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! ($$$)
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 Louis-heeled shoes
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.
So you have the dress, the hat, and the jewelry, but no outfit is complete without shoes! What shoes should you choose to go with your period costume? You don’t want to get caught wearing a Victorian boot with a Renaissance gown or a pair of platforms with a Southern Belle dress! This brief guide provides a look into the shoe fashions of the most popular, upper-class costuming eras from the 14th to early 20th centuries. The best source for discovering period-appropriate shoes is to look at paintings from the era or originals. Humans are creative creatures, so there are many varieties and styles that were made in the period, but aren’t necessarily common, so if you find a period shoe that doesn’t quite fit the “norm,” it’s okay! Flat-soled Mary Janes have been in style since ancient times, and when in doubt, black leather or velvet flatters any foot no matter what era it’s in! High heel styles remained pretty much the same after about 1840, so if you can find a Louis or chunky stacked heel between 1cm and 4cm tall with the right toe-box shape, you’re set!
Note: The vamp of the shoe is the part that goes over the top of your toes and foot. The toe box is the part surrounding your toes, usually in a rounded, pointed, or square shape. To learn more about shoes and to understand what a toe box, vamp, etc. are, take a gander at this handy diagram:
1500-1650 – Leather and velvet chopines or decorated flats
1650-1790 – Louis heels, high vamps, buckles, fancy mules
Dancing and formal shoes can be decorated with a myriad of shoe clips and rosettes to make them fancier. It’s a good way to dress up a basic black shoe, especially if you match the rosette or clip to your dress!
Stockings are just as important as the shoes you are wearing. Patterned knee or thigh-high stockings in opaque colors enhance any footwear!
Beginning in Roman times, but bursting into popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, platform “chopine” shoes were what the fashionable girls, especially in Spain, were wearing. These heavy chopines were made from stacking layers of cork or cotton and stitching them together with a fine silk, leather, or velvet cover. At the height of their popularity, they totted at an amazing 40cm (20 inches) or more! When they were taller than 14 or so centimeters, chopines were almost impossible to walk in and required canes or escorts to help the noblewoman walk. The horror stories of pregnant women falling and laws banning brides from falsifying their height at weddings led to a decrease in the chopine’s popularity. By the 1600s, wooden heels began to replace the chopin. Both men and women snapped up these new heels and the elevated shoe would remain popular for both sexes until the late 19th century.
18th Century Shoes were all about romance and opulence. Ladies’ shoes were delicate affairs made from silk and brocade. These whisper-thin slippers couldn’t survive much outdoor walking, so most came with matching “pattens,” which were an extra sturdy sole that tied onto the bottom of the shoe. Heeled shoes were all the rage, but since they were carved from wood and not very sturdy, most heels were between 1cm and 6cm high, though some overtly sexy fetish shoes with enormous heels have been found. The heel wasn’t located right under the heel, as most are today. They were waisted (or wasted) heels, called Louis heels after the French king, placed closer to the instep. Almost all footwear sported a trendy pointed toe and a myriad of gorgeous, ornate buckles. One of the most famous shoes from the 18th century is a delicate pink mule flying through the air in the paintings of Watteau and Fragonard.
Regency shoes (as discussed in this post as well) also had pointed toes, but instead of high heels, they were flatter, with only the smallest heel on walking boots to elevate the pedestrian out of the mud. Slippers were still the favored shoe and were fashioned of silk or cotton, often elaborately printed.
Early Victorian or Romantic shoes were still low-heeled, but all those delicate slippers wore out too easily to be economical and comfortable, so boots began to come into fashion for both men and women. Early Victorian boots were made like Regency walking boots, but in finer fabrics. Button-up boots became popular and the addition of a flexible gusset allowed for easier wearing. Square toes replaced pointed as the preferred shape. By the American Civil War in the 1860s, heels were beginning to rise. Instead of placing the heel close to the insole, however, these new heels were located at the very back of the shoe (Dancing pumps, however, retained the inset waisted heel until the invention of the steel heel support in the 20th century) . Ironically, as shoes became more practical, ladies wished to have their feet look as thin as possible, a trend that began with Madame Pompadour in the 18th Century and would continue into the 20th Century. Some women would tape their feet smaller or even sacrifice a toe to fit into narrow boots. Narrow, tight shoes became as ridiculed as over-tightened corsets as the 19th century wore on.
In the 1880s, high-top laced boots became popular and remained so through the 1910s. Queen Victoria’s mourning for her husband created a fashion trend toward darker colors, but by the Gay Nineties, all manner of boots were made, some still study, practical leather for public walking, but many in bright silk brocades and embroidered with patterns, fluffed with ribbons, and decorated with beads. A slightly rounded-point toe and highly-fitted silhouette marks the late Victorian shoe, creating a dainty, lady-like look with a slight edge so popular with Neo-Victorian fashionistas today. Beginning in the 1870s, shoes gained a heavily sexuality of their own. A woman flashing her ankle from beneath her heavy skirts was as taboo as flashing her breasts. Super high heels became all the rage in the underground, tottering to massive heights in the fetish community, just as they do today.
The much-overlooked Edwardian shoe saw the lowering of the boot-tops back down to the ankle, and pumps became common for everyday. The Edwardians loved dainty, airy decoration as opposed to the heavy Victorian style which had reigned for nearly a century. Sturdier mass-production methods allowed heels to become slimmer. Since less fabric was needed to hold the shoe together, Mary-Jane styles with low-cut vamps and thin straps allowed patterned stockings to peep through. As the Edwardian period came to a close, skirts became less voluminous, so matching your shoes to your dress became a necessity.
All of the pictures in this article are linked to to sites detailing each section, so feel free to click and explore!
Every time you buy a cheap, polyester flapper costume, a real flapper dies.
Being a flapper was all about being more interesting, more flamboyant, and more fun than everyone else in the room. A real flapper would never be caught dead wearing the same boring, fringed dress every other girl was wearing! She’d want to stand out like a rhinestone peacock. She loves wild jewelry, dark lipstick, feathers, fur, lace, and driving everyone around her mad with jealousy while still being smolderingly sexy. Out shine her! Here’s how:
The Essential Flapper:
Low-waisted or tubular dress
Hat or Headband
There are so many option when it comes to being a flapper. You can be really, really flashy, or sweet and demure. You can wear a long dress or a short one. Beads, sequins, chiffon, silk, pleats, buttons, pearls…anything goes! Flapper-style dresses surged in popularity in the 1980s. Some of these dresses just need a few good accessories to make them perfect!
Flappers were innovators. Some were wild, some were bad, some were vain, some were posers, but all of them expressed their personalities in the way they dressed. This myriad of punctuation marks is essential to being a good flapper; it’s your personal touch that’s totally different than anyone else.
Is it your awesome hair? Wearing so much jewelry you fall over? Big hats? Fabulous fur stoles? Long gloves? Too much rouge? A flask tucked into your garter?
Want that authentic flapper shape? Modern shapeware and compression sports bras are super for smoothing out lumps. Want to be historically accurate? An Ace bandage over your chest will keep you from being too bouncy. The flatter, the better!
Lots of modern dresses are simple sack dresses. Just tie some satin rope or a scarf low around your hips to make it look period appropriate, then add a long string of Mardi Gras beads and a knit beanie for a flapper guise on the cheap!
Pssssst! Dress clip pairs can go on your shoes or shoulders! : )