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Friday, November 19, 2010


Dressing in 1720 England
Shelley Munro

Firstly, thanks to LASR for having me to visit today. My name is Shelley Munro and my most recent release is a historical romance called The Spurned Viscountess. My story is set in 1720 England. Today, I thought I'd take a look at clothes.
Dressing was a complicated business during the 18th century. I found a list on the web describing how a lady dressed, and it's no wonder ladies required the services of a maid. Here is a description of how a lady dressed in the morning.

1. Put on a pair of over-the-knee stockings. Bind them above the knee with tapes.

Stockings were knitted in either fine or coarse thread - cotton, silk or yarn - and came in many different colors: Blue, green, pink, cherry, sky and scarlet. They also came in black or white. The garters to hold them up were lengths of ribbon that were tied either above the knee or below. The garters often bore mottos and roguish gentlemen liked to collect them as souvenirs. 

2. Put on your shoes and do up the buckles.

Shoes had pointy toes, large heels (the height ranging from two to three inches) and came in varied colors such as green, yellow, salmon pink and white.

3. Put on your mid-calf length chemise, followed by a modesty skirt. 

4. Put on your stays and smooth out the chemise underneath.

The stays (or corset) are laced behind. They can be plain or have an embroidered front.

5. Tie pockets around your waist.

Pockets were not like ours. They were tied around the waist and separate from the gown or petticoats. They normally came in pairs

6. Put on your hoop.

Hoops were tied around the waist with a running string. They were made of whalebone or cane.

7. Cover the hoop with your petticoat.

8. Put on the outer petticoat.

The petticoat was pleated into a waistband and tied either behind or on the side. The fullness was achieved by the use of thick, sometimes quilted under petticoats. The petticoat was usually a different color from the gown and often embroidered. Colors included red, blue, green, yellow, cherry, cinnamon, rose, pink and scarlet. 

9. Pin the stomacher to the front of the stays, pinning through the tabs which are located at the sides of the stomacher.

A stomacher is a panel that's either pointed, rounded or scalloped below and has a straight upper border. It's stiffened with pasteboard or padding. It fills in the gaps between the robings. They were often heavily embroidered or decorated with jewels.

10. Put on your robe, pulling it on like a jacket.

An Open robe dress is as the name suggests open in the front to show off the colored petticoat.

11. Pin the front edges to the stomacher, hiding the pins down the front under the pleats.

12. Put on your fine white linen or lace cap and cover your neck with a scarf (fichu).

In cooler weather, a mantle and headscarf may be used.

A handkerchief (actually a large square of muslin, linen, lawn or sometimes silk) was used as neckwear. It was draped around the neck and secured over the stomacher with ribbon ties.
The mantle is a long tent-like cloak and often made of velvet. Cloaks were usually waist length. Red was a common color.

Caps were normally white and made of linen or lawn or lace. They were worn toward the back of the head.


1. Wigs were sometimes worn for social occasions. They could be powdered or not. Hair was decorated with precious stones, artificial flowers, gold or silver hair pins or ribbons. A lady's own hair - the fringe or front was frizzed or curled and built up on pads. The back was coiled high into a small bun leaving a few artful curls at the nape to wear back or forward over the shoulder.

2. Makeup:  Red paint or rouge - also applied to lips and fingernails. Eyebrows were arched with scissors or tweezers or sometimes shaved off and replaced with strips of mouse skin. Patches - were made of black velvet and stuck on the face with a glue type substance.

Gloves were usually elbow length and worn outdoors. They were normally white. 

Fans were an essential part of a lady's ensemble and folded.

Keep in mind that this process would take place several times during the day as the mistress of the house changed for at home visits, riding, shopping and of course, dinner and evening engagements such as balls and the theatre. I don't know about you, but I'm tired just reading the list!

While my heroine in The Spurned Viscountess isn't big on fashion, there are a few mentions of her gowns within the story. In fact, she has a few problems with her apparel. I can't tell you without giving away too much of the story.

Here's the blurb for The Spurned Viscountess.

She must marry him.
Cursed with the sight and rumors of witchcraft, Rosalind's only chance at an ordinary life is marriage to Lucien, Viscount Hastings. She doesn't expect love, only security and children of her own. Determined to go through with the wedding, she allows nothing she encounters at the gloomy Castle St. Clare to dissuade her.
He wants nothing to do with her.
Recently returned from the Continent, Lucien has no time for the English mouse his family has arranged for him to marry, not when he's plotting to avenge the murder of his beloved Francesca. He has no intention of bedding Rosalind, not even to sire an heir.
Dark secrets will bind them.
Though spurned by her bridegroom, Rosalind turns to him for protection when she is plagued by a series of mysterious accidents and haunted by terrifying visions. Forced to keep Rosalind close, and tempted into passionate kisses, Lucien soon finds himself in grave danger of falling in love with his own wife…

The Spurned Viscountess is available from Carina Press.

How do you think you'd get on dressing each day if you lived in 1720 England? What is your favorite item of clothing?

Shelley Munro lives in New Zealand and enjoys both writing and reading historical romance. She loves to dress casually and doesn't think she'd make a very good time traveler, not if she went to 1720 England and had to don all those clothes! You can visit Shelley and learn more about her books at

Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century by C. Willett & Phillis Cunnington

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