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Historic Clothing Collection

Eighteenth Century

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Bright pink petticoat, ca. 1780
Bright pink petticoat, ca. 1780Maine Historical Society

A quilted petticoat of bright pink calamanco (polished wool) with a linsey-woolsey (linen and wool) lining provides an example of the quilted skirts worn with, and as part of, other eighteenth century and earlier garments. Quilted petticoats of different fabrics and degrees of quilting complexity were worn under short gowns (so called because they extended only a short distance below the waist over the petticoat), and with round gowns, in which case they were visible in the inverted V skirt front openings.

Reflective of eighteenth-century political upheavals, social change, and enlightenment ideas, modes of dress changed during the late eighteenth century. By 1800 women's formal, stiff wide skirted cumbersome gowns had disappeared. In their stead was something totally different: simple high waisted nightdress-like white cotton dresses. The change was not as abrupt as it might seem. The new fashion had origins in soft informal one-piece muslin gowns such as those favored by French Queen Marie Antoinette and her circle as an alternate to the extravagant excess of required royal court dress, and seen in her 1783 portrait by Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Adopted into the more mainstream, the style subsequently developed into a slimmer gown with a gathered raised waist.

Progress away from heavy full skirted formal silks to simpler styled cottons is traced in numerous late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century portraits by artists such as Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Gainsborough and Henry Raeburn. Roman statues excavated at Herculaneum at this time contributed to interest in simple draped dress. By 1800 women enjoyed the relative freedom of loose, partly classically inspired short waisted gowns, notably made of cotton, fashion’s new favorite fabric.