The 18th Century is a challenge to costume on a budget, but with patience, ingenuity, and a little rule-bending, you can create a decent 1700s ensemble for your next costume party! Of course, if you were transported back in time to the French court, you probably wouldn’t get mistaken for a courtier for a minute, but for today’s events, however, this is an excellent way to make a Halloween or theater costume without having to dip into your child’s college fund!
1700s Court Silhouette 101:
Square or wide, low scoop neck
3/4 or fitted long sleeves
“Natural”, corseted waistline
Let them eat Triple Fudge Devil’s Food Cake! ($$$)
Custom, historical court gowns 1730-1780s
Let them eat Confetti Cake! ($$)
Casual Day Outfit 1760-1780s:
Hair decor (feathers, ribbons, hats, etc.)
The goal of this project is to mimic the silhouette of the dress. For the sake of cheapness, we are forgoing most of the traditional layers that go under the dress: corset, slip, underdress, etc. You can add these if your dress and budget allow. The panniers are the indispensable part of this outfit. Panniers can be crafted in a wide range of styles, but the easiest is the “dumpling” or stuffed-pouch style. You can make your own by sewing wide tubes of fabric and stuffing them with polyfill, then tying them around your waist.
Some vintage pieces can often be used (some Gunne Sax dresses, for example) with the simple addition of a good pannier. Many dresses with a full skirt and square neck can be modified with a pair of ruffled 3/4 length sleeves, a jacket, or a triangular faux stomacher. Find the perfect dress to use, but it’s way too short? Layer a long skirt in a similar color underneath. This project tests all of your creative faculties and can be as easy or challenging as you like!
Let them eat Twinkies! ($)
Chemise á la Reine 1780-1790s:
Long Chemise with sleeves
Wide Belt or Sash
Wide Brim Hat
Decorations (flowers, bows, ribbon, feathers, etc.)
What made this gown so scandalous when Marie Antoinette first wore it is what makes this dress so fun and easy to wear! It’s a well-made, loose dress with a wide belt or tie (usually satin) paired with some simple accessories: a wide straw hat and some pretty heels. The better part? You are considered a chic, upper-crust lady! The best part? You can re-use the chemise dress for your other costumes! Win-win-win!
Let them bake their own!
Tips and tricks:
If you find a good jacket that is too small and won’t close in the front, you can craft a stomacher to fill in the gap, creating the perfect top to a late 1700s dress. You can also trim the neckline of a dress into a square and use iron-on hemming tape to finish it in a pinch.
One theater troop I worked with made panniers out of pillows! They just sewed a length of rope or ribbon to the corners and tied them around their waists in pairs.
Make add-on sleeves by sewing a tube of fabric that fits your arm from shoulder to elbow, then elasticizing the ends.
Hair! hair! HAIR! Curls and puffs everywhere! You can keep it simple and natural by just curling your hair into spirals, or go all out with Bump-its and ringlets. Fancy dresses demand fancy hair while simpler, later styles mostly need body and wave.
For more information on the ringleaders of Rococo Fashion, Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, visit The Ladies of Rococo: Beyond Bows and Ruffles