Official Government Website

Pre-1800-1820 Collection

Western fashion has undergone dramatic changes throughout history. Much of this transition was influenced by social and political upheavals throughout North America and Europe. At the close of the 18th century, the neo-classical silhouette gained popularity. Dressmakers reinvented the classical Greek and Roman silhouette for the new age of revolution, hearkening to the republics and democracies of the ancient world. This new form was as political as it was practical.
These gowns were easier to launder because they were made of muslin and other plant-based fabric. The high waistline, called the empire waist, named for Empress Josephine Bonaparte, gained popularity. The term is still used today to describe waistlines above an anatomically natural position.

Gowns featured embroidery, but overall, they were relatively simple. Necklines were generally low, and sleeves were often puffed at the shoulder. For modesty and warmth, neckerchiefs such as a fichu or dickey could be worn tucked into the neckline. Paisley shawls offered an extra level of interest and were brought to their wearers by the growing trade empires throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. As the century progressed, skirts began to gain fullness and embellishment. Clothing makers used silks and metallic textiles in more elaborate gowns.
In the United States, sturdy cloth in brighter prints, made using roller or cylinder printing machines, was frequently used in womens daywear and childrens clothing. This printing technology used many plant-based dyes that are considered fugitive given that they decay relatively rapidly with age and exposure to light.

In menswear, clothing was just as socially and politically conscious. Similar to womens styles, mens clothing clung to the natural figure. Fitted trousers, vests, and coats in a variety of colors were popular. It was during this time that the foundation for the modern suit was established. Trousers, white shirt, vest, jacket, and tie, while more intricate and less uniform than todays, were the standard ensemble of men across the socio-economic class.

ver: 3.5.1 | last updated:
Jump back to top of page button