Browsing Category


18th century, 18th century court dress, underpinnings

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Paniers!

Trystan asked a very good question on my last post about court dress:  “A lot of the fashion plates make the skirts look more round than the flat rectangular shape seen in the extant gowns. Is this just artistic license or were there different styles needed different under-structure shapes? Bec. some of them look almost like there’s a round hoop worn under the gown, not side panniers, or maybe some weird cross-breed between the two. Or maybe it’s the same panniers with really fluffy petticoats that round out the look. Or again, artistic license!”

This is a great question, because (besides a shift and stockings), the first thing one needs under a French robe de cour, and many other 18th century court gowns, is a panier or hoop (also called “hoop-petticoat” in English; incidentally, panier translates as “basket”).

So what did French court paniers look like?  Were they different from regular paniers, or paniers worn in other countries? Did sizes and shapes change over time?  I can’t answer all these questions, but I can tell you what I’ve found out so far!

The 18th century hoop was probably invented in England, where there are references as early as 1709 (Chrisman).  They begin appearing in France in about 1718-19.  Initially, it was a rounded dome shape; from 1725-30, it was more shaped like an oval bell with a circumference of about eleven feet.  It was in the 1730s that the fronts and backs flattened to create the shape we think of when we think of the 18th century panier (Boucher).  According to François Boucher, “There were all sorts of paniers:  funnel-shaped paniers à guéridon, dome-shaped paniers à coupole, paniers à bourrelets flaring out at the foot of the gown, paniers à gondoles which made women resemble ‘water-carriers,” and elbow paniers, on which the wearer could rest her elbows, and which the 1729 Mercure describes as being more comfortable than paniers à guéridon.”  Amalia Descalzo writes that the elliptical hoop of the 1730s was called “paniers à coude” or “à commodité (74).  Most historians agree that full paniers (as opposed to the shorter, knee- or thigh-length hoops, or pocket hoops) went out of fashion in the second half of the eighteenth century except for court wear.  In 1765, Diderot’s Encyclopédie wrote that the style of the panier “lasted a long time, and is not yet passed” but was falling from fashion; “One goes today in town & to the theater without panier, & one does not wear them anymore on stage…”; however, the 1785 Encyclopédie Methodique complained in the 1785 that the panier “reigns at the theater, where it is seen in all its ridiculousness on the dancers” (the court gown was frequently worn by actresses and dancers, a fact which surprised me!).

Thus, the main occasion in which French women wore paniers in the second half of the century was for the robe de cour, under which it was required.  Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell writes that the size of the court panier fluctuated with fashion, the rank of the person wearing it, and the solemnity of the occasion.  She argues that in the 1740s, it grew very large following general trends, but stayed enormous when more modest paniers came into fashion.  She cites the grand duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia, who was presented at Versailles in a panier of six aunes (24 feet or 8 yards); and the Cabinet des Modes (1786), which noted that while large paniers were not frequently worn for fashionable wear, they were worn at court.

The 1785 Encyclopédie Methodique gives the most information about court paniers:

“The English paniers are those that are worn under court ensembles & under theater costumes; they have a height of ¼ ½ or 7/8 [aunes?] and their width is three or four aunes.  They are lined with baleen, and more commonly in cane as it is less heavy.  This cane is a small reed from India that is cut on both sides to make it more square; it is covered with strips of fabric that are sewn to the skirt with which they form the panier.  This skirt is made in taffeta, but ordinarily in toile legere [canvas?].  The English paniers have three coudes [elbows, see below].

“The name coude [elbow] is given to a portion of cane or baleen that is only placed on the side of the skirt, and precisely in the elbow, & which is attached by its two ends, one in front, the other in back, on the first row of canes that entirely circles the panier [in other words, the arching canes on each top corner].”

“There are some paniers à l’Anglaise or paniers de Cour, of a lesser size than those indicated previously; these ones do not have but a row of cane underneath three elbows, the others [the bigger paniers? something else?] have two.

“The name coude is given to a small panier which has no more than two elbows on a sole row of cane that supported and ended the panier; it was the height of fashion, and it is passed now like a thousand other things.”

So what did French court paniers look like?  Unfortunately, none still exist, and I have yet to find any images of specifically French court paniers!  Luckily, there are two 18th century Swedish court ensembles, with paniers, that still exist:

The pattern for Lovisa Ulrika’s panier and entire ensemble (yay!) can be found in Norah Waugh’s Cut of Women’s Clothes… weirdly placed in one of the glossy photo inserts, underneath the photo of the dress. My memory is that there’s a pattern of Sofia Magdalena’s panier out there somewhere, but I can’t remember where — am I crazy?  Remind me if you know either way!

Thanks to Andrew, who found these two c. 1760 paniers:

There is also this English panier that seem helpful.  English paniers were known for being more boxy than French, but this doesn’t seem to follow that rule:

Because there are no extant French court paniers, I wanted to find another way to get some information on sizes and shapes.  I was inspired by American Duchess’s post on panier proportion to do something similar, except with paintings (I’m not convinced that museums always know exactly what shape and size hoop should go under a given skirt; I’m sure the Livrustkammaren has made reproductions of the extant Swedish court paniers to support the corresponding gowns, but other museums have to made educated guesses when working with dresses that do not have a surviving panier).  I decided to focus on images that I thought were trying to be relatively realistic, and so avoided fashion plates as those always seem exaggerated to me.

In order to examine silhouettes, here are a bunch of images of French court dress with my bad Photoshop annotations.  First, I outlined in red what I thought was the general side silhouette of the panier.  Then, I wanted to compare sizes, so I marked the width of the waist in green, and then copied that shape to see how the measurements of the panier compared.  Being a tall girl and so interested in height vs. width, I also marked in blue the height of the wearer, and compared that with the hem width of the panier.  The big problem, of course, is that nearly ALL of the images I’ve seen of women in court paniers show them standing at an angle (if you know of any full face images, send them my way!).  So that means we’re dealing with perspective, and so nothing is going to be spot on.  And, of course, we can assume the painter is A) flattering the sitter (probably tinier waists than reality!) and B) tweaking reality to suit their own, or the subject’s, taste.

The overarching lesson that I get from this is that yes, there is definitely variation, but also that it seems that all the French court hoops have an curved/arched top corner (using the “elbow” canes) and some degree of flare on the side (from a little to a lot).  There is also some degree of downward slope (from a little to a lot) starting at the waist (only “Presentation of the portrait of Maria Antonia of Austria” has a completely horizontal side).  None of them have the squared off corners and vertical lines seen under English court dresses.  Despite references in the Encyclopedie (above) to knee-length hoops, I’m not seeing any of the silhouettes that you’d see wearing that kind of hoop (of course, it could be that shorter hoops were worn for less formal occasions; having your portrait painted in court wear is obviously the most formal).

Hoops of the 1720s-30s were definitely narrower overall than those that came later.

Looking at the later images, it looks like the narrowest are those seen in “La Dame du Palais de la Reine” (1789), “La Dame de Cour” (1776), and the Carmontelle images (“Mademoiselle d’Azincourt,” “Mademoiselle Lani,” and “Portrait de Mademoiselle Sophie d’Arnoult”); these vary from just under the width of the waist to just under twice the width of the waist (before they start to go into the elbow curve).  The hem width of the panier appears to be equal to about 1/2 to 3/4 of the wearer’s height.

The 1730s-40s portraits of Marie Leczinska are all 1 to 1.75 of the waist width (before beginning the elbow curve), and a lot of flare from the elbow to the hem — although none have as much flare as the extant 1751 Lovisa Ulrika paniers.  The hem width appears to be about 3/4 of the wearer’s height.

The 1770s-80s images of Marie-Antoinette are all almost 2x the waist width (before beginning the elbow curve).  The 1775 & 1778 images show a lot to a medium amount of vertical flare.  The 1783 image has far less vertical flare, but there’s still a little bit there.  Hem width is 3/4 to just under the wearer’s height.

And then there are the slightly weird outliers, like “Naissance de Louis-Xavier-François,” which shows a pre-teen/teenage girl (probably Marie-Therese, Marie-Antoinette’s eldest daughter) wearing quite small hoops… and “The Royal Family Around Louis Joseph,” in which nobody seems to be wearing any hoops at all!!  Make of THAT what you will!


Francois Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, “Le Grand Habit et la Mode en France au XVIIIeme Siecle,” Fastes de Cour et Ceremonies Royale

Amalia Descalzo, “La Permanence du Panier dans les Cours Europeennes,” Fastes de Cour et Ceremonies Royale

Encyclopédie Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts Et Des Métiers, vol. 11, 1765

Encyclopédie Methodique, 1785

Norah Waugh, Cut of Women’s Clothes



18th century, publications, research, underpinnings

New Research Article Posted: 18th c. rumps

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article for Foundations Revealed: The Corset Maker’s Companion on late 18th century skirt supports (called “bums,” “rumps,”  and “culs” in the period).  I’ve been interested in this topic for a long time, as the shapes I had seen and used didn’t seem to create the same effect that I saw in paintings and fashion plates.

I did a lot of research and pulled together as many sources as I could find, and then set about making test mock-ups to see how the different shapes would work.  I ended up making a small version of each shape as well as a large, and then photographed each on an appropriately-sized model.

It’s long past the Foundations Revealed embargo period, but it’s still taken me forever to cross-post this article to my own site, as it’s so image intensive — but I finally have finished it.  So, if you’re interested in what they might have worn under their skirts in the 1770s-1790s, please check out the article.

And since you might be wondering… I have ditched my “bumroll” shape (shape #2 in the article) in favor of #3 for 1770s-85, and and #7 for 1785-95.  You can see more examples of me wearing these two shapes under my 1780 polonaise (shape #3), 1775 Maja costume (shape #3), and 1787ish roundgown (shape #7).

Happy rump-ing!

The Bum Shop, 1785. Lewis Walpole Library.

18th century, books, underpinnings, workshops

New Book & Workshops

(Credit to Katherine/Koshka-the-Cat, who heard it from Sewaddicted on LJ) The V&A is coming out with a new book in their “Fashion in Detail” series — this one is focusing on underwear:  Underwear: Fashion in Detail!  According to the book description, it will include examples from the 16th century to the present.  This is SUPER exciting, as the previous books (Historical Fashion in Detail, and Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail) are amazing resources for seeing really close up details on fabrics, stitches, embroidery, trims, and more.  They’re porn!  It won’t be released until Oct. 1, 2010, but it gives us something to live for.

If you’d like to support this site AND buy it from Amazon, you can click on the link below and then add it to your wishlist and/or preorder it.

Also, Burnley & Trowbridge (the fabulous VA store that caters to 18th century costumers) is offering two workshops in Northern California!  One will be on quarterback gowns (robes a l’anglaise), the other on the Brunswick.  Both will be taught by Janea Whitacre, the mantua-maker from Colonial Williamsburg; I took her saque workshop and it was amazing how much she knew and how much I learned.  I’ve signed up for the Brunswick workshop — sadly (okay, not TOO sadly) I’ll be in England for the first weekend!

shopping, underpinnings

Ye proverbial corset supply question

Now that Farthingales LA has turned into Vogue Fabrics, who will only sell me German plastic boning by the coil ($150 a pop), I’m trying to find an alternate source.

Has anyone ordered from Greenberg & Hammer?  I guess you have to be old school, download their catalog, and order by phone?  Seems like a huge hassle.

Farthingales Canada is an option, altho not preferred because of crazy shipping rates to the US.

I refuse to shop from Grannd Garb, they screwed up one order multiple times and it took months to get everything right. doesn’t have German plastic boning in stock (says to special order, but with no info about how one would do that.  (Customer service = hard, apparently!)

Any other options?  I need:  standard white spring steel boning, extra hard spring steel boning, and German plastic boning.

16th century, 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, underpinnings

Smocks, Shifts, & Chemises, oh my

Working on my new 18th century shift reminds me that even the simplest of garments can be fascinating.  From the Renaissance smock, through the 18th century shift, to the 19th century chemise, white linen (and, later, cotton) was cut into squares, rectangles, and triangles and then assembled into incredibly similar shapes.  Even the full Renaissance Venetian camicia is built on the same principle as the comparatively spare 18th century shift, using all the available fabric to piece together a jigsaw of pattern pieces.  According to Costume Close-Up, 18th century shifts almost always required from 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 yards of fabric, with size variation accomodated by purchasing narrower or wider linen.  It wasn’t until the third quarter of the 19th century, when the chemise and drawers were streamlined into a one-piece garment called combinations, that any significant change occurred.  That’s pretty impressive:  at least 400 years (if not longer? medieval costume historians let me know!) of continuity.