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Female Baroque Clothing

During the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, French fashion took over the leading role in Europe. This was caused by France having developed into the main political and cultural power, thus turning French fashion into an equally "absolutistic" regime. During the period from 1660 onwards, fashion in France, according to the absolutistic ideal, became rigid, ordered and strict in its do's and don'ts of etiquette.

About 10 years after Louis XIV's accession to the throne and maturity in the year 1661, the entirety of Europe was under the dictatorship of the French royal fashion in about 1670. From that date on European rulers strove to imitate the powerful Sun King, they even lost national differences and diversities in fashion, thus French fashion became world fashion.

After the Thirty Years War, when the English King Charles I had been executed and the Puritans under Cromwell reigned; when Louis XIV was still merely a child at the signing of the Peace of Westphalia; when the numerous municipalities of Germany were in ashes and ruins after the horror of the 30s Years War and possessed neither a political nor a cultural centre; when the Spanish and Austrian rulers were still clinging to the old fashioned Spanish court costumes of the 16th century; there was no court in Europe left who could possibly take over the leading role in fashion. Thus a different type of model was looked upon in the 1650s and 60s. The Netherlands, and particularly the rich, powerful and independent Burghers. There are numerous paintings of the 1640s-1660s by Dutch artists of every day life scenes amongst the Dutch upper middle class, which you will find in the Period Images chapter under Dutch Paintings. The clothing of the Dutch was now made of colourful velvets and silks, decorated with many ribbons.


Female fashion changed tremendously from the 1630s towards the 1660s. The entire silhouette changed completely, from the high waisted gowns of the 1630s to the slender and long waisted ones of the 1660s.
During this period gowns were generally made with bodices and skirts seamed together at the waist which was slightly elevated. Gowns opened at centre front. The outer layer was worn over an underbodice, a boned, stiffened garment like a corset that had a long, V-shaped section called a stomacher at the front. This stomacher filled in the upper part of the gown. The sleeves were often very full on gowns and fashionable jackets. They were puffed out, frequently paned. Contemporary writers refer to stylish sleeves, paned out and tied with ribbons into a series of puffs as virago sleeves. The neckline was usually low, some V-shaped and some square, some horizontal in shaping. Stiff ruffs had been now replaced by falling ruffs, gathered collars tied under the chin with strings. Large neckerchiefs were seen as well. Horizontal necklines were often edged with a wide, flat collar. 


The gowns changed considerably in shaping and silhouette. The bodice was lengthened and narrowed, so that it became long-waisted and more slender with an extended V-shaped point at the front. The necklines tended to be low, wide and horizontal or oval in shape and were frequently edged by a wide lace collar or band of linen called a whisk. The sleeves were set low on the shoulder, opening into a full ruff that ended below the elbow. 
While petticoat breeches were fashionable during the 1650s and 1660s, the ladies at the French court were looking towards Holland for fashionable advice, while in England King Charles II was still in exile and the protectorate under Cromwell and the Puritans kept fashion rather dull and plain anyway. Strangely enough, it seems as if female fashion was more restricted in its lavishness and perhaps even ridicule regarding decorations, ribbons and such, than male fashion, being less extravagant, and actually very elegant and rather simple in the 1660s. 

The the upper skirts extended in the back to a train, and just like back in the middle ages the length of the train denoted a lady's rank at the French court. The waist became extremely small again, and often, so some chroniclers stated, a young woman was only then satisfied when she could span her slender waist with her own two hands. The corset became again, similar to what it looked like during the late 16th century, at the time of the Spanish high fashion, very long in the front, ending in the middle in an extended piece, which was extra rigid, usually achieved by whalebone. And yet, there was a big difference between the French female fashion of the second half of the 17th century and the Spanish fashion of the century earlier, because now the silhouette and the garments were no longer concealing the female figure and body, but instead accentuating its beauty. 
This was the age of the Maitresse, and every gentleman who wanted to be taken seriously, was supposed to have at least one Maitresse en titre. Monogamy within the marriage was thought to be only suitable for the commoners. But it was frowned upon, if an aristocrat took a maitresse who was not noble, though the most famous example probably comes from England, namely Nell Gwynn, King Charles II's Mistress, who had been an actress. Before that she was actually an 'Orange Girl', a euphemism for a prostitute on the streets and in the theatres, to be very blunt. Nevertheless, Restoration England was more free than France under Louis XIV, and although Charles could never ennoble Nell, his surviving children with her were ennobled. Thus 'Pretty Witty Nell's son became the Duke of St. Albans. It is being said, that she was meant to be made the Countess of Greenwich, but alas, Charles died before that.


The now fashionable gown evolved gradually from those prevalent between 1660 and 1680, and it showed the following features: The neckline revealed less bosom now and became more square, which might have been a result of Madame de Maintenon's influence on Louis XIV and the French court, who was very conservative and religious. The corsets were now visible at the front of the bodice, heavily decorated, and ending in a pronounced V at the waist. Separate stomachers could be tied or pinned to the front of the corset to vary the appearance of a dress. 

This is also the time, when a new dress for women emerged: the Mantua or Manteau. Instead of cutting the bodice and shirt as separate pieces that were sewn together, bodice and skirt were cut in one length from shoulder to hem. Cut to fall in back and front, the garment was worn over a corset an an undershirt, a chemise. For casual wear it was loose, but for more formal wear it was pleated to fit the body at front and back and also belted. Front skirt edges were often pulled back and fastened to form a draped effect. 
The corset, which had been designed to hide all female curves during the reign of the Spanish fashion, was now meant to accentuate them, and gained more and more importance. The bodice, which fitted the corset exactly in cut and form, was usually only held together at the waist, and the gap in between was filled with a beautifully decorated stomacher. The corset could also be worn without the bodice, in this case there would be sleeves directly laced onto and fastened to the corset, which was made of exquisite fabrics and was decorated usually with ribbon bows. Many corsets had on their stomacher several rows of ribbon bows, the so-called Echelles, which became bigger from the waist up to the decolleté, like the steps of a ladder. 

The decolleté was a very important factor as well. It wasn't any longer hidden underneath the rigid tight lacing of the 16th century, nor underneath neckerchiefs or lace collars, but instead were rather wide and low. At first cut in an oval, and later on almost straight. The lace collar, which had covered the decolleté before, started to get lost already around the middle of the century and shrunk, when large lace collars went out of fashion, to a decorative edging, the so-called bertha, which followed the neckline. The collar was not to come back into female fashion for a long time afterwards. 

The sleeves became shorter as well, now reaching often only down to the elbows. Now, that the decolleté was cut lower and the sleeves became shorter, the chemises gained tremendously in importance. The neckline of the chemise was now decorated with lace, and so were the sleeves, laces elegantly flowing around the lower arms in lavish abundance. Though in France, when Louis XIV grew old and went more and more under the influence of his Maitresse or perhaps even morganatic wife, Madame de Maintenon, the court returned back to more covering clothing, with the king taking over the bigotry and piety of Madame de Maintenon. The decolleté was higher once again, became smaller, the sleeves lengthened often down below the elbows, with the lavish and broad lace ruffles covering most of the rest of the lower arm and wrist anyway. 

The ladies' skirts at Louis XIV's court seemed to be designed for representation. The upper skirt, which was called robe or manteau or earlier, modeste, ended in a train, and its length was determined by the status of the wearer. In an edict from 1710 there is a clear description of the different length of the train. For example: the train of the Queen of France was 11 feet long, those of the Princesses, the daughters of the royal house, 9 feet. Further relations were allowed 7 feet, like cousins, for example, Princesses who were not daughters of the King 5 feet, and Duchesses 3 feet. 

The ladies' dresses were, just like the men's suits, made from heavy fabrics like silks, brocades and velvets. The fabrics had bright colours, and in the beginning they were plain, later on patterned, especially with stripes or with flower patterns. But although those court dresses were designed for representation, they still accentuated the female figure. The upper skirt, the robe or manteau, was slit in the front and draped back, in the 1670s this drapery was still held gracefully with one arm or by a young page, soon to be fastened with jewelled dress fasteners. The manteau, which was draped on the hips, was supported by artificial round shapes at the back of the wearer, the so-called bouffantes, while the waist was extremely small, and all the fabric of the under skirt, the jupe or petticoat and the overskirt being gathered. Thus the female figure seemed, despite the masses of fabric being used, to be more bared than actually covered. 

The manteau was most of the time made from the same fabric as the bodice, therefore creating an harmonious unit. The jupe, which was usually made from a different colour and pattern, was also done in valuable, heavy fabrics, and decorated with broad braids or laces, volants and frills, clearly visible in the front underneath the draped back manteau. During the 1660s there was also black lace coming into fashion in France, to be used for such decorations as well, but it was usually used for winter garments, and was also called 'winter lace'. 

The coat was almost completely absent from female fashion, especially since the manteau was always lined and thus provided a good protection against cold in winter. Therefore even during the cold season usually only a large shawl was worn, or a short cloak, or a large fur round shaped collar. To protect the lower arms long gloves which reached up to the elbows were worn or a muff was worn. 

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