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Fashionable Silhouettes: Selections from The Mint Museum Collection

Page history last edited by Joyce Weaver 6 years, 8 months ago

Mint Museum Randolph



Selected entirely from The Mint Museum's permanent collection, Fashionable Silhouettes presents men's, women's, and children's fashions and accessories from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Fashions reflect not only a specific era and culture, but can also reflect elements of class structure, economic status, moral standards, technological achievements, geographical location, climate, ethnicity, and gender.  Silhouettes popular in earlier eras often inspire later fashions. Both sexes are subject to the design and construction of clothing to create fashionable silhouettes. The exhibition provides a unique lens through which to study the artistic development of American fashion and its European influences over the last three centuries. - Charles Mo, Director of Fine Arts


Eighteenth Century 

Fashion in the 18th century reflected affluent society's view on style, personal taste, social position, and world outlook.  France was established as a fashion leader in the 17th century, and Paris became a world center for popular modes of dress throughout the 18th century.  In time, distinctly English and American styles emerged and reflected the artistic trends and fashion elegance of the era.  By the mid-18th century, the role of women in social, economic, and political arenas had vastly changed from previous perceptions of a woman's place in society; especially of those in royal courts and the rising merchant class.


Women's Fashions

  • The fashionable female silhouette for the majority of the century was one manipulated by the wearing of stays and panniers beneath the dress.  As a result, the skirts were flat in the front and back and of varying widths at the sides.  
  • Robe à la Française translates to sack back gown, and is most associated with the Rococo periodin France.  To dress a robe à la Polonaise is to tie the skirt into three sections.   
  • Robe à l' Anglaise displayed a fitted bodice, a décolleté neckline, and an attached overskirt. 
  • In the last decade of the 18th century, "round gowns" became popular, referring to any dress that had a joined bodice and skirt.             












Robe à la Française dressed à la Polonaise

circa 1760-1780

English, 18th century

Spitalsfield(?) silk brocade with a field of flowers and

leaves trimmed with "fly" fringe

Museum Purchase: Auxiliary Costume Fund






Men's Fashions
  • Throughout the 18th century, men's fashions primarily comprised jackets, waistcoats, and breeches made of fine fabrics that made up a Court Suit.                     


Nineteenth Century

The French Revolution brought an end to the elaborately decorated fashions of the 18th century.  The beginning of the 19th century was a time of dramatic change in fashion, influenced by the Neoclassical era in France.  Fashion would continue to change drastically as the century progressed.


Women's Fashions

  • The silhouette of women's fashions of the first two decades were reminiscent of classical Grecian drapery, known as the Empire style.
  • The Romantic era began in the 1820s ushering in more complex, structured, and ornamented fashions- skirts became fuller with layers of petticoats and the gigot sleeve, ballooning at the shoulder and tapering at the elbow, became popular.
  • In 1837, Queen Victoria came to power in England, and ruled until 1901.  The Victorian era in fashion emphasized exceptionally full and long skirts.  The gigot sleeves were replaced by slimmer, streamlined sleeves
  • By the 1850s, the vogue for domed skirts resulted in silhouettes that expanded the skirts even further thanks to the invention of the crinoline.   


  • In the early 1870s, the fullness of the skirt moved to the rear of the dress with the volumes of fabric supported by bustles.
Men's Fashions
  • In the early decades of the 19th century, men's fashions embraced simple, clean lines of the Neoclassical era.  The frock coat emphasized color, symmetry, and simplicity of style.
  • In the 1880s, the three-piece suit became the popular choice among men for routine daywear.  The suit consisted of a matching coat, vest, and trousers, and continued to be popular well into the 20th century. 

Gibson Girl 

The Gilded Age of Fashion 
The last quarter of the 19th century is referred to as the Gilded Age of Fashion.  Fashionable dress reflected the tastes and materialism of the privileged classes.  Women's fashions in the 1880s and 1890s saw the decline of the bustle and the emergence of a train and the gigot sleeves returning.  This silhouette was often associated with Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl".









Reception/Evening Gown

circa 1890-1895

Charles Frederick Worth

Labeled "Paris-C. Worth-Paris" and marked "56978"

Silk chiffon and silk net with Alencon lace appliques over satin

Museum Purchase: Auxiliary Costume Fund.







Haute Couture
The concept of haute couture, or custom-made fashions, began in 1857 when Charles Frederick Worth opened his maison in Paris.  Another notable couterier of the day was Jacques Doucet, who established his maison de couture in the early 1870s.
 See the Mint Wiki exhibition page for Art of Affluence: Haute Couture and Luxury Fashions 1947-2007 for more information on the history of haute couture fashion.
Early Twentieth Century
As the Victorian era drew to a close a great transistion also occured in the world of fashion.  The silhouette of women's fashions underwent dramatic changes in the first decades of the 20th century as women began to associate restrictive clothing with restrictive social systems.  New couteriers, such as Paul PoiretMariano Fortuny, and Jeanne Lanvin introduced new and popular modes of dress for the modern woman.
Women's Fashion 
  • The S-bend silhouette that had dominated fashion for nearly a century came to an end with the revolutionary designs of Paul Poiret.  Early in his career, Poiret worked for the House of Worth and the House of Doucet, and established his own maison de couture in 1903.  Poiret made his fame with his popular, yet often controversial, Kimono-style coats, which featured a loose fullness to the silhouette.
  • In 1907, Mariano Fortuny designed the first of his famous "Delphos" gowns.  Inspired by ancient Greek sculptures, this was a revolution in fashion design that emphasized the female silhouette.
  • Otis Fashion Presentation: Mariano Fortuny
  • In 1915, Jeanne Lanvin created the Robe de Style which was reminiscent of the fashionable silhouette of the 18th century.  Beneath the rufflued skirt of this dress are interior panniers that create width at the hip line of the wearer.
  • Following World War I, a period of prosperity developed in the United States.  The decade was the beginning of the Modern Era and fashions moved away from the silhouettes of the late 19th century and the early 20th century.  Women's fashions were less constricting and reflected an elegant simplicity.  Shorter hemlines, dropped waistlines and rich fabrics and ornamentation were especially noted in the evening wear of the 1920s. 


Online Resources



Selected Books from the Mint Museum Library. 


Other print resources can be accessed with MARCO, the Mint Art Research Catalog Online. 



Created by Megan Westmoreland. Intern for The Mint Museum Library.

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