Historical Fashion: Amusing or Just Odd?

I’m helping a friend move tonight, so here’s a short piece about historical fashion. To move furniture and boxes, I’m wearing sweats, a far cry from the panniers pictured below.

Robe à la française or open gown with stomacher, 1740s, England (textiles produced in Holland or Germany), Silk, linen, pigment. Photo by Claire H. via Wikimedia Commons

Panniers are associated with the 18th century, and I can’t imagine they were terribly comfortable. But historically, fashion is almost always about image rather than comfort. And I’m pretty sure the women of wealth and status who wore this fashionable clothing were probably not moving their own furniture.

Easier to walk in panniers outside rather than inside. Painting by Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not sure if it was a bug or a feature, but the fact that the panniers at the side of the skirt could extend several feet allowed a large empty canvas across the front of the dress. I remember reading somewhere that the fineness of the embroidery across that expanse was a sign of an individual’s status.

Replica of Catherine II’s wedding dress (1745) by MKhT school-studio 01. Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

The thought of maneuvering through a house in one of these dresses is mind-boggling.  Although maybe the focus required to keep from running into everything would be good for me.

Sweats instead of panniers are one more reason to be glad we live in the 21st century.

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About Cathy Hanson

I’m a military brat and grew up on Air Force bases around the world. I discovered my love for history when I was 14 years old and the U.S. Air Force transferred my family to a base in England. Traveling from castles to cathedrals to ruins to cities, I felt the stories of these places and understood that history is not solely about events whose dates we are required to memorize. History is stories. My passion for those stories led me to a master’s degree in history. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, supply answers, or tell me your favorite history resource or artifact.

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