Silk ribbons were used for a multitude of utilitarian and decorative purposes in 18th-century fashionable dress – for the ornamentation of women’s gowns, for garters to keep up stockings, for lacing for stays and shoes, for tying back wigs and ornamenting elaborate hairstyles and headdresses. Diderot’s Encyclopaedia in 1772 described these uses succinctly in its definition of ribbon: ‘a flat, narrow and thin fabric, used to tie, edge or ornament, for garments as well as furnishings’. Ribbons were subject to changes in fashion, just as wide silks were.
Ribbons could be bought at fairs, from travelling pedlars or from the high class retailers of major cities such as Paris (e.g. the marchands merciers of the Faubourg St Honoré which is still the city's luxury quarter today). These retailers stocked large quantities of ribbons of all sorts - from the simplest to the most elaborate - to sell to their customers, French ribbons being complemented by Dutch, Flemish, German and Swiss goods.