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1660s Gentlefolk

The 1660s
Restoration Costume Comes to Life

Part 1, Page 1: Introduction

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
Lower Class Women and Men Gentry and Aristocracy, Women Gentry and Aristocracy, Men The Whole Look: Accessories Costume Focus: Women's Headwear & Neckwear

It seems as if particularly in England the 17th century existed of the English Civil war and nothing happened in the second half. Wrong! The Restoration period must not be forgotten, when after the gloomy times of the Protectorate King Charles was asked back by Parliament and indeed by the people of England themselves. With greatest pomp and grandeur did he return in 1660, to be crowned King of all England in 1661. How times changed after this...
Nor must one forget the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when James II, brother to Charles II who had died in 1685, fled to France and William, prince of Orange, husband to Mary who was a daughter of James II, accepted the offered throne and the couple reigned until Mary's death in 1694 as William & Mary, afterwards until 1702 he reigned as William III. In this year Queen Anne came onto the throne, sister of Mary and therefore niece to Charles II, and in her time one sees the rise and glory of the Duke of Marlborough and the War of the Spanish Succession.

So many fashion changes took place in the period from 1660 to 1715, that it is impossible to cover the whole period in just 4 lessons. Therefore this course concentrated on the first ten years of the reign of Charles II, the 1660s and the return to courtly splendour and magnificence of costumes. This is not a history course therefore I won't talk about the Plague that ravished England and particularly London in 1665 so horrendously nor the Great Fire of London in 1666, but only mention some of the most important events in passing.

Before we come to the clothing of the period I would like to talk about some general and very important considerations. The clothing of the late 17th century is an area of great diversity about which it is misleading to try and make up simple rules, instead, it must always be kept in mind and though certain features are the most common ones there are always exceptions to the any rule one tries to establish. Therefore it must be kept in mind what one strives to achieve: in a setting that is eager to portray a certain character at a given date and place in time that is as authentically as possible, it should be chosen what is most common to show a picture of life in the past which comes closest to the truth. For example, in the early to late 1660s there is few evidence in paintings, engravings, drawings and surviving costumes of split upper petticoats, by no means though are there none. In about 50 paintings that were examined 2 showed split skirts. The rule to be established is thus to show mainly closed skirts in a given group of costumed people with a petticoat underneath, and perhaps one person with a split skirt. If one wanted to portray the 1640s, for example, it should be chosen to wear mainly split overskirts. As a rule of thumb chose what you have evidence for and from this chose what evidence is the prevalent one.

As the 17th century observer Randle Holme wrote in 1688 in his Academy of Armory in provincial Cheshire, just on the topic of sleeve designs for women's gowns:

"there is as much variety of fashions as days in the Year."

Thus what needs to be known is who had what clothing in their chests or on their backs, what was t made of, how was it put together and what combinations was it worn in and when. It is impossible to prove a negative, though while it is highly unlikely that a housewife in the restoration period in England would wear a mini skirt it cannot be proved that she did not. Despite the fact that it can be safely assumed that no one did because there is absolutely no evidence for it, it can never be said for 100% certain that it never happened. This must be kept in mind in any research as well as any re-creation of clothing. The advice that is always given to every researcher and re-creator is therefore to make, own and wear what can be shown, what can be proven in the affirmative, where the evidence exists for certain regarding what was owned, worn, by whom, when, and how it was constructed.

To achieve a correct and believable appearance, first select what role you are trying to represent, use the correct materials, dyed if dying is appropriate with the correct dyestuffs, cut to an appropriate pattern and assembled in an appropriate way e.g. hand stitched where visible, then wear these garments in an appropriate combination. If you stick to data that is historically proven for the type or at least class of character you are portraying then you are safe. All of this sounds very simple, but confusion often starts with the question which sources to use, or what are primary, secondary, tertiary sources. To add to the confusion, even a primary source can be misleading if it is a bad source. Instead of reinventing the wheel please take a look at the following page which is a superb explanation of the different sources and by Cynthia Virtue: Source of Confusion: A graphic attempt to explain useful sources versus less useful ones, for garments.

Many people make the mistake to take out a general book on historical costume which shows drawings by the author. These drawings are usually taken from actual paintings and engravings, but redrawn. Sometimes not even that, the author shows his or her own idea. One of the most striking examples is the 19th century book by A. Racinet Historical Encyclopaedia of Costumes, produced between 1876 and 1888, which shows all the historical and regional costumes with a hint of 19th century fashion in it. An example of an author who is biased and caught in his or her own time. While the benefit of such books, when well done, is good and gives a nice overview, the first stopping point should always be either a book on historical costumes with pictures of paintings and photos of extant garments, or, even better, picture books of famous artists of the period who depict people from all walks of life.

Studying the 1660s one is blessed with an abundance of paintings showing people not only in allegorical settings or artificial elegant postures for portraiture, but in everyday life. The Golden Age of Dutch painting offers the costume historian an abundance of information. Dutch paintings can be safely used for Restoration fashion of 1660-c. 1667, because Holland had become the hub of economic (and therefore fashionable) power in Europe in the 1650s and continued to be so until the end of the 1660s. After 1667 Charles II and apparently Louis XIV decided on advocating a different fashion for men, that of long coat and waistcoat. This will be explored in further detail in Lesson 3.

If you cannot go to a museum that has extant garments from the period on display, there are some webpages on the Internet showing photos from such museums. Furthermore extant garments are shown in several books (see bibliography). The second best option are art books and websites with high quality art images. Search on the web, and in particularly in Carol Geerten-Jackson's wonderful CGFA Virtual Art Museum (University of Bayreuth mirror site) for the following artists (the most important artists of the Restoration period in dark red):

  • Ferdinand Bol 1616-1668
  • Nicholas Bonnart 1637-1718
  • Henri Bonnart 1642-1711
  • Robert Bonnart 1652-1729
  • Jean Baptiste Bonnart 1654-1726
  • Abraham Bosse 1602-1676
  • Gerard Dou 1613-1675
  • Frans Hals 1581/85-1666
  • Pieter de Hooch 1629-1684
  • Thomas de Keyser 1596/97-1667
  • Sir Godfrey Kneller 1649-1723
  • Nicholas de Largillière 1656-1746
  • Marcellus Laroon 1653-1702
  • Sir Peter Lely 1618-1680
  • Charles le Brun 1619-1696
  • Nicolas Maes 1634-1693
  • Gabriel Metsu 1629-1667
  • Pierre Mignard 1612-1695
  • Frans van Mieris 1635-1681
  • Robert Nanteuil 1623?-1678
  • Jan Steen 1626-1679
  • David Teniers the younger 1610-1690
  • Gerard Terborch 1617-1681
  • Jan Vermeer 1632–1675
  • Antoine Watteau 1684-1721

Recommended Books
Barbara Rose. The Golden Age of Dutch Painting. London: Pall Mall, 1969.

Albert Blankert, John Michael Montias, Gilles Aillaud. Vermeer. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

Fraser, Antonia. Charles II: His Life and Times. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1979. New Edition 1993.
The best book I can recommend on the period in general and Charles II in particular. It is full with photos of extant objects as well as numerous paintings and drawings. A very enjoyable read as well.


Lower Class Women | Lower Class Women Study Gallery
Lower Class Men | Lower Class Men Study Gallery

Nicole Kipar 1998