The Hoop-petticoat: The Big Deal With Big Hips, by Mackenzie Machado

Side hoop-petticoat made by A. Schabner in 1778, made of linen and whale bone and housed in the Victoria and Albert Museaum. T.120-1969

“As to the ladies, the chief new invention of my time, if not the only considerable one, is the hoop-petticoat. A dress, which even in its original institution was sufficiently absurd; and greatly disgusted the men, however it might please the women.”(A.W. 6)

In this quote from an imprint to William Russel, the author A. W. expresses his distaste for the popular fashion of the hoop-petticoat. A.W., like many other men of eighteenth century, despised the hoop-petticoat, an undergarment that artificially widened the appearance of a woman’s hips. The hoop-petticoat was a garment that by merely existing drew the attention of every person in the room. They were at the height of their popularity and size in the 1750s, so large that women had to turn side-ways to fit through doors, took up entire sofas, and blocked walkways  (A.W. 9-11). However, in regards to the culture of England in the 1700s the most important aspect of the hoop-petticoat was neither its size nor it’s shape, but rather the persistence of the garment itself, especially in light of its opposition.

While historians are fairly certain the hoop-petticoat itself arose in England, the details surrounding its creation are unknown. However, the hoop-petticoat is first mentioned in the The Tatler in December of 1709 (Chrisman 7-8). Although the origins of the hoop-petticoat itself is unclear, it was far from the first undergarment to change the shape of the women wearing it, in fact the farthingale of the fifteenth century also artificially dilated women’s skirts and was commonly made of whale bone or cane, like its descendant the hoop-petticoat (Chrisman 7).

Despite men’s complaints that the hoop-petticoat was cumbersome, unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous, the trend persisted and hoop-petticoats were worn for over a century, as the fashion did not fully leave the English court until 1820 (Chrisman 10).

A great deal can be learned about 18th century society when one considers why both sexes reacted in such strong opposition to a piece of clothing. Men’s concerns about the woman’s undergarment are indicative of their larger anxieties about women, gender roles, and morality. A.W. posed the question: “In general; can anything be more out of nature, a grosser insult upon reason, and common sense, than this monstrous disproportion between the upper and lower part of a women?” (8). This reaction to the hoop-petticoat expresses A.W.’s belief, and the belief of many other men, that the garment subverted cultural norms, a change that caused anxiety in society.

Like hoop-petticoats, stays were made out of whale bone and linen, and were also decorated with silk ribbons.
Victoria and Albert Museum T.192-1929

While it was very true that hoop-petticoats gave women an exaggerated shape, unlike stays (corsets) that constricted women’s upper bodies, hoop-petticoats freed women from the heavy skirts that used to surround their ankles and allowed them increased mobility. In her article, “Unhoop the Fairer Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England,” Kimberly Chrisman argues that women “willingly adopted the hoop as a means of protecting, controlling, and, ultimately, liberating female sexuality” (1). This newfound mobility threatened the idea that a women’s place was in the home and a man’s place was in public, also known as separate sphere’s ideology (Lecture).

This 1774 painting by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm depicts a man dressed in macaroni style being mocked by his peers.
Victoria and Albert Museum P.39-1939

The topic of shifting gender norms through dress was not solely blamed on the hoop-petticoat. Macaroni style, a style of opulent dress popular with fashionable men of the era, plagued British society and was associated by many with effeminate men. In his article “Of the Ruling Manners of the Times,”John Brown blames these types of men for “the sexes [having] little other apparent distinction, beyond that of Person and Dress,” an idea that violated separate spheres ideology and caused societal anxiety (34). Additionally Brown criticized the moral character of Macaronis, just as the moral character of women was called into question due to the tendencies of hoop-petticoats to reveal parts of women’s legs. (Chrisman 5).

Due to the hoop-petticoats position as a highly discussed topic in society, it makes appearances in several novels from the time period, Maria Edworth’s Belinda and Clarissa, the 1747 novel by Samuel Richardson. In Belinda we see a prominent man of fashion, Clarence Hervey, put on a dress to both to point out the absurdity of the hoop-petticoat and to prove that his “masculine awkwardness” would not be evident if he wore the hoop, and that if his face was covered he could pass as a women (Edgeworth 74-77). He succeeds, an example that supports the fear that Brown had about the convergence of the sexes. In Clarissa the hoop-petticoat is symbol of protection and consequently feminine independence, as the titular character’s loss of her petticoat becomes an expression of her vulnerability (Chrisman 12).

Overall the hoop-petticoat transcended its fundamental purpose as an object of fashionable dress, and instead of just changing the shape of women’s bodies it contributed to a change in society by challenging gender ideals in 18th century England.


Textual Resources

A.W., Esq. The enormous abomination of the hoop-petticoat, as The Fashion Now is, And has been For about these Two Years Fully Display’d: In some Reflexions upon it, Humbly offer’d to the Consideration of Both Sexes; especially the Female. 1745. Eighteenth Century Online Collections. Web. 7 March 2014.

Brown, John. “Of the Ruling Manners of the Times,” in An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times (1757-8): pp. 17-34.

Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fairer Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 30.1 (1996): 5-23. JSTOR.Web. 1 February 2014.

Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

Koscak, Stephanie. “A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radical Fashion.” University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles. 14 Jan. 2014. Lecture.


Grimm, Samuel Hieronymus. The Macaroni. 1774. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections: P.39-1939. Web. 9 March 2014.

Schabner, A. Side Hoop. 1778. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections: T.120-1969. Web. 2 February 2014.

Stays. 1770-1780. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections: T.192-1929. Web. 10 March 2014.


The Art of Quietly Being Loud: The Aristocratic Talent of Making Statements at Court — by Marcianna Guziewicz

Recovery of George III from Illness (fan), 1789, Great Britain

“Recovery of George III from Illness” (fan), 1789, Great Britain

“We had the day before yesterday a subscription ball on account of the news of our good King’s reestablishment in health […] There were 113 ladies, mostly English, greatest part of the Nobility […] they wore bandeaus round the head, or the waist, embroidered in gold, with ‘Long live the King,’ or ‘God save the King’” (Diary or Woodfall’s Register).

This excerpt is taken from a news report recording a letter from an English gentleman who was in Lisbon, in the Diary or Woodfall’s Register publication on May 11, 1789. Aristocratic society of the eighteenth-century was much preoccupied with appearances and social ranking, and this showed through in every public gathering possible. Ladies, as seen in the above excerpt, wore elegant clothing in an unspoken competition for being the most fashionable; this would often manifest in extraordinary clothing, but also in messages designed directly onto their clothing and accessories. In this 1789 fan titled, “Recovery of George III from Illness”, this subtle message was a statement for ladies to proclaim loyalty to the crown, and also to conform to the cult revolved around the British Crown.

The 1789 fan was crafted in Great Britain by an unknown artist. It is composed of paper and is mounted upon a frame of ivory, brass, and mother-of pearl. Painted upon the paper in gouache along the edge is written “Health is restored to ONE and happiness to Millions”, and the two scrolls below state “On the King’s” and “Happy Recovery”. There is a royal crown in the middle, and a rose and thistle below symbolizing the Union of Scotland and England (Victoria and Albert Museum).

King George III of the United Kingdom was a cult figure for eighteenth-century Britain. The fashion of the day was to emulate those of higher power than you; by imitating those with more presence in society, one may seem more established than the next. In the Diary, there is mention that “the Ladies tried who could exceed in elegance of dress”, mostly by covering themselves with statements of tribute to the king (Diary of Woodfall’s Register). These women may have felt true love for their king, but their motives are more complex; by adorning themselves with words and images in praise of the king, they are attempting to emulate royalty. Neil McKendrick notes that “[…] there was a constant restless striving to clamber from one rank to the next, and where possessions […] symbolized and signaled each step in the social promotion” (McKendrick, 20-21). The fan in question is much the same; by using inscriptions of praise to the king, the woman holding it is attempting to promote herself by appealing to those higher than her.

But why may have fans with political statements have been so profound? Particularly, fans were a strictly female-oriented type of accessory, which says much considering that fans could be used to portray messages. In the eighteenth-century, there became a huge preoccupation of gender roles in society; men had business in the public, political sphere, while women were resigned to private spheres (Koscak, 1.14.14). However, aristocratic court, parties, and balls were an opportunity for women to be involved in public society. Take, for example, the fictional Lady Delacour from Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda; she dresses magnificently as Queen Elizabeth for a ball, and in this exudes temporary power and royalty (Edgeworth, 114). In this instance, Lady Delacour utilizes fashion to establish power in a subtle manner at a social gathering; though she cannot outright claim a political statement lest she be shamed, her dress itself is a political statement and attracts attention from all those present. Therefore, women often made themselves present in the public sphere through accessories and dress, and stating allegiance to the king through an accessory like a fan would be perfectly acceptable for a woman. Additionally, fans were very noticeable when used; by accenting body language and utilizing a complex “fan language”, a person could not ignore a political statement written upon a fan. Fans could be conversation starters in this way, potentially leading to more involvement of women in the public realm.

by Antonio Poggi. Engraved and hand-colored paper, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards. Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Fan” by Antonio Poggi. 1790. Engraved and hand-colored paper, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards. Victoria and Albert Museum.

"Jug". 1790. Earthenware transfer-printed in black enamel and moulded. Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Jug”. 1790. Earthenware transfer-printed in black enamel and moulded. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Similar to the studied fan, Antonio Poggi’s fan glorifies George III’s family. A woman who would hold this fan would be supporting George III’s positive image. Other examples of objects that used powerful figures in society to emphasize one’s own political power were household items such as the jug above, which were commonly used and therefore commonly seen. George III himself encouraged this positive depiction upon objects, as he understood that the way his family was portrayed would affect public opinion on him (Victoria and Albert Museum).


Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

“Extract of a Letter from an English Gentleman at Lisbon, April 22,” Diary or Woodfall’s Register [London] Monday, May 11, 1789, Issue 37. Web.

“Jug.” 1790. Earthenware transfer-printed in black enamel and moulded. Victoria and Albert Museum. 414:1232-1885.

Koscak, Stephanie. “A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radical Fashion.” University of Los Angeles, California. 14 January 2014.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and P.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications, 1982.

Poggi, Antonio. “Fan.” 1790. Engraved and hand-coloured paper, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards. Victoria and Albert Museum. T.56-1933.

“Recovery of George III from Illness.” 1789. Gouache painted on paper, pleated, carved and pierced ivory, brass, mother-of-pearl. Victoria and Albert Museum. T.203-1959.

Female Design: How Women Were Shaped to Fill Their Roles in Society –Brianda Barrera

“Parents ought to above all Things give their Children new Stays frequently, and not grumble at the Expence,” (Andry de-Bois Regard 87-88). In eighteenth century England, stays also known as corsets were bought and sold for children as young as two years old. At an age before some could even walk, young girls were put in stays to begin creating their womanly figure. As can be seen in the figure below, young girls in this time were valued mostly for their marital value. At the early age of two, they are put in stays to prepare them for their ultimate goal of marriage, which would then lead to children. As was seen in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, women were thought of only in their capacity as mothers. Subsequently, they were dressed in ridiculous fashions such as stays and petticoats to satisfy the shape which men thought women should be. These values and ideals were further pushed as anxieties about gender grew, and women’s role in the private sphere began to be questioned.


During the eighteenth century, the revolutions experienced in the Western hemispheres caused anxieties about the roles people played in society. Women were amongst those challenging their roles by taking part in the politics of their countries. As governments began to change, women attempted to help frame and form the fledgling government of their respective country. This was seen in Belinda, with Lady Delacour’s, and Harriet Freke’s endorsement of politicians. These new roles which women were attempting to create for themselves in the public sphere were constrained and contrasted by the clothes and fashion which was imposed on them. Although women wanted to play active roles in the public sphere, the fashions they were given, particularly petticoats and stays, forced they and their bodies to conform to the way in which men preferred to see them. By making stays for women and young girls, men attempted to prepare the women’s body so it may look more shapely, so she may eventually find a suitable husband. All so the women may eventually fulfill her role in society by getting married, and having children. The stays are constructed with cloth and whalebones to create the desired shape. While not all men of this time endorsed stays, some argued that stays encouraged proper growth in children. As was articulated at the time, “When children are recovering from a disease… use of stitched stays, or at least of quilted bodice, is more necessary than upon any other occasion,” (Andry de-Bois Regard 88). It created the appropriate shape which society sought in women, while being justified for its use on children as being corrective or helpful for growth. Similarly, petticoats, another cumbersome fashion, were created to emulate the curves of a woman. Although some were quite large, and exaggerated, they were the fashions which women felt they had to wear, in order to attain a husband.  The stay for adult women below also shows that corsets were not simply to encourage proper growth.  They were used to accentuate and exaggerate female curves. To further objectify women and exemplify their purpose.


Ironically, many men criticized women who wore petticoats and stays. Even though petticoats and stays were sold and created by men, other men criticized women for wearing what they deemed ridiculous garb. As explained by the scholar Kimberly Chrisman, “…it [the petticoat] was taken up as an all-encompassing symbol of female (and, by extension, fashion’s) caprice” (Chrisman 6). The drawing below also depicts this sentiment which men felt towards women. The woman wearing the petticoat and stay created by a man is seen as ridiculous and frivolous. Mothers ran a fine line between being attractive and fashionable, while also fulfilling their roles as mothers and wives. Women like Lady Delacour preferred to be fashionable, than motherly, “The same reasons which convinced me I ought not to nurse my own child, determined me… not to undertake its education” (Edgeworth 42). Women were expected to wear petticoats, and stays, but were also criticized for it. The antagonism aimed towards women and their fashions, mirrored the anxiety felt towards their involvement in the public sphere. If women could control what they wore, and ventured in the public sphere, men feared they would abandon the children, and manipulate the world into chaos. As men in revolutions struggled to find their new identity, so did women.



Andry de Bois-Regard, Nicolas. Orthopædia: or, the art of correcting and preventing deformities in children: By such Means, as may easily be put in Practice by Parents themselves, and all such as are employed in Educating Children. To which is added, a defence of the Orthopædia, by way of supplement, by the author. Translated from the French of M. Andry, Professor of Medicine in the Royal College, and Senior Dean of the Faculty of Physick at Paris. In two volumes. Illustrated with cuts. … Vol. Volume 1. London,  M.DCC.XLIII. [1743]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 10 Mar. 2014

Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 30.1 (1996): 5-23.

Child’s Stay, Museum of Costume, Item Number: BATMC 2003.734. Accessed 03-09-2014 <;

Adult Stay, Museum of Costume, Item Number: BATMC I.27.866. Accessed 03-09-2014 <;

“In Fashion. Out of Fashion.” The British Museum, Item Number: 1851,0901.296-297. Date Accessed 03-09-2014. <;

Wigs of the 18th Century Create an Authenticity – Luke Gane

During the 18th century, fashion was becoming a more prominent way to distinguish certain social classes. There were many variables as to what articles of fashion signified whether one was rich or poor, but the piece that became one of the most symbolic representations of the 18th century was the wig. As argued by Michael Kwass in the article, “Big Hair: a Wig History of Consumption in the Eighteenth Century France”, this separation of classes through the display of wig wearing soon became irrelevant when the common public began to wear wigs as well. Once these wigs became commonplace, their value diminished thereby creating an equilibrium between the classes as represented through fashion. Eventually, other variations of styles of wigs could be found throughout society and specifically to distinguish politicians, those in governing authority, merchants, common folk, and the wealthy as displayed in the print Wigs.


The English Man in Paris,  shown below, is a print of a French stylist diligently working on an Englishman’s wig. We can see that the Englishman is a tourist to the country based on the book located on the ground entitled “A Six Weeks Tour to France”. This image shows not only the overly eager pursuit to stay up to date with the fashions but it also exhibits early stages of the emergence of an authentic and natural look for wigs. This authenticity would slowly emerge from the ever – growing Macaroni fashion, to represent closer what a man’s hair would look like. This macaroni style began to create a consciousness and an authenticity for a specific fashion identity for men and women. Image

Like today, the people of the 18th century were also working to obtain the latest fashions and display them publicly in order to gain attention and status. This desire was particularly the case for the styling of the Macaroni. The nickname “Macaroni” was given to those, “who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion” (Rauser, 101). The style had very distinct features to it such as precise fabric detailing, tight clothing, an oversized sword, a walking stick and fancy shoes. What set this fashion sense from the rest and gave it a notorious distinction though was the over sized wig. The boy’s wig in the print below, Macaroni: A Real Character at the Late Masquerade, is much more grandiose than that of the one seen in The Englishman in Paris. Seen also in this print is the representation of the difficulty of gender distinction. The macaroni did not serve as a prominent sexual figure, but rather someone who began to act and dress more effeminate causing an unusual and confusing area between male and female (Rauser, 106). Throughout this progress, wigs were slowly beginning to distinguish what a man wore and what a woman wore through this authenticity. The idea of masculinity and femininity began to emerge from this point in the 18th century through the recognition of the outlandish, luxurious dress of the macaroni. The macaroni helped show that there was a clear feminine way to dress and an emerging masculine way to dress.


Fashion has significance beyond that of just expressing ones’ self. Wigs in particular, had a greater purpose in differentiation and symbolism. Wigs were slowly emerging to come to represent how a male dressed and how a female dressed within the 18th century society. Fashion was beginning to slowly move away from being a prominent representation of how much money one had; where someone stood within society or which political party one associated his or herself with. Wigs were meant to display a certain social status, hierarchy as well as political and ideological beliefs, but that was slowly changing. In the print, “The Englishman in Paris” it seems as though the Englishman believes that in order to embellish one’s self as a gentlemen wigs must be treated as an “essential asset to every person’s head” (Waller, 52). The difference though is that the formation of the man’s wig is beginning to look more and more like that of a man’s actual head of hair. Wigs during the 18th century were reaching a point of blurring the lines between male and female, which fortunately caused recognition of the need to dress according to one’s gender.

Englishman in Paris:,fmlacc,fashnacc,evydyacc,alldates&keyword=wig

The Macaroni, A Real Character At the Late Masquerade:



  1.  Collet, John, and James Caldwell. Englishman In Paris. 1770. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
  2.  Darly, Matthew. Wigs. 1773. London, England. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
  3.  Dawe, Philip. The Macaroni, a Real Character at the Late Masquerade. 1773. British XVIIIc Mounted Roy. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
  4. Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth‐Century France.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 631-59. Print.
  5. Rauser, Amelia F. “Hair, Authenticity, and the Self – Made Macaroni.” Eighteenth – Century Studies 38.1 (2004): 101-17. Web.
  6. Waller, T. “The Beauties of All the Magazines Selected. … Including the Several Original Comic Pieces. To Be Continued the Middle of Every Month.” 1 (1762): 52-54. Web. 31 Dec. 2008. <¤tPosition=39&workId=1311200101&relevancePageBatch=CB128051259&contentSet=ECCOArticles&callistoContentSet=ECCOArticles&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&reformatPage=N&retrieveFormat=MULTIPAGE_DOCUMENT&scale=0.33&pageIndex=55&pageNumber=&quickSearchTerm=&stwFuzzy=&orientation=&forRelevantNavigation=true&now=1393948174791&gt;.

Stefanie Anderson, Wigs and Identity

"The English Lady in Paris"

“Customs are sometimes absurd is less important than that the individual follows” -Lynne Festa.

Wig wearing, a necessary custom in the eighteenth-century, was widespread throughout the revolutionary Atlantic. According to Michael Kwass, author of the article, “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France” wigs had a long history, “its origins stretching back to the seventeenth-century French courts of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, where fashion had become part of an aristocratic world of power and display” (634). Wigs have been around for a long time, but unlike the seventeenth-century, during the eighteenth they were no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy. With the consumer revolution, which was a boom in consumption starting in England in the eighteenth-century, more and more middle class types were able to buy items once thought of as luxuries now as necessities. As each class tried to emulate the dress and manners of that above it, a concept known as emulation theory, wigs trickled down through the royal courts, gracing the heads of nearly all men.

Wig fashion, rarely reasonable but purposeful, was used in its simplest, form to cover up heads of thin or no hair. More important, however, was the wig’s symbolic meaning, yet the danger of the wig was that while it conveyed meaning it also undermined it. Wigs exemplified the types of anxieties becoming increasingly common in the eighteenth-century. No single item better demonstrates the increasing anxieties about gender, class and virtue at this time then the wig. This image of a woman having her wig powdered explores the importance of wigs in the eighteenth-century and the often multi-dimensional aspects ascribed to them by the people who wore them.

“The English Lady in Paris” created in England in 1754 as a satire on the preposterousness of wig wearing, portrays an elderly woman having her wig powdered. Her posture and face depict surprise as the powder flies from its sprayer onto her wig and face.  Her hands are up in an astonished and defensive manner, which is contrasted by the assertive posture and positioning of the man powdering her wig. Shabbily clothed in patchy fabric filled with holes; the man leans forward spraying powder onto her wig. In the background, a ridiculous portrait of wig powdering monkeys is hung.

Often worn by men, wigs were masculine, authoritative and regular.  However, their composition of the hair of poor females undermined this austere purpose, enabling wigs to be seen as both feminine and masculine. A female depicted wearing a wig, as in our image, is unique. Often women wore high rolls, the appropriate female version of the wig. According to Kate Haulman author of “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia” who writes more extensively on women’s hair, says, “high rolls made her head ‘itch & ach & burn like anything,’ probably because such rolls often weighed more than a pound” (639). Heavy, hot, smelly and inconvenient high rolls were meant to convey femininity and high class. No wilting flower, our lady forgoes the high roll and commandeers the masculine attributes associated with the wig for herself.

"The Preposterous Head Dress"

Our image includes another wig wearer; our shabby hairstylist represents the inferior sorts of people who now wear wigs. Originally the domain of the wealthy, wigs were meant to signify high class, station and prestige. With more people being able to afford wigs, the high-class lifestyle it was meant to represent was increasingly compromised.

Personal characteristics could also be displayed through wigs. The danger, however, was that not all persons who purchased a wig necessarily embraced the virtues they represented. Wigs increased anxieties between what one was and what one appeared to be, because though not all could possess the qualifications of rank or title, anyone who could afford a  wig could display those qualifications as their own. The ridiculousness of monkeys in the picture using a wig mirrors the beliefs of people who bought wigs hoping to express qualities and virtues they did not possess.

While society had ascribed meanings of masculinity, class and personality to the wig, its composition, availability and removability garbled this message. The end of the wig, however, would not be brought on by its difficulties; rather it would come in the form of a tax on hair powder.

"The Toilet of the Attorneys Clerk"

A guinea on every powdered head proved too high a cost to sustain its use. In the article “Cursory Remarks on Mr. Pitt’s New Tax of Imposing a Guinea Per Head on Every Person Who Wears Hair-Powder” Henry Mackenzie, writing under the pseudonym Brutus, warns, “farewell to those neatly powdered heads, which we have so often seen, and so often admired … Soon then shall we be disgusted with the sight of greasy locks, and heads of every hue shade, and colour… that may possibly be denied even the polish of a comb!” (14). Mackenzie envisions England’s future without powder or wigs, rendering society dirty within and without itself. The absence of visual markers of standards and values leaves no assurance of the obligation to even comb one’s hair.






Brutus. “Cursory Remarks on Mr. Pitt’s New Tax of Imposing a Guinea per Head on Every Person Who wWears Hair-Powder” (1795): 4-19. Print.

Debucourt, Philibert Louis. “The Toilet of the Attorney’s Clerk”. 1755-1832. Engraving. The Bridgeman Art Library, New York.

“The English Lady in Paris”. January 2, 1754. Hulton Archive. Web. March 2, 2014.

Festa, Lynn. “Personal Effects: Wigs and Possessive Individualism in the Long Eighteenth Century” Duke University Press (November 2005): 47-83. Print.

Haulman, Kate. “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” The William and Mary Quarterly 62.4 (October 2005): 625-62. Print.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Lecture: Enlightened Dress,” 2-15-14.

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth Century France” American Historical Review (2006): 631-59. Print.

“The Preposterous Head Dress, or The Featherd Lady”. March 20, 1776. Etching and engraving. The Lewis Walpole Library, Connecticut.

Fashion Doll with Accessories, 1755-1760- Pamela Holmes


Figure A
Image Title: Fashion Doll (Pandora) with Accessories
Museum: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Place of origin: England, Great Britain
Date: 1755-1760
Artist/Maker: Unknown
Museum number: T.90 to V-1980

A tirewoman in Paris send to London a doll completely accoutered to shew the new mode…At the sight of this pageant (O how wonderously pretty!) off goes the present head-dress of every lady in the realm, to make room for the exact similitude and pattern of the coiffure of the newly-arrived, pretty, little, dear, charming stranger from France.” (Governor William Livingston of New Jersey, “Homespun,”1791)

During the eighteenth century Pandoras or Fashion Dolls were sent by dressmakers all over Europe and America to exhibit the latest fashions and encourage women of society to purchase their goods. The Fashion Pandora shown above was produced in England between 1755-1760 with the aim of promoting this form of elaborate court dress. This blog post shall explore the material culture of this Pandora suggesting that she reflects a time in which consumer goods and fashion were becoming important ideals in society.

The Pandora reflects a period of seismic change in the patterns of consumer spending in England. Neil McKendrick argues that there was a “consumer revolution” as more people than “any previous society in human history [were] able to enjoy the pleasures of buying consumer goods.” The idea of being in ‘fashion’ perpetuated the commercialization of society as it provided an incentive to buy new goods in order to keep up with the times. The upper classes in particular sought more and more luxury goods in order to maintain an exclusivity that was seemingly being lessened by the greater access to consumer goods from all classes (McKendrick, 9-11). Reflecting McKendrick’s notion of the need for exclusivity, the Pandora is made from opulent fabrics such as silk, satin and lace. It also uses a myriad of techniques of production including braiding on the petticoat, and a quilting design on the under-petticoat (V&A). Sartorially, the level of craftsmanship and expensive nature of the fabric reveals the importance of luxury to the fashionable ladies of the eighteenth century.


Image Title: Doll’s Pocket
Museum: Victoria and Albert
Place of origin: 
London, England (made)

Date: 1690-1700 (made)

Artist/Maker: Unknown (production)
Museum number: T.846C-1974
Notes: Pandoras often demonstrated every layer of dress including undergarments. In this example, the Pandora has a pocket hidden under her petticoat. This reveals that there was some element of practicality to dress not just aesthetic value during this time. 

For women of society the Pandora doll symbolized the opportunity to make new purchases and gain the prestige and satisfaction of owning the latest form of dress. In Governor William Livingston of New Jersey’s discussion of the Homespun Movement in America (which aimed to promote American cloth) he describes the excitement that women felt in receiving these dolls in their homes, immediately mimicking the forms of fashion that she displayed (Governor Livingston, Homespun, 1791). Indeed, in a eulogy for the Duchess of Devonshire published in the Belle Assemblée one of the things that the author most admired most about her, and that gave her such an elated position in courtly society, was that she was “fashionable” and gave her name to many articles of clothing (Belle Assemblée, 123-4). Fashion was thus intimately connected with status, and the Pandora was considered as an important gateway to obtaining this prestige.

Demonstrating this material culture of the Fashion Doll, the satirical image shown in Figure B depicts a girl holding a doll dressed in similar attire to the women of the picture, which may be a Pandora. It could be suggested that all of the women shown in the image are mirroring the fashion of the little doll, particularly as the girl is set apart from the other women as if she and the doll are watching over them. The Pandoras thus symbolized more than just for a material representation of what clothes could be made for the women, but the status these clothes could potentially offer them.


Figure B
Title: Frailties of fashion
Museum: British Museum
Place of origin: London, England (published)
Date: 1793
Author: Print made by: Isaac CruikshankPublished by: S W Fores
Museum Number: 1868,0808.6292
Notes: Often Pandoras would be given to children to play with as toys after they had been viewed.

For the distributors of the dolls themselves, the Pandora represented the chance for greater business and personal prosperity by acquiring new orders. As such, the Pandora doll can be viewed as an early form of promotion or marketing. In an advertisement listed in a London newspaper in 1799 a wig-maker invited “the whole Fashionable World to an Exhibition of unexampled taste and excellence” where they could examine the wigs on “poupee [French for doll] of all complexions” (Morning Herald, February 12 1799) (Figure C). The dolls or mannequins in this example were a medium for allowing women to envisage what the wigs would look like in practice, and they seem to have encouraged people to come into the store. Not only does the Pandora demonstrate, therefore, the commercialization of sales but also the way in which strategic forms of promotion could encourage people to consider goods ‘fashionable’ and desirable.

Interestingly, the Pandora played a crucial role in spreading European ideals of fashion and consumerism to the colonies. Governor Livingston notes that old clothes were abandoned half worn once dolls from France and England arrived in America “upon the pain and penalty of being old fashioned” (Governor Livingston, “Homespun,” 1791). Clearly for the women of the colonies the Pandora represented the chance to obtain the status that came with being a ‘women of fashion’ even though they did not happen to live in Paris or London. By examining contemporary newspapers this desire to copy European ideals of style is evident. An advertisement in a Boston newspaper in 1766 noted that there was a “large London doll, drefs’d in the most elegant Manner” for sale (The Massachusetts Gazette, 2 October 1766) (Figure D). Another advertisement noted that a Mantua-Maker had recently received a doll from London that could be viewed for 5 shillings in the store and 7 shillings if it was delivered to them (New England Weekly Journal, 9 July 1733) (Figure E). The popularity of Pandoras in America not only shows that European tailors were able to obtain an international clientele, but also that the women in the colonies still ultimately wanted European forms of dress. Despite the aims of movements such as Homespun ‘women of fashion’ still coveted the power and class symbols that were intrinsic to European attire. This consumerist desire was satisfied by the travelling doll.

The Pandora therefore reflects an age in which there was a growing emphasis on consumer goods from a social and economic perspective. The “pretty, little, dear, charming stranger” (Governor Livingston, “Homespun”) brought more than simply potential patterns of dress to women. For the dedicated followers of fashion, she brought the chance to be at the forefront of style during a time when this was a very important ideal.


Figure C
Article Type: Classified ads.
Newspaper: Morning Herald 
Place of origin: (London, England)
Date: 2-12-1799
Issue: 5742 Page: Unknown


Figure D
Article Type: Advertisement
Paper: Boston News-Letter, published as the Massachusetts Gazette.
Date: 10-02-1766
Issue: 3287 Page: 4
Place of origin: Boston, Massachusetts


Figure E
Article Type: Advertisement
Paper: New-England Weekly Journal, published as New England Weekly Journal.
Date: 07-09-1733
Place of origin: Boston, Massachusetts
Issue: CCCXXIX Page: 2


Chapters in books

McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” In The Birth of Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, 9-33. London: Europa, 1982.


Advertisement. [No Headline]. London Morning Herald, February 12, 1799. Accessed February 28,2014.

Advertisement. [No Headline]. New England Weekly Journal, September 7, 1733. Accessed February 28, 2014.

Advertisement. [No Headline]. The Massachusetts Gazette, February 2, 1766. Accessed February 28, 2014. 

Eulogy. “The Duchess of Devonshire.” Belle Assemblée, April, 1806.

Livingston, William. “From the American Museum. Homespun.” Massachusetts Spy, September 1 1791. Accessed February 28, 2014.


“Doll’s Pocket.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February, 22 2014,

“Frailties of Fashion.” British Museum. Accessed February, 22, 2014,

“Fashion Doll with accessories.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February, 22 2014,

Lady Delacour Would [Probably] Not Wear This Stay: On the Changing Position of Women as Exhibited by Pieces of Clothing from 18th Century Europe, By: Julie Avancena

“Has she sensibility for her husband-for her daughter-for anyone useful purpose on earth?”

   -Mrs. Delacour on Lady Delacour, Belinda 


From the Collection at Colonial Williamsburg
Object: Stays, altered for nursing
Origin: Europe, France or Italy
Date: 1765
Acc. No 1986-111

The socially acceptable position of women was in the domestic sphere. But women’s position in society transformed in the 18th century causing anxieties over the idea of separate spheres, especially in the context of revolutions. At this time, women began to take part in politics as exhibited by The Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Delacour of Belinda. This stay represents the conventional garment solely made for women. Only women can breast feed and the alteration at the breasts is the main feature of this stay. While women began to challenge the idea of separate spheres by becoming more part of the political experience, this stay represents the expectation that women breast-feed, raise good children, and contribute to national strength by portraying the role of a good mother.

This stay exhibits an aura of a conservative society that promoted maternal duties. At the same time, it displays societal gaps since perhaps only wealthy women could afford this type of stay. Lady Delacour, one of the main characters of Belinda would probably not have worn this stay, even if she could afford it. The stay was made of silk. According to Richard DuPlessis, “The well-to-do mainly owned clothing fashioned from cotton and silk, it appears, because they were merchants, administrators…” (DuPlessis, 150). This fabric represents socio-economic differences and consumer behavior. Even if DuPlessis spoke of consumer behavior in New France it is related to the European experience because of the desire to own exotic items. Lady Delacour was wealthy, but would probably not wear this stay because she did not portray a motherly role. This stay represents the theme of gender roles but also shows socio-economic differences. The person who would wear this stay is someone like Lady Anne Percival of Belinda, who was wealthy and satisfied the image of a good mother.

This specific stay is part of the collection in Colonial Williamsburg and one identifying feature is the alteration at the breasts for nursing purposes. This detail is appealing to women because of the feminine design of the garment and the easy access to breast-feeding making motherly duties a bit more bearable. While the stay demonstrates the accepted position of women in the private sphere, there is evidence of women breaking some of the boundaries of the home. Lady Delacour was not an ideal wife nor mother since she did not take care of her child. Instead, Lady Delacour took part in duel and politics, both of which were not acceptable activities for women (Edgeworth, 60). The Duchess of Devonshire represented a different kind of woman. She was a participant in politics by giving support to the Whig party (La Belle Assemblee, 124). She demonstrated a change in the world of fashion, exemplifying a type of woman who participated in public affairs without losing the ideal image of femininity mirroring grace and morality. Both women exhibited a challenge to the gender roles by blurring the boundaries of what women could do.

The riding coat depicts a different image from the stay on the position of women. This looks appropriate for public action and not just staying at home. The original nursing stay presented conformity to the maternal ideal through the breast access and the details on the garment.


From the Victoria and Albert Museum
Object: Riding Coat
Origin: England, Great Britain
Date: 1750-1759
Artist: Unknown
Museum Number: T.197-1984

Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist English writer, spoke in defense of women’s rights as. As this was being written, the French Revolution was under way (1788-1799). In A Vindication of Rights of Woman Wollstonecraft linked the rights of women to their expected duty to protect the moral interests of society while applying the argument men made for equal rights, “…the more understanding women acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty.” She used the context of moral duty that women preserved to argue for the rights of women. Through this context, women can have similar rights that men demanded for themselves. The stay illustrates the maternal role and femininity of women, but Wollstonecraft explained the need for women to have an education and obtain the same rights as men.

The image portrays the objectification of the female body. The male stay maker is creating a stay for the woman and is measuring her waist. This relates to the argument that only the wealthy could afford to such luxury. This shows a female dependency to have her clothing made and perhaps shows a vulnerability of women as these stays were made. The man and woman of the painting even look affectionate, hinting at some sexual tension that could be present. While this accentuated the female body, it is probably not practical for political activities. The stay looks tight and uncomfortable.


From the Collection at Colonial Willamsburg
Painting: The Stay-Maker taking a Pleasing Circumference
Origin: England, London
Publisher: Carington Bowles
Date: 1784
Acc. No 1971-475

While the stay promoted the maternal duties of women, the alteration for easy access to breast-feeding could be used as an argument that this allowed women to do other work. The stay, the riding coat, and the painting display variations in the position of women in society. The stay is a display of a feminine ideal of being a good mother and taking care of the home. The easy access to breast feeding illustrates this idea. But, it is also possible that in this context of a transformed women’s position, the stay could also serve to allow women to perform other work. They could breast-feed and participate in the public sphere.

In the context of revolutions, women were expected to preserve national strength. Their transformed position in society reflected anxieties during the revolution. So while women became part of the public sphere, this was also used as an argument for weakness in the nation. At the same time, as men demanded equality amongst each other, women used this model to demand rights for themselves.


1. “The Duchess of Devonshire,” Belle Assemblee; or, Court and Fashionable

          Magazine. April 1806. pp. 122-129.

2. Maria Edgeworth. Belinda. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.,1994. Ebook.

3. Richard DuPlessis. “Was There a Consumer Revolution in Eighteenth-Century

New France?” French Colonial History. (2002): 143-159. Web. 02 Feb


Primary Source:

1. Mary Wollstonecraft. (Excerpt) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Taken

From, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. Web.



1. Object: Stays, altered for nursing

2. Painting: The Stay-Maker taking a Pleasing Circumference

3. Object: Riding Coat