Fashion in eighteenth-century England was as fickle as today's trends in clothing and makeup. It was a major concern for the women, whose roles in society usually revolved around the idea of marriage: dressing and presenting oneself well was crucial to this all-important goal.
While there was an abundance of different styles of hats and dresses as well as a plethora of various cosmetic aids, women were expected to dress according to their social classes. These expectations are reflected in various literary works of the 18th and early 19th century, from such authors as Defoe and Richardson.
This website contains excerpts from 18th-century plates with explanations of the style they are wearing, as well as an illustrated guide to dress, hats, and cosmetics. Detailed information on fashion items in most of the images can be obtained by clicking on the pertinent portion of the image. (Try the picture on the left.)
plate E. Polonaise of 1777
(Cunnington, Art of, p. 132)