the figure above the waist.
Parasols (as shown in the illustration) protected a lady’s skin from the sun, and were considered an important fashion accessory. Slender and light in weight, they came in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.
Fashionable ladies (and gentlemen) used fans to cool themselves and to enhance gestures and body language. Made of paper or silk on sticks of ivory and wood, and printed with oriental motifs or popular scenes of the era, these ubiquitous accessories featured a variety of shapes and styles, such as pleated or rigid. An information sheet from the Cheltenham Museum describes fans and their use in body language and communication.
Directoire style gallery
1 – 1795
2 – 1795
3 – 1796
4 – ca. 1798
5 – 1798
6 – 1799
7 – 1798
8 – 1799
1.This portrait of the Frankland sisters by John Hoppner gives an idea of the styles of 1795.
2.”Ruth entreating Naomi and Orpah to return to the land of Moab” by William Blake. Blake is not a typical neo-classicist, but this shows a somewhat similar idealization of antiquity (as well as predicting the future high fashions of the late 1790s). The particular image was composed in 1795 and is currently held by the Fitzwilliam Museum.
3.Leipzig fashion plate showing woman and girl wearing elegantly simple high-waisted styles, which are not strongly neoclassical, however.
4.Portrait of Gabrielle Josephine du Pont.
5.1798 picture, showing a lady who seems none too warmly attired for a balloon journey in her low-cut thin-looking Directoire dress.
6.Fashion plate of white Directoire dress worn with contrasting red shawl with Greek key border.
7.A 1798 sketch of a day outfit with short “spencer” jacket (less neoclassical, though still following the empire silhouette).
8.Riding habits of 1799. The habit on the right features a short jacket with tails. The green habit on the left may be a redingote rather than a jacket and petticoat.
9.Madame Raymond de Verninacby Jacques-Louis David, with clothes and chair in Directoire style. “Year 7”, that is 1798-99.
10.Mme Seriziat wears a straw bonnet trimmed with green ribbon over a lace mob cap, 1795 (painting by Jacques-Louis David
Russian fashion 1795-1800
Source from Wikipedia