Rococo Fashion: History, Period & Terms

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  • 0:04 Rococo Fashion
  • 1:00 Rococo Designs
  • 2:00 Women's Fashions
  • 3:26 Men's Fashion
  • 4:27 Impact on Society
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Rococo was an important era in European arts. In this lesson, we'll see how the motifs and ideologies of the Rococo translated into men and women's fashions, and explore the impact this had on society.

Rococo Fashion

For generations, the royal courts of Europe set the standards of fashion. When did this stop, and why? In the Americas, independence movements elevated the common people over the aristocrats, and working class fashions used to celebrate that. In Europe, the slow rise of constitutions that challenged the absolute power of the monarchs resulted in the same trend. In no other place, however, was this shift as dramatic as in France.

The French Revolution at the end of the 18th century resulted in the violent rejection of the monarchy, and peasant fashions became national fashions. Before this, however, there was the Rococo. The Rococo was the era from roughly 1720 to 1789, when the French aristocracy began to obsess over their wealth and finery. France was divided between the lavishly dressed ruling class and the impoverished peasantry. The Rococo was, therefore, the last truly aristocratic style of France. When it was rejected, the entire aristocracy was rejected with it.

Rococo Designs

The Rococo was an entire artistic movement, encompassing art, architecture, and theater. To understand the role of fashion in this world, we need to first understand the trends of the entire Rococo. This era followed the serious and grand Baroque era, characterized by extreme ornamentation to display solemn power. The Rococo completely abandoned the solemnity of the Baroque, but kept its focus on wealth and decoration.

Rococo designs tended to be lavishly ornate, with complex patterns and the finest of materials. Color palettes were light and pastel, designs were whimsical and asymmetrical, and organic motifs covered everything. Courtly life was about relaxation, fun, and the enjoyment of privileged wealth, often while ignoring the more solemn responsibilities that came along with it. As aristocrats were less often required in court, they spent most of their time in private estates, often hosting lavish parties. Fashion came to reflect this irreverence and self-interest, as well as this taste for all things fancy.

Women's Fashion

Aristocratic women's fashions of the 18th century were greatly influenced by the Rococo mentality. While Baroque clothing had been stiff and formal, Rococo women began adapting looser dresses and skirts. Since so much of aristocratic life now centered on private estates rather than the formal court, women began publicly wearing the sort of clothes that had previously only been worn in private. In particular, the negligee, which at the time was a type of morning robe, began appearing outside the house. Over time, this turned into loose robes worn over dresses or skirts and hanging off the shoulders. Dresses did still utilize corsets, bodices, and hoop skirts to emphasize a certain voluptuous and sensuous quality to the wearer. In the early Rococo, this style was loose and informal, but it became more ornate as finer materials and more decorative designs were employed into the later 18th century.

Of course, what would the Rococo be without extreme ornamentation? Women's fashion became defined by the sorts of finery attached to it. Materials were refined but airy, leaning towards taffeta silks in pastel colors. Fur trimmings lined robes and dresses, and flowered, organic details were sewn into everything. Hair was occasionally covered in a wig, but this Baroque style was more often replaced by pinned-up natural hairdos, which were powdered to look grey or white. Add to this some exquisite jewelry of playful gold or pearl designs, and you're ready for aristocratic Rococo society.

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