What Goes Around, Comes Around: 1620-1650s and 1830-1840s Fashion

Déjà vu?

It’s a well-known fact that fashions work in cycles. Sometimes the cycle is obvious, like the current resurgence of 1950s and 1960s fashion or the 1970s love of reinterpreting Renaissance and Edwardian styles. Usually the fashions aren’t directly copied, but tweaked to some degree to match modern tastes/trend/sizes.

It intrigued me when I came across this pretty little dress in the Colonial Williamsburg archives while researching Tasha Tudor’s costume collections:


Child’s Cotton Dress, circa 1840 (possibly earlier)

It feels vaguely familiar….

Ah, yes!

The distinct wide shoulders, voluminous sleeves, high natural waist with the little point at the front, and wide lace collar are undeniably mid-17th century in style! I find it rather ironic that these two eras, the 17th century and early Victorian era, are some of the least known fashion eras to the average person. Maybe it’s the dog-eared face frames that do it?

17th Century


Of course the 1830s and 1840s do not directly copy early 17th century style. Instead of stomachers or cone bodices, the early Victorians preferred to decorate and tailor with seams. Victorian bodices are generally more curvy than 17th century bodices, though a love of Grecian-style drapery during the 1640s-1650s led to the sweetheart neckline. Both eras covered up to the neck with high collars or employed dropped sleeves to show off creamy shoulders.

17th Century


17th Century


Even the ruff, which is the other trademark accessory of the early 17th century, made a comeback during the 1830s, appearing on fashionable ladies in much more softened, gauzy incarnation. I am especially entertained by how ladies in the 1830s combined their small ruffs with gigantic collars– the marriage of two major 17th century trends!

17th Century



Also, just for fun, look at how similar these two portraits are in color, composition, and even the styling of the mothers’ dresses. Gorgeous silver satin twins almost 200 years apart!

17th Century

Costuming in either of these eras is not for the faint of heart! They are heavy, ridiculously over-decorated (I dare say even more so than rococo!), and very out of fashion at the moment, but it’s been almost another 200 years. Maybe fashion is ready for another rollover and I can wear my lace collars again with impunity…

Can you tell the 17th Century collars from the 19th century ones?

Until that day, I’m loving this beautiful dress worn by the elusive Margaret Stuart:

I wonder if I could make a basic petticoat/skirt and bodice out of golden-brown velvet and make it work for both eras…

6 thoughts on “What Goes Around, Comes Around: 1620-1650s and 1830-1840s Fashion

    1. Oooo! Do you tat? I have seen women at events making lace before, but all the little bobbins make my head spin. Is it easier than it looks?

  1. Just found your delightful blog, and I really enjoyed this post. When working on an illustration project for a subject set in restoration England, I was so struck with how the fashions seemed to be extremely similar to early Victorian fashions, and in so many of the details.

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