Back to Dress

Advice for the Ladies

early 1700's - mid 1700's -- late 1700's

picture gallery







Following the fashions could raise you to the level of an English gentlewoman.  Copyright Corporation of London.

Early 1700's- Although the fashion of dress is one more aspect of English women that I can't confess to a full understanding of, I realize that there are some women out there seeking help and guidance and for all of your sakes I shall fearlessly plunge into the arena of women's style. As with the fashions of men, in the early 1700's form is conquering over natural shapes. The full sleeves you are used to wearing are being replaced by tighter sleeves with cuffs above the elbow. An under-sleeve of lace should slightly protrude from underneath this sleeve. But ho! I have perhaps been a bit reckless in jumping in directly in the middle of the body and I shall endeavor to lay this out a bit more clearly, starting from the top.


The Commode was a rather awe-inspiring erection of wired lace placed upon the top of the head in tiers, three or four in all, rising above each other. They diminished in size as they rose, giving the modern woman an appearance reminiscent of an elaborate wedding cake. At the sides they had long curtains of lace that hung over the shoulders. The hair should be brushed up on the wire frame to give it more height, although during Anne's reign you are allowed to be a bit more natural. The more common women should wear mob caps that are either lace or linen and have a frilled edge and as time goes on these mob caps will be the preferred piece for almost all women.

The principal change in women's dress these days is the disappearance of the V-shaped waistline in favor of a bodice that is close fitting and boned, but has a scarcely perceptible dip in the front of the waist-line. This waist-line is also often concealed by a small, decorative apron. Perhaps the most formalistic innovations are the hoops that are quickly becoming required for middle and upper class women. I suggest you find a hoop that is so broad and circular that you cannot possibly conceive of fitting through a doorway without depressing it by folding it or lifting it at the sides. Be patient, for the modelings of furniture will soon follow your fashion needs with the innovation of wide-seated chairs.

For your dresses, flowered materials and sprigged designs are very popular. You should try to maintain a higher neck and long gloves to protect your delicate skin. Your lower skirt should have a "V" style cut that exposes your petticoat and is hung in loose folds behind. The aforementioned petticoat should be wide and it should touch the ground. Be sure that your bodice is tightly laced across a "V" front. For the purposes of riding it is not uncommon to adapt the men's styles of hats, wigs, and coats. Interestingly, the well-fed, rounded appearance is most favored at this time and if Nature has not endowed you with these somewhat pudgy traits, never fear- you can obtain certain "plumpers" for assistance in the areas that have been neglected.

Footwear for the middle class is basic and of the pump sort, usually with square buckles.  Please remember to rise early and begin the ritual of dressing with a chamber-maid to assist you or I fear you may never make it out at all to show off your newly-acquired, high sense of style! (Return to top)

Mid-1700's- A time of expression! You no longer need to mimic the styles of every other woman walking the streets. Innovate, create, and show who you are, but take care not to stray too far from the guidelines of fashion. Elegance is forefront and as young ladies you should have been trained with the use of a backboard to abolish any slouching from your form. As I always say, upright posture represents an upright conscience!

You will be happy to note that hoops are still in, but the sheer girth of them is decreasing. In 1745 the front part of the hoop will be narrowed so that the skirt touches the body, but the side parts should be as wide as ever. Over the hoops goes your petticoat, and over this the sacque, a relatively new invention. A sacque is a loose gown of considerable fullness that hangs over the shoulders and was close-sleeved to the elbows, where frills showed. Be sure and heavily gather the folds the sweep down from the neck to the ground (which I believe creates quite a fetching picture). You have two choices at this point: either to wear a bodice and over-skirt that match in which case there is no 'V" opening in front to disclose a contrasting skirt, or you can wear the sacque over the bodice and skirt, in which case a "V" was formed by the sacque, thus disclosing the bodice and skirt. Skirts are shorter than previously, but aprons of silk or satin are still worn for ornament.

The higher the hat and the broader the skirts, the more gentlemen will take notice.   Copyright Corporation of London.


The hair is thankfully descending from its scandalous heights of the earlier part of the century and commodes are abolished. Women do not do wear wigs, but dress their own hair smoothly and closely to the head. Hair is usually mostly covered by the widely popular mob cap, which I suggest you obtain in cherry, and pale or royal blue. Hoods are also worn in black silk or colours. Those of you that wish to achieve that modest dairy-maid look, can wear small straw hats with wide brims and streamer ribbons. Some women choose to decorate the underside of these brims with artificial flowers, but I believe you are endeavoring to look like a lady, not a low-hanging garden basket.

In this time of extravagance and expression feel free to wear skirts that are braided, or quilted in diagonals. Perhaps you may wish to involve a motif of flowers, fruit, or even animals. Also take the opportunity to purchase an ornate snuffbox. (Return to top)

Late 1700's- Overall, styles will change little throughout the latter parts of the century, but you must know of some small changes in trend. I have good news and bad news my lady, relating to your comfort. Getting the bad news out of the way first, I balk to tell you that the hair styles are becoming increasingly difficult. It can be piled high on the head in an oval shape supported by a wire frame or towards the latter days it can be widened out in masses of curls. You will want to pull long locks of curled hair behind or over the front of the shoulders. As we approach 1800 hair will become even clumsier with a front curled fringe, a heavy chignon, and long ringlets at the rear.







Ladies, with the fashionable hoops decreasing in size, you should find it easier to negotiate your way through the London streets (let alone your home!) Copyright Corporation of London.

But away with the smelling salts! Did I not say I had good news as well? You will be pleased to find that hoops are decreasing in size until 1790 when they are gone forever! Yes, ladies no longer have to negotiate the London streets wearing that portable chicken coop. The Empire age comes and brings with it a new style of one-piece dress with an arm-pit waist. Also highly fashionable is a new kind of sacque called the Polonese, which has edges that are curved away and lined with tiny bows. Straw hats are becoming more popular and the Dolly Varden style with the tilt that goes forward over the nose and up over the back is often seen.

Ladies, I wish you vast fashion success, but it is more important for you to know that it is how you carry yourself an behave that really matters. The way you step into your carriage and the flirt of your fan is quickly becoming an art that I highly suggest you cultivate to match your fine sense of style. (Return to top)



Continue to read up on tips for the men visit the picture gallery or return to dress.


Children's Moral Instruction

Proper Letter Writing



Ball Room Etiquette