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History (17-18)

17th-18th century


The 1640s saw womenswear trend in a softer and slightly simpler direction, with low necklines and billowing three-quarter length sleeves often in satin of a single color. With much of Europe at war, menswear took on a more militaristic edge and a parallel simplification, with the wearing of buff coats widely adopted in England.




The 1640s witnessed a gradual simplification of dress for both men and women. Soft, lustrous satins were worn without a great deal of additional surface ornamentation. Lace collars and cuffs were still worn; pearls remained extremely popular both as necklaces, but also as earrings, dress and hair ornaments. François Boucher comments on these changes in A History of Costume in the West (1997):

“the line of costume had been progressively simplified during this quarter century. Width had decreased for men and women alike; superfluous ornaments had disappeared, and even hairstyles had become more restrained.” 

This newfound simplicity was embraced by painters, as can be seen in a portrait of Henrietta Maria, Queen Consort of England. She wears a shimmering blue satin dress, with expansive sleeves, whose open seams are closed by golden eagle brooches. The neckline is extremely low-cut, granting great prominence to her breasts. Golden eagle brooches extend down the center front of her bodice and skirt. She notably wears no lace collar or cuffs, which may have been a further simplification of dress by the painter or more likely reflected her actual dress.

A portrait of a lady of the Grenville family similarly omits a lace collar and cuffs and features a similarly plunging neckline. She also has metal brooches closing the gaps in her sleeves and bodice front. The gaps reveal the white linen of her chemise—the foundational layer of women’s dress at the time. Here notably her sleeves are lined in a contrasting fabric of pale pink. The Tate highlights another striking feature:

“the bunch of fresh flowers pinned in the lady’s hair. They are tulips, a fashionable and highly prized commodity, recently introduced from the Netherlands, where during the 1630s they were the subject of financial speculation on an immense scale.”





Menswear of the 1640s initially maintained some elements of the 1630s including large lace collars on the shoulders and leather boots with deep cuffs. In the portrait of Ulrik Christian Gyldenløve from 1645, we still see paned leg-of-mutton sleeves and paning on the upper torso, which was also trendy in the 1630s. But we also see hints of new directions in men’s fashion as Brown explains:

“In the mid-1640s doublets and breeches became much shorter, with breeches gradually getting fuller, finishing in a straight line at the knee. Referred to as petticoat breeches, they resembled a skirt and were worn with underdrawers with decorative edging ‘canions’ that hung beneath the hem” 

While Gyldenløve’s breeches don’t yet resemble a skirt the heavy ribbon loop decoration at their edges will only become more popular. He also wears a shortened doublet that is still largely unbuttoned, revealing his shirt beneath. A cape is draped fashionably over his shoulder.

Endymion Porter has many of the same dress elements in his portrait from about the same time, though he has abandoned leg-of-mutton sleeves in favor of the now more fashionable sleeves with open seams. As Valerie Cumming points out in her Visual History of Costume: The Seventeenth Century (1984), Porter’s outfit is also a blend of old and new trends:

“The collar could have been worn in the 1630s, but the unstarched cuffs are typical of the 1640s. The high-waisted doublet, with its deep basque, has fewer buttons, allowing a ruffle of lace on the shirt front to assume prominence alongside the ribbon loops at the top of the breeches… The fuller line of the 1640s is broken by billows of linen and ruffles of lace and ribbon.” 

The rifle and dead rabbit are perhaps veiled allusions to the ongoing English Civil War, which broke out in 1642 and would eventually result in the execution of King Charles I in 1649 along with some of his Cavalier supporters.




As Cumming notes, “The contrast between the exigencies of warfare and the rich dress of many of its combatants was a feature of the Civil War period”. One of the most commonly seen practical concessions to the war was the buff coat, a leather version of the doublet or jerkin. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a 1640s buff coat in its collection, of which it writes:

“The buff coat was a feature of military dress during the 17th century, usually worn under a breastplate. Originally these garments were made of European buffalo (or wild ox) hide, which is where the term ‘buff’ comes from. By the mid-17th century, they were most frequently made of oil-tanned cow leather. The thick leather made the coat good protection, not only against musket balls and sword cuts, but also from the friction of the armoured plate worn over it.”

A portrait of Sir Henry Gage features just such a usage of the buff coat, as Gage wears a metal armor breastplate over his leather jerkin. But at the same time, his doublet sleeve seams gape tremendously to reveal his billowing linen shirt. The doublet material itself appears to be a lavish gold brocade textile. At his neck he wears a “small linen collar … tied with a lavishly tasseled pair of strings” (Cumming 79). Notably such a reduced collar was not only practical, but also fashionable in France, as the 1644 Les Loix de la Galanterie remarks “our collars are so small that they are like sleeve cuffs” (quoted in Waugh 45).


King Philip IV of Spain was also dressed lavishly while on military campaign when painted by Velázquez in 1644. This was a notable break with Philip’s typical fashion avoidance as Millia Davenport remarks in the Book of Costume (1948):

“In this scarlet military costume and baldric, blazing with metal, … Philip makes his first concession to European fashion, except for his hair which he has gradually allowed to lengthen: wide scalloped collar, open button-edged jacket and slightly widened boot-tops over which lace is turned down.” (649)

His scarlet-colored jerkin with matching baldric and cape appears to be covered in luminous silver embroidery, which coordinates with his slender silver doublet sleeves.

A less opulent version of what Philip wears survives in the Victoria & Albert’s collection. The doublet, cape and breeches all are made of the same gold satin fabric which is covered all over with pinking and applied braid. The museum explains further:

“This ensemble demonstrates fashionable formal dress for men in the late 1630s and early 1640s. The breeches are long and fairly full in cut, reaching just below the knee. The doublet has a high waist at the sides and back, extending to a point in front. A deliberate opening of the seam on each sleeve allows the fine linen shirt underneath to be seen. No ensemble was complete without a cape, and this example spans almost a full circle. The ornamental technique used on this outfit is unique and complicated. Long narrow strips of satin were braided and ‘pinked’ (holed). Then they were cut into short pieces and arranged vertically and diagonally over the underlying shape of each garment to create a rich and decorative effect.”

A similar decorative approach is perhaps seen in Benjamin Block’s portrait of Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach, which also features leather boots with spurs, lace boot cuffs and the now fashionable ribbon-loop decoration at the end of the breeches.


Some of the swagger of King Philip’s portrait can also be found in the portrait of Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer, where he too is ostensibly dressed for military service. Yet his doublet and breeches are made of pale pink satin and edged in expensive lace. Notably his lace collar is gathered into a bow at the front of his neck—a forerunner of the cravat, which will soon replace the large lace collars seen in the first half of the seventeenth century. As the fashion for long hair cascading on the shoulders continued, much of the lace on one’s shoulders would be hidden; it thus became the practice to gather the lace beneath the chin, where it could still be seen. This would be the forerunner of the modern tie. According to the National Gallery of Art:

“Stilte commissioned Verspronck to paint him wearing his sumptuous pink costume right before he resigned his rank to marry. As a married militia officer, Stilte would have worn an elegant black outfit.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a  British doublet of this era in its collection, which features the same long row of buttons down the forearm as Stilje’s doublet. While the floral brocade pattern may initially seem to be made of gold and silver threads, they are only silk in colors that suggest gold and silver, whereas Sir Henry Gage and King Philip are painted to suggest the real thing.

A portrait of a man seated in an armchair initially gives a somber impression of simplicity given the black of his jerkin and the white plainness of his collar and cuffs, but the open seams of his sleeves reveal luminous golden doublet sleeves. Closer inspection also reveals under his unbuttoned jerkin a line of golden fabric from the doublet and, beneath his somewhat transparent white cuffs, the doublet cuffs themselves softly shimmer. He grasps the band strings of his collar in his left hand (they can be seen properly tied in Fig. So even if married men were expected to adopt black as the National Gallery suggests about Stiltje, flourishes of dress and of extravagance were still quite possible. In the Childrenswear section below, be sure to notice the bright green silk stockings worn by Sir Arthur Capel.




Babies and toddlers were dressed in white gowns as can be seen in the portrait of the Capel Family. The infant Charles on Lady Capel’s lap has a coral teether on a red satin ribbon tied about his waist. His brother Henry is still dressed in a gown, but the eldest brother Arthur, then aged about 9, wears a pink satin doublet and lace collar like his father. After age 5 or 6, boys began to be dressed as miniature adult men. The two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, are dressed identically, as was a common practice, and the details of their dress echo those of their mother; for example, they have contrasting satin ribbon laces across their stomachers that are then tied into two bows. They wear lace collars and cuffs and even pearl jewelry like their mother.

The seven-year-old María Teresa, Infanta of Spain, is already dressed as an adult woman in Spain would be, wearing the new elliptical garde-infant then fashionable as Hill points out in his History of World Costume and Fashion (2011):

“The size and shape of the Spanish court farthingale changed from the conical silhouette to a wide, elliptical form in the early seventeenth century. Attached to the flat front bodice was a wide peplum that softened the hard edge of the hoops.” (408)



For the French garment term justaucorps, fashion historian Phyllis G. Tortora writes in her Survey of Historic Costume (2015):

“Knee length coats that replaced doublets as outer garments. Usually called justaucorps or referred to as surtouts.” (191)

In royal society, justaucorps were generally made out of a luxurious fabric like silk velvet or brocaded and patterned material (Fig. 1).  The justaucorps and waistcoat replaced the doublet, a previously popular shorter style of bodiced coat, after 1666 when Charles II proclaimed a new style of dress for the English court. In its first few decades, it was designed to close at center front (Fig. 2), but by the second quarter of the 18th century it was purposefully cut to have a gap at front so that the waistcoat and breeches could be seen.

The justaucorps had a series of buttons and buttonholes along the entire length of the opening, reached to the knees, and had stiff, wide skirting that protruded in back (Fig. 3). The sleeves were fitted, and early versions featured deep cuffs. The whole coat shortened and lost width over the 18th century; cuffs became smaller and the silhouette more streamlined. French justaucorps are generally more ornate (Fig. 4); an English silk suit c. 1765 has a subtler pattern and softer color (Fig. 5), and a simpler red wool justaucorps c. 1780 was inspired by the English style (Fig. 6). It would appear that most contemporary sources simply called these garments “coats”; one of the English terms was ‘frock coat‘.

In Costume, History and Style (1983), Douglas Russell writes:

“A long, fitted coat with full skirt, buttoned down the front with sleeves usually turned back in large cuffs: replaced the cassock about 1675-1680.” (497)

Justaucorps were part of a three-piece habit, or suit, as seen in figures 4 & 5, and a man would not have attended a formal event without one. They had two large pocket flaps and often had embroidered edging, much like the matching waistcoats. While the buttons continued to be present through the end of the 18th century, they were usually just decorative – most justaucorps were not meant to be buttoned closed.

Some justaucorps remained fitted throughout the body, especially the very early and late styles (Figs. 2 & 6), while others featured fashionably accentuated and flared skirts through the addition of gores and pleats from the waist. The front edges are close together at the neck and cut away from the body lower down, sometimes dramatically (Fig. 5).

In A History of Costume (1930) by early dress historian Carl Kohler, justaucorps are described:

“Shortly after the year 1660….This new garment, which was called le justaucorps, and which soon came to be richly decorated with galloon, immediately became a chief item of male costume, and continued – although with repeated modifications – to be worn till about the end of the eighteenth century.” (307-8)

Luis Francisco de la Cerda, IX duque de Medinaceli


Veste, justaucorps, ensemble 2 pièces


Man's Suit





Three-piece Suit

Justaucorps and Waistcoat