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Baroque Fashion: History, Style & Characteristics

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  • 0:04 Baroque Clothing and Fashion
  • 1:35 Style and Characteristics
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about the clothing worn by the European royalty and middle classes during the Baroque era. Explore the characteristics of the fashion styles from this time and examine the history behind them.

Baroque Clothing and Fashion

When we think about Baroque, luxurious palaces are often among the first images to come to our minds. There are many architectonic masterpieces from this period, but have you ever wondered what clothes were worn by the people in them?

The Baroque was a time in art history mainly defined by the exuberant ornamentation in the different artistic works. It developed in Italy after the Renaissance by the turn of the 17th century and spread to most parts of Europe, lasting until the early 18th century.

Baroque art was originally promoted by the Catholic Church to improve its image as part of a series of actions against the Protestant Reformation. The Baroque was soon adopted by the courts from different kingdoms for exhibiting their power and wealth and, as a style of power, it touched most arts and utilitarian objects, including clothing.

During the first years of the 17th century, clothing still preserved several elements from the Renaissance. The new style didn't immediately change clothing, and Baroque fashion started around 1620. Male attire was influenced by the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War of Catholics against Protestants, which devastated extended regions. Women's clothing looked to exhibit wealth through ornamentation instead of jewelry.

Meanwhile, France continued to grow as a wealthy monarchy. Under the rule of Louis XIV, this nation became the cultural center of Europe, and its court usually had the lead in fashionable styles. The second half of the 17th century was the peak of Baroque fashion with exuberant outfits for exhibiting wealth, especially for men.

Louis XIV in 1701
Louis XIV in 1701

Style and Characteristics

The fashion trends were mostly defined and followed by the monarchs and noble courts, who were the social class able to afford expensive attire. Clothing was often big and ostentatious and designed for differentiating the nobles from the lower classes.

The middle class, especially in the Netherlands where it was stronger, tried to replicate the fashion of the nobility, but usually only after a while and by using simpler outfits. For the working class, clothing didn't change much and was more related to people's jobs than it was to fashion trends.

During the Baroque period, silk was the preferred fabric, and sometimes velvet was used as well. Linen was common for the inner layers of clothes.

Long dresses with a close-fitting bodice, known as gowns, were the most common attire for women. The silhouettes gradually softened as hard corsets from the Renaissance were replaced by flexible stays. The neckline was low, and lace collars were used for decoration. Virago sleeves, which were made of large strips of different fabrics gathered at the elbow, were popular. Elaborate patterns and dark colors were fashionable, and it was common to wear a black cape on top. The hairstyle consisted of curls on both sides of the head. Shoes were usually covered by the dress, so they were very simple.

Anne of Austria wearing a dark gown with lace collar and virago sleeves, circa 1625
Anne of Austria

Men's clothing adopted a militaristic look. A tight jacket known as a doublet was popular. It was pointed in the lower center part, raised to the sides, and had paned sleeves, which showed the undershirt. Lace decoration was used for collars and the lower edge of the sleeves (the cuffs). The lower part consisted of breeches, which were loose and went down to the knee or under. Tight boots high up to the knee were worn, often turned down with lace. The attire was completed with a long sword. Long loose hair was the trend for men.

Charles I of England wearing militaristic-looking clothes, in 1629
Charles I of England

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