Centuries and Decades 18-th century

18-th century

Curved line and pretentious forms of Rococo.

In the 18th century, just like two centuries before, European fashion remains under the influence of France. After some standstill in social life in the last years of Louis XIV reign, new era of enjoyment and thirst for pleasure has set in. Pompousness and splendor of the court attire gave in to the more elegant and graceful forms.

France was the place where in the beginning of the century art style Rococo was formed as an evolution of Baroque. Exquisiteness, graceful ornamental rhythm, attention to sensual situations and mythology, personal comfort - these are the main features of the style.

Ideal man - refined courtier, smart dresser. Ideal woman - fragile, slender coquette.

Having reached its apogee during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1723) Rococo spread to other European countries. Closer to 1750s the style was actively criticized for its pretentious manner and affectation. The Encyclopedist were the most severe critics of Rococo, stating that the style had no rational source.

The fashion for the curved lines is clearly seen in the tempting arches of ladies court shoes. In the beginning of the 18-th century womens shoes were still securely hidden and one could only see a toe under a long skirt. Waisted Louis heel fluently evolved into the slightly dome shaped sole. Design of the lower part of the shoe - from heel to the slightly pointed and up-curved toe - was trying to reflect the wave line, distinctive of Rococo. Shoe upper was made of silk, satin or brocade and decorated with elaborate embroidery.

High slim heels have led to fashion for sticks. The most fashionable ladies were now helping themselves to stay afoot with sticks. Mules have fell out of fashion for the same reason - high slim heel and open back have rendered them absolutely unsteady, limiting their use to feet adornments in the boudoirs.

In England the Rococo elements were not that obvious in ladies shoes, featuring medium high thick sensible heels and more rounded toes. This might be explained by the fact that English lady spent most of her time in a country house, rarely going to city for a party or to visit her seamstress.

Shoe buckles - decoration and a symbol of social status.

Before 1710 ladies footwear was closing with silk ribbons, while the buckles still had limited use because of the long skirt, which were clinging to the buckle forks. In 1730s when the hem line went significantly up and pannier skirt was in fashion, the problems with the buckles became irrelevant, and womens shoes started to be decorated with large buckles just like the mens.

For practical reasons mens shoes adopted buckles much earlier than ladies. The first documented mention of changeable shoe buckles is found in the diary of Samuel Pepys, an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, contemporary with the English Revolution of the 17-th century. On January 22 1660 Pepys made a following entry:
... This day I began to put on buckles to my shoes, which I have bought yesterday of Mr. Wotton. (who was a shoemaker, on the north side of Fleet St close to Fetter Lane.)

After 1730s the buckles evolved from a functional accessory into an element of decor. High society was using buckles made of gold and silver, townsmn wore bronze ones. Men and women at the Royal courts tried to outdo each other with sophistication and opulence of decoration. Buckles were engraved, enameled, enchased with diamonds, pearls and semiprecious stones.

Eventually the buckles turned into jewelry. The shoes would wear out, be thrown away, while the buckles were transferred from one pair to another and inherited.

High social status of the wearer was acknowledged not only by the value of the material and finish of the buckles, but also by their size. In the second half of the 18th century the buckles reached enormous sizes, so that sometimes they would fully cover the foot arch.
Demise of the fashion for luxury.

By the end of the 18-th century the industrial economy have lead to the creation of reach, educated middle class, which, however, had no political power. This disbalance of power have resulted in civil revolutions in France and the USA, which ended in new democratic order, giving equal rights to all classes. Ostentatious character of fashion has changed to more reasonable practical way. French revolution have in one day abolished fashion for luxury. In Paris in 1789, members of the National Assembly ceremoniously removed their precious shoe buckles and donated them to the cause of the French Revolution. In 1791 silversmiths of Birmingham, asked the future king George IV to save them from devastation, which he did by ordering buckles to be worn at the court. This act deferred the inevitable death of buckles as fashion objects, but only for a short time. By 1810 even the small plain buckles worn with everyday shoes went out of use.

Last decade of the century.

French revolution and ideas of philosophers Enlighteners have greatly influenced all aspects of life including costume, changing it to be more comfortable, simple and rational. Even France yielded to a more rational cut, called a langlaise. High heels, precious buckles, silk stockings - all the attributes of noble descent have become dangerous accessories for the wearer during the Reign of Terror. For the young French Republic creation of the new style have become of state importance. This is why simplicity of English fashion was ridiculed as fashion of the milkmaids.

French designers looked to Ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration and very soon the images they created were turned by ladies into loose high-waisted dresses. In their long, water-thin, mostly white tunics without any frames and paddings French women strived to look like ancient sculptures.

Womens footwear was represented by heelless pumps with elongated pointed toes. This shape visually rendered the feet narrow, which was considered to be a sign of noble origin. It was customary to decorate the toes of the shoes with cut-out ornaments and bright silk inserts and embroidery.

Fashion for promenade.

By 1760s London started paving its streets and it was more convenient to walk a short distance that hire a cab. This is how walking came into fashion. By 1780s walking became a fashionable pastime all over Europe. Dresses were made with slightly higher hemline and shoes were made of kidskin to facilitate walking. Pattens designed to protect delicate shoes from damp weather consisted of half-sole part made of more durable waterproof leather covering the tow of the shoe and a leather loop, which was attached to the heel with the help of elastic strip.
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