Fashion Makes Fools of us All. I research a number of areas for my stories and one of them is filling my characters' closets with the correct garments for the time period. Here's a taste of some of the things I found when I was writing PLEASURING THE PIRATE (1720) and VEXING THE VISCOUNT (1731)
Eighteenth century fashion encouraged unrealistic ideals. Lest you think only women fell prey to the urge to be more or less than they naturally were, let me assure you men indulged in deceptive fashion, too. Both sexes wore wigs and face paint. Men and women wore 'beauty spots' to cover small-pox scars or evidence of sexually transmitted disease. Well-developed calves were prized in men, so spindly-legged fellows wore wooden 'falsies' in their stockings. Women's figures were manipulated through tight binding in some instances and heavy padding in others.
A lady's costume started with a chemise, a thin slip-like garment. This was covered by a heavily-boned corset that flattened the breasts and shoved them up into the "rising moons" position. A gown's neckline might be cut so low that the nipples were displayed as part of the décolletage. Georgians did not fetishize breasts, so a well-bred lady was just as likely as a courtesan to show her nipples (and rouge them!) in public.
I probably wouldn't have believed this startling tidbit if I hadn't seen a Georgian miniature in a schloss (castle) the last time I visited Germany. Sure enough, the lady was depicted with two little pink dots peeping above her gown's low neckline.
Next, the panniers would be attached to a lady's hips. This contraption of wire and horse-hair might expand the width of the woman's hips so much, she'd be forced to turn sideways to fit through doorways. If the lady needed additional derrière enhancement, she'd wear a "bumroll" made of carved cork. It was said a woman wearing one could never drown.
Stockings of silk or cotton were gartered at the knee. This completed the undergarments of the Georgian woman. I know what you're thinking. What? No undies? That's right. No undies. With the yards of a woman's skirts held out with panniers not even touching her legs, I expect a lady would feel naked from the waist down most of the time.
Lady's gowns were tightly fitted in the bodice, but might be loosely flowing in the back. This draped style was known as a sack dress.
The stomacher on the front of the gown was frequently ornamented with bows of descending size from the bosom to the waist.
When has fashion not been about the shoes? The platform shoes shown here were actually quite conservative. Some women tottered along on 22 inch chopines until a maximum height of 11 inches was mandated by law. In a time when streets frequently doubled as sewers, platform shoes made a surprising amount of sense.
As the century turned, fashion turned away from manipulation of the human form toward a more naturalistic style in the Regency era. Since A CHRISTMAS BALL and STROKE OF GENIUS are set during that time, I'll share those fashions with you soon.
PS. Be sure to enter my CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST contest! The drawing will be held September 1st!