Addicted to Trim: 17th Century Ribbon Loops
If you could describe the 17th century in one word, “swag” probably wouldn’t be the first to come to mind, but the term– which is American slang for “fashionable, ornamental excess”– actually describes the era particularly well, especially the use of trims and ribbons that swelled to ridiculous proportions by the 1650s. During the 17th century, trim became a major player in the fashion game. Early in the century, the fashion for all-over abundance of embroidery, metallic lace, and jewels was de rigueur for the upper class, but by 1610, different tastes were beginning to prevail: the iconic black silks and velvets with wide lace ruffs and collars we’ve come to associate with “pilgrim fashions” of the 17th century.
“Portrait of Mary Radclyffe” by William Larkin, circa 1610-13
This black-and-white world is a faux reality, since 17th century fashion was as brightly colored as any century before or after and was, perhaps, more heavily textured. However, solid colors including black, powder blue, pink, and yellow gowns and coats gained popularity over the polychrome brocades and embroidered smorgasbord of the late 1500s. During the 1600s, texture and volume became immensely important. It was no longer enough to throw on all your finery and be done with it. Textures had to compliment and contrast each other. If you wore a fitted black silk gown, you would contrast the smooth dark with a frilly, soft white lace. Rosettes, which had blossomed in popularity during the Elizabethan era, soared in popularity and offered a lady or gentleman yet another opportunity to play with texture. Rosettes of ribbon could be worn nearly anywhere: sleeves, garters, necklines, shoulders, belts, or shoes. Many rosettes were quite large, 6 inches in diameter or even larger!
Detail of “Amalia van Solms” by Sir Anthonis van Dyck, circa 1631
Notice how carefully “choreographed” the play of texture is on Amalia’s gown. The smooth silk bodice has ribboned sleeves which would reveal glimpses of an undersleeve. On top of that, golden rosettes tame the volume of and huge pinked cuffs soften the stark look. Her abundance of jewelry is symmetrically placed, contrasting with her offset belt rosette.
Rosettes are carefully sculpted into shape with folds and stitches, but when they become quite large, it’s much harder to control the stiffness and shape. Naturally, the rosette took on a softer incarnation, halfway between a rosette and a bow. It became fashionable to attach long aglets (metal tips) to the ends of the bows, adding yet another textural feature to the outfit. This popular embellishment could also be functional, tying sleeves to a bodice or stays, for example.
Loosely looped rosettes in “Portrait of a lady” by Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn, circa 1630-50
Doublet and Breeches Suit with loose bows, circa 1635-40
“The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs” by Georges de La Tour, circa 1630-34
Rosettes and bows were fashionable for both men and women. This painting, as well as the later version, show the aglet-tipped bows that exploded in popularity during the 1630s.
Stays and Sleeves with Metal Aglets, circa 1660-70
Perhaps the most interesting use of ribbon during the 17th century, however, was the ribbon loop. Developed out of the bows and loose rosettes, by the 1650s, these loops became the mark of the most fashionable, Cavalier gentleman. Cascades of these rustling ribbon loops were hung low around the waist to bridge the gap between relatively short doublet and high-waisted breeches.
Outfits belonging to Charles X (1622 to 1660)
These rich outfits were the height of fashion for men during the mid-17th century. The popular shape for men was a bowed-forward posture with thick limbs for a jaunty appearance. I’ve heard plenty of comments that these outfits make men look like toddlers since there is no strong waist delineation and the form is very puffy. However, the rounded appearance, coupled with large accessories like feathered hats, turned-down boots, and wide capes all served to make a man as large and grand looking as possible. The ribbon bows/loops added even more swagger and size to the picture.
Livery uniforms, circa 1672
Men weren’t the only ones to indulge in ribbon loops. Ladies closed their jacket fronts with a boa-like line of ribbons and hung ribbon tassels from their bodices and hair. By the 1670s, the loops had ceased to be distinctly bow-shaped and were applied like tassels. The ribbon strips were often wider for men and thinner for women and children.
“The Eldest Daughter of the Artist” by Claude Lefebvre, circa 1672
“Maria van Oosterwijck” by Wallerant Vaillant, circa 1671
This amazing woman became a floral still-life painter of great renown by her own volition at a time when painting flowers was a fine female occupation, but not one a woman was expected to do unmarried. Her paintings are bright, lifelike, and still quite collectable today. Her biography is well worth a read!
“Portrait of a Woman with a Moorish Page” by an unknown artist, late 17th century
“Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary” by The Freake Limner, circa 1671-74
“Portrait of a Young Boy” by the studio of Henri Gascar, circa 1680-90
Note the matching ribbon puff attached to the hat.
Ribbon loops even trimmed hats, purses, and gloves. Anywhere embellishment could conceivably go, a swathe of looped ribbon could be–and often was– applied.
Gloves, circa 1660-80
Purse with ribbon loops and love symbolism, circa 1650-1700
The fashion for looped ribbons fell out of favor around 1700 as a new century rolled in and the fashion of choice changed from the full and voluminous Baroque silhouette to longer, leaner waistcoats for men and mantuas for ladies, eventually evolving into into the 18th century’s signature Rococo look with plenty of swag of its own.
“Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen” by Frans Hals, circa 1622
“Mr and Mrs Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1750
“Passementarie” on Wikipedia – What the heck is that?! Find out.
“1660s Dress” on Rossetti – Another late 17th century style dress
Just Let me Pin on My Flat, Frilly, Fancy Abs…
Stomacher and matching Gown, mid 18th century
Stomachers were an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe beginning with a rise of pairs of bodies and stays (the ancestors of the corset). There is evidence that stomachers have been in use since the 16th century, but stomachers became a fashion staple between 1590 during the brief reign of the French wheel farthingale and the trend continued well into the 18th century. Bodices were made with open fronts and the stomacher was used to cover the stays and chemise behind the opening. The stomacher would be pinned to the lady’s stays or to the inside of the bodice to hold it in place. Some stomachers also have ties and silk tabs to help keep the stomacher in place. While many stomachers were made to blend seamlessly with a dress, other stomachers were made to compliment the dress with a contrasting patterns or color. Early stomachers were decorated with blackwork, polychrome silk embroidery, redwork, metal lace, and scads of jewels if you were rich enough to afford them.
“Portrait of a Woman” by Giovanni Cariani, early 16th century
“Anne of Denmark” by Isaac Oliver, circa 1595
The complex fashions of the nobility in the late 16th century involved a lot of work on the part of a lady and her maids. Here, Anne shows of her status with a delicate linen collar (made of linen so fine it could be passed through the eye of a large darning needle), an embroidered velvet bodice, and peeking out from behind her gigantic diamond pendant, a bejeweled blackwork stomacher. Wealthy ladies would contract out such embroidery work to a skilled embroiderer or tailor, though some still took pleasure in creating their own decorations.
“Portrait of a Lady, probably Elizabeth Southwell née Howard,” circa 1600
“Portrait of Lucy Hutchinson” by John Souch of Chester, circa 1643
Bodice, circa 1630-40
This punched-silk bodice was made to be worn with a long stomacher. 17th century stomachers were longer than 18th century stomachers and were often done in contrasting rather than matching designs.
Polychrome Stomacher, circa 1600-1615
You can’t tell from this black and white photo, but this wide stomacher is actually embroidered with bright, colorful silks. It would have covered the entire front of a lady’s stays and is basically half of a bodice. The curved corners at the top are for armhole allowance. It would have allowed plenty of flexibility for different bodice styles and sizes.
Having an open-front bodice was quite practical. It gave the lady multiple options for outfits by mixing the open bodice with different stomachers and petticoats. It also allowed for changing body shapes, like weight gain or loss and pregnancy. All a lady had to do was change the width of her stomacher to accommodate her changing body. Purchasing or making a fresh stomacher was much easier and less expensive than replacing a whole gown.
Because 17th and 18th century stays were cone-shaped with smoothed fronts, stomachers are usually triangular in shape as well. In the early 18th century, heavily embroidered stomachers blooming with polychrome flowers came into fashion, as did faux lacing and frilly bows.
Stomacher with Applied Faux Lacing, circa 1720
Stomacher, early to mid 18th century
Sacque Gown with Embroidered Stomacher, circa 1735-40
Caraco Jacket with Stomacher and Embroidered Petticoat, circa 1750/altered 1780
Since they were worn as a piece of outer clothing, stomachers were often highly decorated with embroidery, spangles/sequins, metallic braid, bows, ribbons, and more! A popular decoration for upper class courtesans was a large, long brooch or jewel that covered the whole front of her stomacher or over a closed-front gown to mimic the look of an ornate stomacher. These bodice jewels were also called “stomachers,” so it can get a little confusing.
Stomacher Jewel, circa 1750
These huge, long brooches stayed popular throughout the centuries, and Queen Mary, consort of King George V (1910-1936), had quite a collection of stomacher jewels she wore over her Edwardian dresses.
Anyway, back to cloth stomachers!
The open-robe gowns of the 18th century, just like their 17th century forebears, required a stomacher to close them. Dresses from 1700 to the 1730s often had stomachers that did not directly match the fabric of the dress, but rather complimentary stomachers made to match a variety of colors were popular. By the mid-18th century, stomachers began to match the dresses and jackets more directly, using the same fabrics and trims as decoration. Many court dresses had stomachers that were heavily boned and layered with decorations.
“Portrait of a Noblewoman” by Donat Nonotte, circa 1760
“Portrait of a Lady” by a student of Alexander Roslin, circa 1760
”Maria Josefa de Lorena, Archduchess of Austria” by Anton Raphael Mengs
Anton Raphael Mengs is one of the premier painters of the 18th century. His soft, pale ladies swathed in rich, sculptural dresses. He perfectly captures texture and light. His images have inspired many modern artists in the Neo-Rococo movement.
In this particular portrait, a resplendent Maria Josefa de Lorena is dressed in a gown of royal blue velvet decorated with gilded ribbon and lace. You can catch a glimpse of the pannier’s form under her gown. Her stomacher is heavily boned to achieve a perfectly smooth conical shape.
”Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples” by Anton Rafael Mengs, circa 1768
On court gowns, a richly decorated stomacher contrasted beautifully with the wide, smooth walls of fabric draped over a noblewoman’s panniers.
Stomachers could be boned for more support or left unboned for a more rounded silhouette. Adding a lace ruffle to the top or a row of faux buttons down the front of the stomacher became popular mid-century. Stomachers could have rounded, pointed, or squared bottoms, depending on what shape was most flattering to the style of the gown and the body shape of the woman wearing it.
“Infanta Maria Luisa de Borbon, gran duquesa de Toscana” by Anton Rafael Mengs, circa 1770
This is portrait the epitome of an 18th century lady. She’s got it all: the huge lace cuffs, the pearl choker, the powdered beehive, the fan, the mitts, the ruffles, the bows! Her luscious gown in ice blue even has a perfectly matched stomacher edged with lace.
Gown with matching Stomacher and Petticoat, circa 1770-79
Jacket with Matching Stomacher, mid-to-late 18th century
Closed front gowns and open-front gowns had co-existed together for over a century, but the reign of the stomacher was waning. By the 1790s, the fashionable elite had moved on to chemises a la reine and slim, neo-classical gowns (the Regency silhouette), but some ladies, mostly older generations and peasants, held on to cone-shaped stays and stomachers even into the earliest years of the 19th century.
“The Rabbit Seller” by William Henry Pyne, circa 1805
This British peasant woman is selling wild game. While her wealthy clients have adopted the fashionable new Empire silhouette, she is still dressed in the manner of the previous decades. Though her bodice may not necessarily be a stomacher bodice, the style was still present in the peasant class. Her outfit is made of cast-off clothes from the upper classes. There was a huge market for cast-off clothes that had been going on since the 17th century. After wearing a dress a few times, court women would sell their now-passe gowns to lesser nobles who would in turn sell the clothes after more wear, and so on down the line until the clothes passed to the poorest of the poor. It was not uncommon to see a flower merchant or candy seller wearing a velvet skirt, though it would be in quite rough condition after being worn and re-worn for many years.
Check out these resources to learn more about stomachers:
“18th Century Stomachers” – A thorough database on larsdatter.com, the best research site for early history!
“Making a Stomacher, Start to Finish” on Fushia’s 18th Century Dress Project
The Costume Historian – Information on early 17th and 18th century stomachers
Multiple Pinterest boards here (gowns and examples), here (stomacher jewels), and here (many eras/styles)
The Stomacher Wikipedia Page
“Daily Life in Elizabethan England” – Not really a stomacher resource per se, but a really interesting excerpt nonetheless!
April 28, 2013
My Multi-Tasking 1812/1912 Dress
I found this beautiful Edwardian nightgown for $20 in a second hand shop and my first thought was: Wow! This looks just like a Regency-style dress!
The dress itself is early 20th century, not early 19th century, but the lines, lace, and silhouette look incredibly similar to these 1812-1813 fashion plates:
Fashion Plate, circa 1813
Fashion Plate, circa 1812
Of course I resist the opportunity to play dress-up, so here’s the gown, styled a la 1812:
Nightgown – $20, thrift shop
Woven shawl – $5, Walmart
Vintage Gloves – $5, eBay
Hat (made from a flower pot and silk ribbon) – $1, thrift shop
Shoes – $3, thrift shop
White slip – $8, Walmart
Rago Waist Cincher (helps boost the girls up to ridiculously high, Regency-approved levels) – $30, Amazon
Balconette bra – $12, Hanes
The dress is really beautiful and must have been even more so when it was new. It has cotton lace inserts threaded with peach silk ribbon around the collar, waistline, and cuffs. The hem has a dainty, pin-tucked ruffle bottom.
Of course, the best picture of the outfit had to have me blinking…
Fashion plate, circa 1813
This shawl was a super steal at Wally World. Who cares if it’s polyester?! It looks amazing with all sorts of styles, from 1810 to 1860 to today.
Since my mim was so kind as to get me a curling iron for Christmas, I attempted to curl my hair this time around. It held curl perfectly…for about 4 minutes. By the time I got outside, it had mostly come uncurled, so I did the period-appropriate thing and poked the ornery bits back up into my poke bonnet!
The dress was in pretty rough shape: mildew stains, set-in wrinkles, and a complete lack of any closures (it’s open from collar to hem and had 1/2 of a snap left, so I replaced and added vintage ones to hold it closed properly. I don’t want any wardrobe malfunctions!). I gently soaked and sun-dried the cotton, which whitened it perfectly. I also gently un-twisted the peach silk ribbon. There are plenty of lovely, under-appreciated Victorian and Edwardian nightgowns out there and many make beautiful Regency gowns with the right tweaks! Also, since ladies either wore light corsets or went corset-less to bed (also just by the nature of sleepwear), nightgowns are usually looser fitting and in more naturalistic sizes that fit modern body types more readily than you expect!
My method of under support for this dress isn’t historically accurate, but it is historically inspired. During the 1810s, corsets were beginning to fully morph out of the stays and half-stays of the previous decades and into full-torso pieces with cording or wooden busks for the main support mechanisms with minimal boning. My Rago Cincher/balconette bra combo mimics the shape that a corset like this would have provided:
Corset, circa 1815-25
Fashion Plate showing a Gusseted Corset, circa 1813
Fashion that Fits in the Palm of Your Hand
I love dolls, especially fashion dolls. I love costuming them and posing them for pictures just as much as I like costuming and posing for pictures myself! Dolls are one of the most ancient toys and have been made in just about every material possible. In the 18th century, fashion dolls were usually made of wood covered in gesso (a thick, white paint) and were used less like little girl’s playthings and more like mini mannequins that showed off the latest fashions, called “pandoras.”
Fashion Doll, circa 1755-60
If a child did own a doll, they often didn’t play with them as roughly as I played with my Barbies as a child (no impromptu haircuts or being left strewn naked across the living room floor). Dolls were expensive and their clothes were a perfect miniature copies of current fashions, often down to the stockings and stays: truly little works of art!
Doll’s Shoes, circa 1690-1700
Notice the thin, white band of leather near the sole. During the late 17th and early 18th century, this was a mark of high quality and good taste.
Doll’s Stays, circa 1690-1700
These two pieces are from a single doll, Lady Clapham, made in the late 17th to early 18th century. She comes with an entire outfit from foundation garments to hair accessories. Her male counterpart, Lord Clapham, also comes with an entire wardrobe from nightgown to tricorn hat! They are perfect miniature representations of fashions at the time and are stunningly complete.
Today, fashion dolls have evolved. Pandora dolls still exist in the form of BJD (ball jointed dolls) such as Volks, Luts, or Obitsu. These large, finely crafted dolls are mostly targeted towards adult collectors who dress them up in wonderfully detailed outfits ranging from everyday band t-shirts to fantastical Steampunk Lolita fairy wings. Since they are fully customizable, a BJD can take on any personality or era. One of my new favorite BJD costume designers is Pat Winship. I found her through Etsy and I am amazed at how she has re-created 18th century fashions in perfect miniature!
“Flowers and Sun” 1770s Ensemble by Pat Winship
Just like their 18th century ancestors, Pat’s BJD outfits are based on historical patterns and methods, plus, each outfit is complete down to the stays and jewellery!
Hat, walking stick, shoes, collar, earrings, bumroll, chemise, and stays from Pat Winship’s “Flowers and Sun” outfit
Detail of the Hat from “Flowers and Sun”
I really want to make a full-sized version of it!
I worked as a miniaturist for 13 years and I know that making all those tiny details is a challenge! I am especially impressed with how perfectly scaled all of the prints, trims, and accessories are. Here are some more of her clever creations:
“Belle la Rose” Mid-18th Century Ensemble by Pat Winship
A peek at the “Belle la Rose” outfit’s Watteau Pleats!
“Robe a la Polonaise” 1770s Ensemble by Pat Winship
Pearl choker, earrings, shoes, hat, chemise, and stays from “Robe a la Polonaise”
Miniaturized 18th Century Shoes by Pat Winship on DeviantArt
Isn’t it all gorgeous?! I am so jealous.
I have been wanted to create a historical fashion doll for a while now. I think it would be a good combination of all my favorite hobbies, plus I have an embarrassingly nude Tonner Sydney floating around in my “Unfinished Business Box” somewhere. Much like my human-sized dress form Simplicity, however, Sydney’s bust is a little geometrically challenging to work around, at least in any way that would look remotely period correct…
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