1700 - 1900

Le Dernier Cri: 18th and 19th Century Women's Fashion

Kunstgewerbemuseum, National Museums in Berlin

Be inspired by the style of the 18th and 19th century through the dress collection at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin

Le Dernier Cri: 18th and 19th Century Fashion
As the oldest of its kind in Germany the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin established in 1867 had already made significant acquisitions in the textile world in the early years of the museum. Textile technologies and the development of ornamentation, especially in silk weaving, were of primary interest. Collecting of garments started with the beginning of the 20th century, but by the end of World War II most of the collection was destroyed. Only in the 1970s collecting of garments started anew.

300 years of European fashion history

The acquisition of the internationally well reknown Kamer/Ruf fashion collection in 2003 allowed the Kunstgewerbemuseum to build on the significance of its rich collection of textiles and hold its own with comparable museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris. This extensive accession documents 300 years of European fashion history with exceptional objects which allows the public audience to follow up on the development of garment through the centuries and discover the latest trends of each era.

Dress and costume gallery

The fashion galleries of the Kunstgewerbemuseum are organized by era. In this gallery you can explore ladies and men’s fashion of the 18th century.

Fashion from 1715 to 1789 – The „Robe à la Française“
France became one of the leading cultural nations in Europe under Ludwig XIV (1643-1715). French silk fabrics, embroidery, lace and gauze, as well as fans and accessories, were the “must-haves” of their time. In the 1730 the "robe à la française" developed, and became the paragon of the elegant, playful rococo fashion.

Portrait of a Married Couple at the Park
Francis Wheatley, ca. 1770

Women of nobility and the upscale bourgeoisie wore the robe à la française until around 1780.

Silver Lamé "robe à la française"
England 1760-65

The robe à la française is a two-piece dress consisting of an open-front outer garment, a manteaux, and a skirt, or jupe, worn beneath it. Its trademark is the loose back pleat that falls from the neck to the seam in one uninterrupted line.

The Accessories

The complete ensemble of a robe à la française consisted of several accessories. Beginning with the undergarment like brassiere, stockings, and bustle pad, also petticoats, corsets, gloves and other accessory was needed.

Hoop Petticoat
England ca. 1750

The typical silhouette of the robe à la française, with its broad skirt swinging far out to the sides, was achieved by a hoop skirt worn underneath.

Large hoop petticoats achieved their flattened oval form, which gave the robe à la française its typical, laterally projecting silhouette, through means of internally attached ties.

Fully Boned Corset
France, 1720–1730

A fully braced corset shaped the upper body with a straight spine, shoulders pulled back and an upward-pressed
bust. Wilhelmine of Bayreuth, sister
of Frederick the Great, reported how unpleasant this was: “…and to my misfortune, so I would seem more delicate, the queen had me laced up so tight that I became quite black in the face and ran out of breath.” (Wilhelmine
von Bayreuth 1990: 82)

Corps fermé

Stomacher with Decorative Lacing
England, ca. 1720

Triangular decorative pieces, so-called “stomachers,” were fastened over the corset in an open cutout.

They were preciously outfitted as shown by this stomacher.

Germany, ca. 1720

Mitaines are medium-length fingerless gloves that were very popular during the entire 18th century: they adorned and warmed forearms, which, as a rule, were uncovered.

The embroidery on this pair is especially fine. This includes the use of flattened silver wire over yellow silk core wrought with fancy threads of gilded silver wire, as well as silver canetilles for the detailed decoration and patterning.

France, ca. 1750

During the 18th century fans were an indispensable, stylish accessory, the leaves of which frequently depicted historical scenes.

This one shows the “Battle of Alexander at Issus”, the victory of Alexander the Great over Persian King Darius III.

Women's Shoes with Braided Trim
England, 1730–1740

These women’s shoes made of light blue silk display the elongated toe-cap typical of the first half of the century, which ends in a slightly upward-pointing tip.

Fashionable Patterns
The cut and style of the robe à la française changed little throughout the decades. Materials and trimmings determined stylistic alterations.

Detail of Women’s Gown
England, 1735–1740

The splendid silk of this gown shows parrot tulips and chrysanthemums with sparse, bracken-like foliage upon a dark green background and a naturalistic flower pattern as was fashionable between 1730 and 1740.

Gala Dress “robe à la française”
Silk: France, gown: England, ca. 1775

During the second half of the century striped silks, so-called “pekins,” which ranged from small floral bouquets and scattered flowers in bright, pastel colours to pure striped patterns, became the essence of modernity.

The fabric of this robe à la française is particularly splendid. Flower bouquets held by bows and woven silver butterflies appear between the woven gold longitudinal strips.

A colourfully coordinated, rich trimming of frills, valances, hoops, gauze, lace and tassels became part of a fashionable dress.

Detail of a "robe à l’anglaise"
France or England, ca. 1780

This gown expresses the late 18th century preference for light fabrics in pastel tones. Printed cotton fabrics from India have been popular in Europe since the 17th century. In January 1786, the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported from London that “in England the finest floral printed and painted muslins and East Indian chintz was in vogue and about four times more expensive than ladies silk fabrics. Nevertheless, they sold like hot cakes and up to 6000 London silk weavers became unemployed”.

New Cuts
During this time additional new types of dresses came about:

Robe à l’anglaise
France or England, ca. 1780

Interest in the English lifestyle grew within France and during this Anglomanie France adopted the cut of the English morninggown with fitted back in the 1770s and, with slight adjustments, turned it into the robe à l’anglaise.

Robe à la polonaise
England, ca. 1775

At the same time the robe à la polonaise was developed. It, too, was a two-piece dress with a manteaux and a skirt that was pulled up into three puffs.

The name of the dress refers to the 1772 triple partition of Poland.

Taking a Walk in Marly
Jean Michel Moreau, 1784

Illustration of the robe à la polonaise.

Printed Women’s Gown
France or England, ca. 1790

This one-piece gown shows the shorter waist of 1790 and the fashionable, elongated sleeves. Printed cotton fabrics with a dark background were called ramoneur (chimney sweep), and were popular because one did not easily show dirt.

Shoe Fashion
The style of footwear also followed the latest trends:

Women’s Slippers
England, 1760–90

Slippers or mules were popular throughout the 18th century and could also be worn outside the home. This capricious form corresponds to the playful character of Rococo fashion.

Closed Women’s Shoes
England, 1770-1780

The narrow, tapered heel of this shoe is the Italian heel about which Gentleman’s Magazine wrote in 1776: “Heels to bear the precious charge,/ More diminutive than large,/Slight and brittle, apt to break,/Of the true Italian make” (Mackenzie 2004: 44).

Following the pattern trend for garments of the same time, two delicate flowering branches in metal and sequin embroidery adorn the front leaf with a ribbon rosette above.

Women’s Shoes in the Chinese Style
England, ca. 1785

In January 1786 the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported about this new English shoe fashion that: “The English ladies’ shoe differentiates itself as much through the raised tip, as the ‘sabots chinois’, namely more than one inch higher than the sole. The shoe tip, moreover, is stiffened with leather. The English women wear this shoe to go for a walk. The advantage is that they give the toes space and the stiffened cap protects against the impact of stones.”

England, ca. 1785

This overshoe or “patten,” which comes from England has a pointed wooden sole with integrated heel groove. Middle-class citizens and maidservants primarily wore overshoes of this kind in England.

In January 1786 the Journal des Luxus und der Moden wrote that: “One wears these in bad weather when walking down the street and takes them off at the front door. They make, however, for a heavy, sluggish gait”.

Fashion from 1789 to 1815
The simpler, more natural manner of dress inspired by England, which by the 1780 had already been accepted as everyday wear, formed the prerequisite for the radical transition that fashion experienced following the French Revolution. The model for this new style was antiquity.

Chemise with Train
England, 1795–1800

Modest chemise dresses of fine white cotton replaced the stiff silk robes in women’s fashion…

...and enveloped the body in a flowing arrangement of folds.

Two Chemise Gowns
Left: France, ca. 1800
Right: England, ca. 1805

For the first time, and then only briefly, women could abstain from bodices, hoop skirts or hip cushions. The chemise dress was a one-piece garment with a high waist and wide neckline. Worn beneath it were undergarments or skin-coloured stockinettes. A regular “nudity fashion,” as the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported in June, 1794: “Yet the strangest is a new type of garb that they (the Parisians) have adopted that is already being worn all over, and is to remain the national costume in the future. Namely they, like the men, wear trousers of skin-hued material, and over that a skirt of finest muslin … The waist is very short and fastened with a tricolour belt.”

The chemise dress

Silver Lamé Women’s Slip-on Shoe
England, 1795–1800

The fashion for simple chemise gowns inspired by antiquity called for a different type of shoe, they were now worn flat.

Printed Women’s Shoes
England, ca. 1795

At the end of the 18th century printed leather shoes came into fashion as an inexpensive alternative to embroidered shoes.

Women’s Handbag in Mussel Form
France, ca. 1810

This antique-style bag in the shape of a mussel is made of embossed yellow papier-mâché and has a straight strap of stylish cut steel with spring lock closure.

Red Velvet Gown with Pearl Embroidery
England, 1805–10

Unusual for its time, this narrowly cut festive gown is of dark red silk velvet. On the occasion of his 1804 coronation as Emperor of France Napoleon reintroduced courtly dress, which led to the return of laboriously embroidered silk and velvet. In so doing Napoleon deliberately supported the French silk industry.

His wife Joséphine de Beauharnais, an eager advocate of “antique fashion”, thus wore a dark red, velvet train with golden embroidery on the occasion of the coronation. That may have been the model for our festive velvet gown.

Fashion from 1815 to 1900
The 19th century was characterized by industrialisation. Mechanical spinning machines, looms and fabric printing machines introduced the birth of the Industrial Revolution and changed the textile trade on a fundamental level. Printed wool and cotton fabrics made it possible for the general public to dress fashionably for the first time.

Walking Dress – Spencer and Skirt
England, ca. 1820

From 1815 on the waist slid down to its natural height, the corset made a comeback. The seams of skirts, still worn smoothly at the waist, spread more fully as a result of voluptuous dimensional trimming, affording them a triangular shape. These remained short enough for the ankles to be seen.

Short little jackets, so-called Spencers, were very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. English Lord George John Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer (1758-1834), who is said to have cut off the damaged tails of his tailcoat, lent his name to this fashion. Ladies fashion adopted the practical garment as an ideal supplement to the low-cut chemise dresses.

The Biedermeier era

Printed Women’s Dress with Mutton Sleeves
England, ca. 1830

Skirts were redesigned to be gathered or pleated at the waist only after 1820. Alongside the ever more voluminous skirts upper sleeves inflated to “mutton sleeves,” attaining the great size between 1830 and 1835.

Poke Bonnet
England, 1820–30

Hairstyles and hats, which likewise continued to grow in size, provided suitable optical balance. Like this particularly exalted form of towering hood.

France, ca. 1830

These wide, loose coats were ideal outer garments for clothing with wide mutton sleeves. Two velvet-covered arm openings are incorporated at elbow level in the front.

Family Dressed in the Style of the Biedermeier Era
Ferdinand Neubauer, 1830

Women’s Dress with Fichu
England/France 1836/37

In March of 1836 the Berliner Modenspiegel wrote: “Now the last dubious question is decided: the adjoining sleeves have carried off the victory … The ladies save with the materials, the men gain more space, be it at the table or at the theatre, and the geese are no longer pitilessly robbed of their down in order to form Gigots from them and pile them on our shoulders”. Mutton sleeves became outdated almost over night. This delicately printed summer dress shows the new line.

Bonnet with Locks of Hair
Stettin, ca. 1830

Beneath the hat there are real locks of hair are connected with a velvet ribbon. This corresponded to the “corkscrew curl” hairstyle popular around in the 1830s.

Women’s Shoes with Ribbon Ties
London, ca. 1830

These simple black silk shoes with fine ribbon ties are a perfect example of Biedermeier shoe fashion par excellence. Flat silk shoes were worn well into the 1830s and, in line with antique practise, were tied up the calf with silk ribbons.

Day Dress
England, ca. 1845

After 1840 sleeves were primarily worn smooth and flat. Women’s sleeves now appeared delicate and fragile for many years, and stood in impressive contrast to the ever-wider skirts that shaped crinoline fashion from 1850 to 1869.

Boteh (paisley) motifs, coming from the Indian word bota for bush or blossom, were a central motif of the cashmere scarfs that had been popular in Europe since the late 18th century. During the 19th century they were rewoven in Europe. The patterns influenced the designs of woven and printed materials to lasting effect and these forms were also combined with European motifs.

Women’s Ankle Boots
England, ca. 1850

In the 1840s fashionable daywear included small, half-height boots with increasingly wider and longer skirts. In England these boots were called "Adelaides", after the wife of Great Britain's King William IV.

Travelling Bag
England, ca. 1840

The steady development of the railroad network during the first half of the 19th century demanded more manageable luggage. Spacious bags with a lockable metal handle became fashionable and can be considered a predecessor of contemporary women’s handbags.

Walking Dress
England, ca. 1855

Little jackets that were open in front and had tails that seemed to form the uppermost flounce of the dress became very popular around 1855. Already after 1845 skirts had become larger and in the 1850s achieved a consistent dome-like form that was often accentuated with ruffles.

The luxuriant trim, with silk chenille fringes that end in small ornamental wooden beads, was very fashionable.

Red Crinoline-Cage
England, 1860–63

The English company Thomson was one of the most significant producers of steel ring crinolines. It cleverly advertised this product with reference to Empress Eugenie, who personified the fashion ideal of her time and made a decisive contribution to the spread of crinoline fashion.

Blue Women’s Ankle Boots
England, 1860–1880

In 1856 progress in chemistry yielded the discovery of tar and aniline dyes, and glowing colours of previously unknown intensity enriched extant fashions. Like these radiant blue leather ankle boots illustrate.

Three-piece Summer Dress with Floret Print
France, ca. 1872

This three-piece summer dress is made from delicately printed cotton batiste. It displays the fashionable 1869 silhouette of a short bodice over a straight skirt that falls close to the body.

Portrait of a Lady
Rudolf F. A. Henneberge, 1875

The emphasis is now on the back, above the buttocks, an effect that is reinforced through the semi-circular overskirt. This voluminous construction was worn over a bustle.

England, 1870–1875

As was the case with the steel ring crinoline, this bustle is made of strong red fabric. Warm red tones became very popular for petticoats after the invention of aniline dyes in 1856.

Informal House Frock “déshabillé“
Charles Frederick Worth
Paris 1882/83

The bustle returned in 1882, and in an even more extreme form, under the name cul de Paris. The waist was now back at its original place and was very tightly laced to appear more narrow. The rear cushion stuck out almost horizontally.

The slender silhouette, displayed by this déshabillé, was a decisive influence of haute couture founder Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895). This pioneer regularly presented season-based collections and displayed them to an exclusive clientele on living mannequins.

Charles F. Worth

Sarah Bernhardt as Fédora
L‘Art et la Mode, 1883

Wealthy Americans, ladies of the European court and important stage artists such as Sarah Bernhardt counted among the customers of this exclusive fashion house. Worth sketched a déshabillé, worn by Bernhardt in the third act of Sardous’s 1883 “Fédora”, that strongly resembles our house frock.

Summer Costume with Mutton Sleeves
USA/Europe, ca. 1895

In 1894 the Bazar asserted that: “Since we know about and appreciate the value of physical activity, and since we have elevated games into sports, fashion too has created something new and sexy for this arena”.

Lawn tennis, rowing, mountaineering and horseback riding found more and more proponents, reinforcing the need for suitable clothes in which a concentration on material and the renunciation of ornament were at the forefront—as is the case with this linen costume.

Three Ladies at the Country Side
Unknown, 1898

Illustration of the new fashion: costumes d'excursion.

Ball Gown
Jean-Philippe Worth
Paris, ca. 1895

By the end of the century, fashion abstained entirely from all voluminous substructures in skirts. The now bell-shaped cuts of skirts lay smoothly against the hip and, thanks to a new cut, enjoyed a swinging breadth from the knee downward.

After 1893 the length of the hem was balanced by the return of the mutton sleeve, displayed here by the multi-layered, tiered and gathered short cap sleeves of this evening gown.

The dress comes from the estate of Mary Goelet, who married the 8th Duke of Roxburghe in 1903. At that time she was regarded as the wealthiest American heiress.

Ball Gown with Embroidery
Madame Paquin
Paris, ca. 1897–98

This two-piece ball gown embodies the luxury of the fin de siècle. The elegant lines and the slightly S-shaped silhouette of the gown take up the curved forms popularized by Art Nouveau.

This gown is an early model by Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936), who often combined pastel tones with contrasting lace.

Black Evening Cape with Medici Collar
Jacques Doucet
Paris, ca. 1895

This elegant evening cape by Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) emphasizes the broad shoulder line typical of 1895. Like Charles Frederick Worth and Pingat, Jacques Doucet belonged to the first generation of large haute couture houses in Paris and was known for his rich, luxurious style.

Only the era of the fin de siècle finally disengaged women’s fashion from the constant change of artificial silhouettes according to historical model and set the stage for modern, contemporary garments which corresponded to the changed role of women in society.

Playing a leading role was the French couturier Paul Poiret, who succeeded in banishing the corset. Following him in the 1920s were Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin, to name but a few. Their work marked the beginning of the century of haute couture.

Kunstgewerbemuseum, National Museums in Berlin
Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Christine Waidenschlager in: Fashion Art Works, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2014

Concept / Editing / Realisation: Merle Walter

Translation: allround Fremdsprachen GmbH von der Lühe, Berlin

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum

Credits: All media
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