Ladies' Dress

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXII

However interesting the subject may be, there is not space to go into further details. The inventory of Lord Grey's personal effects can scarcely be given as a picture of costume in this century, for even a few years produced as considerable changes in fashion then as now. Dekker, in his Seven Deadly Sinnes of London, describes an Englishman's suit as being like a traitor's body that had been hanged, drawn, and quartered, and set up in several places; and says: "We that mock every nation for keeping one fashion, yet steal patches from every one of them to piece out our pride, and are now laughing-stocks to them. The block for his head alters faster than the feltmaker can fit him, and hereupon we are called in scorn blockheads." The courtiers of Charles II. compensated themselves for the stern restraints of Puritanism, by giving way to the wildest excesses in dress and manners. Enormous periwigs were introduced, and it became the fashion for a man of ton to be seen combing them on the Mall or at the theatre. The hat was worn with a broad brim, ornamented with feathers; a falling band of the richest lace adorned the neck; the short cloak was edged deeply with gold lace; the doublet was ornamented in a similar manner—it was long, and swelled out from the waist; but the "petticoat breeches" were the glory of the outer man, and sums of money were spent on ribbon and lace to add to their attractions.

The ladies' costume was more simple, at least at this period; they compensated themselves, however, for any plainness in dress, by additional extravagances in their head-dresses, and wore "heart-breakers," or artificial curls, which were set out on wires at the sides of the face. Patching and painting soon became common, and many a nonconformist divine lifted up his voice in vain against these vanities. Pepys has left ample details of the dress in this century; and, if we may judge from the entry under the 30th of October, 1663, either he was very liberal in his own expenditure, and very parsimonious towards his wife, or ladies' attire was much less costly than gentlemen's, for he murmurs over his outlay of about £12 for Mrs. Pepys and £55 for himself. The country people, however, were attired more plainly and less expensively, while many, probably—

"Shook their heads at folks in London,"

and wondered at the follies of their superiors.