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French Elegance – How Did Women Dress In The 18th Century?

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French Elegance – How Did Women Dress In The 18th Century?

While we can no longer personally experience the splendour of 18th century fashion, thankfully many painters of the time left us the answer to the question, “How did women dress in the 18th century?”

Their artistic depictions of it allow us to visually appreciate and enjoy the significant fashions of their era. The way women dressed during the period was truly remarkable, and left its mark on the history and development of fashion in a way that few others did.

Jean François de Troy , "The Declaration of Love" 1731, Schloss Charlottenburg , women dress in the 18th century

Jean François de Troy, The Declaration of Love, 1731, Schloss Charlottenburg

How did women dress in the 18th century?


The beginning of the century was all about silhouettes – sleek shapes and narrow-looking dresses. A plain style was preferred, without too many ornaments. This style was strongly influenced by Françoise d’Aubigné, the wife of King Louis XIV. Soon after his death, however, the style changed significantly.

Marie-Adelaide de Savoie, duchesse de Bourgogne, Jean Jean-Baptiste Santerre, 1709, Palace of Versaille, how did women dress in the 18th century

Marie-Adelaide de Savoie, duchesse de Bourgogne, Jean Jean-Baptiste Santerre, 1709, Palace of Versaille

Marie Anne de Bourbon, Pierre Gobert, 1713, Palace of Versailles, how did women dress in the 18th century

Marie Anne de Bourbon, Pierre Gobert, 1713, Palace of Versailles

Women began wearing the robe manteau, which evolved into the more refined robe volantes and later into the robe à la française. The baroque-era dresses also started being decorated with ribbons and lace.


When it came to make up, a lot of white foundation was used, made for example of egg whites. The lips were usually the color of red or cherries. Hair was often worn with a cap and close to the face.

The later decades of the Eighteenth Century

Marie Leszczinska, Queen of France (1703-1768), Charles-André van Loo, 1747, Palace of Versailles, how did women dress in the 18th century

Marie Leszczinska, Queen of France (1703-1768), Charles-André van Loo, 1747, Palace of Versailles

As the years passed, women began dressing in a more colorful style, and panniers became more comfortable. The beginning of the second half of the 18th Century was all about silk materials decorated with bows, strongly influenced by Rococo. Later in the period, fashion became inspired by what Marie Antoinette wore.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783, Palace of Versailles, How did women dress in the 18th century

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783, Palace of Versailles


After the robe à la française was no longer in style, women began wearing the robe à la polonaise, which was later replaced by robe à la anglaise. The outfits were showing more skin, as the length of the dresses was slightly reduced. Necklines were also becoming more open.

Madame de Pompadour, Francois Boucher, 1756, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany, how did women dress in the 18th century

Madame de Pompadour, Francois Boucher, 1756, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

The end of the Eighteenth Century – which corresponded to the aftermath of the violence of the French Revolution – was the time of Les Incroyables et Merveilleuses, a period during which women skipped corsets and began wearing turkish dresses, together with curved heel shoes and tall wigs. This was a brief period of mindful revolt by the surviving members of the upper classes against the terror and restrictions of the revolution, and once it was over, women’s fashion returned to a more modest and sober feminine style.


is a fifth-year student towards her Master of Journalism degree, yet art has always been one of her biggest interests. She especially admires Impressionism, Postimpressionism as well as Realism. As a result, she can never get enough of museums, and therefore loves to travel the world.

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