Fashion in the period 1750-1795 in European and European-influenced countries reached (literal) heights of fantasy and abundant ornamentation, especially among the aristocracy of France, before a long-simmering movement toward simplicity and democratization of dress under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the American Revolution led to an entirely new mode and the triumph of British tailoring following the French Revolution.

1778 fashion plate of French court dress with wide panniers and artificially enchanced "big hair" Portrait of Marie Antoinette - 1779 The Ladies Waldegrave 1780-1781 Marie Antoinette - 1783
Mr and Mrs William Hallett by Thomas Gainsborough - 1785 Portrait of Miss Constable - 1787 Elizabeth Sewall Salisbury - 1789 Self-portrait of Rose Adelaide Ducreux with harp - 1791
La Comtesse Bucquoi - 1793 Elijah Boardman by Ralph Earl - 1789 Baron de Besenval in his Study - 1791 Marie Antoinette and her children - 1785-1786

Fashionable women's clothing styles remained confining and cumbersome for most of the period. The hoop-skirts of the 1740s were left behind, but wide panniers (holding the skirts out at the side) came into style several times, and the aesthetic of a narrow inverted conical corseted torso above full skirts prevailed during most of the period. In the 1780s, panniers finally disappeared, and bustle pads (bum-pads or hip-pads) were worn for a time. By 1790, skirts were still somewhat full, but they were no longer obviously pushed out in any particular direction (though a slight bustle might still be worn). The "pouter-pigeon" front came into style (many layers of cloth pinned over the bodice), but in other respects women's fashions were starting to be simplified by influences from Englishwomen's country outdoors wear, and from neo-classicism. By 1795, waistlines were somewhat raised, preparing the way for the development of the empire silhouette and unabashed neo-classicism of late 1790s fashions.


Throughout the period, men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches of the previous period. What changed significantly was the fabric. Under new enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits, the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets characteristic of "full dress" or formal attire earlier in the century gradually gave way to carefully tailored woolen "undress" garments for all occasions except the most formal.