In 1660, after eleven years of Commonwealth government, the English people welcomed back Charles II as their King. Charles had spent a good deal of his exile in France, at the Court of Louis XIV, "The Sun King", and he and his courtiers had adopted many of the fashionable French ideas for clothes. The restoration of the monarchy in England was the signal for an outburst of colour and luxury in the outfits of the stylishly dressed, and lace and highly coloured ribbons were attached to whatever parts of the garments could afford space for them. The English, tired of years of Puritan austerity, were not prepared to allow any set back to distract them, and the Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 did little or nothing to halt the flood of decoration and finery sported by rich and fashion-conscious people thronging the Court and theatres.
Many of the styles popular in England were brought over from the Continent; in the first place by people who had lived there during the years of Cromwell's rule, and later by means of fashion dolls, half or one-third life-sizefigures dressed in clothes complete in the last detail of up - to-date taste. This was obviously a very expensive way to learn about the latest modes; and in 1672 probably the first widely circulated fashion magazine ap peared, a newspaper called Le Mercure Galant, which kept ele gant people aware of exactly which new whim of fashion was correct to follow.
Puritan starchiness and for mality gave way to studied negligence, and flowing shirts and neckwear were the order of the day for gentlemen. The poet Herrick wrote of "a sweet dis order in the dress," and the fashionable were at pains to make their appearance unstudied and casual. Every man of style wore long hair, occasionally his own, but more often a wig. To begin with, these wigs made some pretence to naturalness, but very soon they grew bigger and more artificial, though usually made in the colours of natural hair. It was rare to see powdered locks, and certainly the white of the eighteenth cen tury was a thing of the future. Heads underneath the wigs were cropped or shaved, which led to
a fashion for nightcaps, to keep the draught off when the owner went to bed and put the wig on its stand.
Round the neck was worn the "falling band", or cravat, a wide strip of fine linen wound round and folded over in front, the ends trimmed with lace. Men's shirts were of linen or silk, and were as full and flowing as the wearer could afford. The sleeves were held at the wrist by a draw string and richly decorated with lace that fell over the hands.
As was the case many times during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the women were rather less elabor ately dressed than the men. The materials used were often the same, and the passion for bows and embroidery, but the lines were simpler, and the decor - - ation less indiscriminate.
A lady at Court might wear a bodice and skirt in different colours. The bodice was pointed in front and the skirt was either in one piece, or opened up the front with the sides held back by ribbons to show a rich under skirt. Bodices were laced either at the back or in front, and were cut very low indeed, though
some sort of modesty was achieved by allowing the fine linen chemise worn under the bodice to show over the top of it. Sometimes even a large lace handkerchief was worn over the shoulders and tucked into the front of the bodice. The bodice could be either sleeveless or with very tiny sleeves, which often were ribbon-trimmed. Most of the arm was covered by the chemise, which could be tied up with ribbons or pinned with jewels, according to the wealth of the wearer.
Skirts were allowed to touch the ground, except in the case of peasant women, whose skirts showed just a little of the shoes. The shoes of a fashionable woman might be in velvet, leather or silk, embroidered or jewelled; and, whereas a man's shoe sometimes had the heel and the edge of the sole dyed bright red, a woman's shoe was more likely to have a white heel, a fashion very popular in the French Court.
The women of the Restoration, though fond of jewels, wore sur prisingly few of them. The beauty of the neck and the bosom was considered to need very little
adornment, and a simple, single strand necklace was usually thought as much as was neces sary. Sometimes women twined strings of pearls into their hair, but even these gave way to the ever-popular bunches of ribbons.
Over his shirt the fashionable man wore a very short, almost sleeveless jacket, heavily em broidered in gold or silver thread and fastened only at the neck, underneath the cravat. He wore breeches, rather like bloomers, made of dark velvet. Over those he wore a skirt which came al most to the knee and was often covered with ribbon loops, and had bunches of ribbons with metallic tips hanging from the waist. Stockings were usually silk, and either of a pale colour or white. They were secured under the bloomers, while on top of them were tight boot hose, which came up to under the knee, and were held by garters over which fell flounces of heavy lace. Shoes were black or brown. Their high heels were taken from the fashion begun by Louis XIV, who was less than five feet six inches tall. For warmth when he went out, the man of fashion could wear a cape of medium
length, decorated and embroid ered according to his means.
The latest fashions still took a little time to reach London, and it was not until the end of the era that a new shape arrived which was to last, in one form or an other, for the next hundred years. It was a wide-brimmed hat with the brim turned up to form three points. A portrait of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, painted in 1676, shows this style of hat, trimmed with gold lace.
Although the King and his courtiers came back from France full of up-to-date ideas about what to wear, Charles also intro duced some styles of his own. The most individual of these was the three-quarter length coat which he first wore in 1666. John Evelyn, the diarist, thought the King very smart in "a comely dress after the Persian mode.'' Louis XIV, who seems to have become a little impatient with his royal guest during the years of exile, made fun of Charles's "Persian" style by dressing his footmen in similar coats. The fashion persisted, however, and became the accepted top gar ment for the next generation.
Ribbons and Lace
Ribbons appeared everywhere, on shoulders, on shoes, on gar ters, skirts, walking sticks, sleeves, anywhere that space could be found to attach a cluster. Lace was used with almost as much abandon, the lace of Venice, France and Belgium being particularly prized. It was sometimes possible to see lace combined with ribbon on men's shoes, and no man of style could be considered well-dressed with out lace on his cuffs, his cravat, his boot hose and his hand kerchief.
Many accessories were used, and, as gloves were not con sidered particularly fashionable, being limited to the use of soldiers and horsemen, men took to carrying muffs in cold weather, often made of silk or cloth and decorated with yet more ribbon loops. They were sometimes worn on a sash or belt around the waist, or hung round the neck on a ribbon. Watches on chains were quite a usual sight. The huge wigs of the period brought about a fad for combing the hair in public and the combs were kept in little pockets in the muffs. Tall walking sticks were popu lar, decorated with tassels or the inevitable ribbons.
Although their menfolk wore wigs, the ladies of the middle seventeenth century were con tent with their own hair, a good deal less formally dressed than it had been in the years before the Commonwealth. Studied neglig ence was as much part of a woman's dress as a man's, which may account for the restraint in the use of jewellery. It was never better displayed in a hairstyle than by Nell Gwyn, the actress who became mistress of Charles II. She had a mop of curls simply parted in the middle, giving a completely natural look. In some cases a lady's own curls could be wired, so that they stood away from her face and made a frame for it, but even then every effort was made to avoid an artificial expression.
The years after the Restoration were the first time that women started to wear a distinctive out fit for horse-riding. Up to then they had worn their own dresses, with perhaps a hat and a pair of gloves; but now special riding dresses appeared, based on male riding clothes, and, although Pepys considered the idea shock ing, the ladies took to it en- husiastically.
Much more satin was used, as opposed to velvet, and several colours were often combined in one outfit. Printed fabrics were introduced from France during the period, but they were ex tremely expensive to begin with, and only worn by the very rich, until the techniques of manufac ture were brought over to Eng land by the Huguenot refugees in 1685.
Men’s clothing was often richly embroidered, a taste that the exiles had brought back from France, where the extravagant spending on costly decoration had caused Cardinal Mazarin to pass an edict in 1656 forbidding the use of gold and silver on clothes. This did not endear him to the makers of braid and em broidery, who feared that they would be put out of business, and he was forced to repeal the laws.
There was not much subtlety in the choice or use of colours in clothes — simple, bright reds, yellows, blues and greens were all fashionable, and were mixed together to an extraordinary degree on a lady's costume. The splendour in men's clothes was accompanied by a similar taste for bright colours, as if to get away from the sombre hues associated with the Common wealth.
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me than when art Is too precise in every part.
Robert Herrick: Delight in Disorder (c. 1648)