18th Century Paniers Fashion History
The spelling of this word causes confusion. It is often spelt
as pannier, but many costume devotees prefer to use the term
panier after the French name of panier meaning basket. It is of
limited importance which spelling you choose to use - just decide to use one or
the other consistently.
the early 18th century paintings illustrate ladies' gowns with free falling,
pleated loose dress backs. This innovation after 1705 was called the French
sack dress sometimes called the sac or saque or the contouche.
They are commonly called by the
misnomer Watteau gowns, or Watteau pleats simply because the artist Watteau
recorded early versions in his paintings. He did not record later variations.
This sack dress probably developed from the over gown worn in the late
17th century. They were worn with a circular Panier and were fashionable until later
than 1730. Left - The sack dress.
Under the Sack or Panier dress, well crafted laced stays were made from as
many as 40 pieces of whalebone. They were backstitched by hand and were very
decorative. The stays would support and raise the breasts, narrow to a sharp
point at the front as well as define a slim outline. The stays often matched the
dress or complimented it in matching silk or brocade gown fabric.
bodice was sometimes filled in with an embellished pointed stomacher which
covered the stays. The bones in all these stays were placed laterally across
both front and back shoulder blades to keep a straight front and an upright
back. The décolletage was always visible, but until the 1920s breasts were
always treated en masse as one great bosom.
After 1720 the sack dress graduated into the gown à la Françaíse. The
loose back was variously made up of folds and unpressed pleats. As the century
progressed the pleats developed into arrangements of single, double, or triple
box pleats which were stitched at neck level and then hung from the shoulder
line falling down into the skirt folds. At the front a V pointed stomacher had
bows in decreasing sizes.
Right - Stomacher bows.
in decreasing sizes were also used to decorate
the same area. All types of women wore this dress, but in different cloths from
plain to rich materials. The skirt was supported by paniers that got wider as
the fashion progressed.
Panier supported skirts first appeared in England in 1709 and in Paris in
1718-19. Over the years there were many variations. In England paniers were
sometimes called improvers.
Basically they began as petticoats of heavily stiffened rich fabric, tiered with
three or four rows of whalebone with tapes for control. Left - Early Holland covered panier.
A separate petticoat
covered the paniers and eventually this became richly decorated, embroidered and
By 1728 Panier skirts reached extreme widths.
Right - Wide panier frame hoops of the late
The gown à la' Anglaise was a
practical replacement for the gown à la Françaíse later only kept for court
ceremonies. By 1765 the boned bodice of the gown à la' Anglaise became softer
and followed the seam lines of the bodice and the back pleats were sewn down to
waist level. This softer look heralded the appearance of the all in one, bone
An important style change occurred about 1772 when the overskirt became drawn
up by invisibly placed inner tapes producing a ruched festoon bustle.
called the polonaise skirt and was supported by special basket hoops as shown in
It was said that the
fashion arose when maids picked up the sides of their Panier skirts and pushed
them into the pocket slit openings to enable them do their work more easily.
The drawn up skirt revealed the petticoats and these then became an important
fashion. The chest was forced forward and gave a pouter pigeon effect. Right
- Basket panier hoops - circa 1772.
Silhouette Changes and a Return to Nature 1779-1794
1779, 1787 and 1794
A gradual return to nature and simplicity introduced a more natural
silhouette in the late 1780s. Of course once the French Revolution of 1789
occurred there was no way the aristocracy could flaunt their social class by
wearing heavy silks and satins. The polonaise disappeared and the open robe
became high waisted and was known as a frock. The frock was simple in cut and
cloth, usually in white fabric not requiring corsetry or lavish embellishment.
It made way for the simpler styles of the next century.
Buy my latest ebook and learn how to recognise changes
between Paniers, crinolines, bustles, bras and corsets and the affect this
has on the outer silhouette of female costume
My How to Recognise Undergarments in Fashion History e-book has 12 chapters about the changes in under foundations in costume history found in
various articles on this website.
It also has a new chapter on the history of drawers and knickers and
one covering the chemise and petticoats. This
you to read, print and copy from various web pages of fashion-era.com all in one go.
The Undergarments ebook includes information from my
articles on early corsetry, C18th Paniers and the sack dress, stays to corsets,
crinoline styles from 1830s to 1860s, bustle styles of 1870s & 1883/5,
Edwardian corsetry, bras and girdles
before and after 1950, and a new chapter on drawers, pantaloons, knickers to
panties. A look at Rational Dress Reform, the contribution of Mrs. Bloomer and Dr. Jaeger
to the resultant
cycling and swimming dress.
more information on the contents of Undergarments click here.
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