Costume History/Restoration

Restoration edit

The period known as the Restoration refers to the time in Western Europe from 1660-1700. Sometimes referred to as the English Restoration, this period received its name when Charles II restored the English monarchy (which included those of Scotland and Ireland) after the country had undergone a Protectorate state under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Following the execution of his father King Charles I in 1649, Charles II and the followers of his court lived in exile for 12 years in France and the Netherlands. There, Charles II had acquired the latest trends of Western Europe, particularly while in France. At that time, France was under the rule of Louis XIV, who had dominated European fashion during his reign. Upon Charles II’s return to the throne, he replaced the drab and simple Puritan styles that had dominated England during its commonwealth and Protectorate periods. The ushering in of magnificent fashion and art was Charles II’s way of asserting the Stuart dynasty over that of the Puritans just the decade before. The beginnings of the Restoration involved two dramatic events: (1) the Plague of 1665 and (2) the Great Fire of London just a year later in 1666. Although both events caused drastic devastation in England, they contributed greatly to the Restoration—they provided Charles II with the need to rebuild and the opportunity to infuse English culture with the new tastes he acquired while in exile.

Restoration fashion is also known as Carolean fashion and is easily identified by excessive curls, ribbons, bows, puffs, flounces, feathers, and the shortening of sleeves. Ribbons and lace, in particular, appeared everywhere from shoes to sleeves and even on men’s walking sticks. Their excessive use has come to define fashion of both sexes during the period. Lace was so valued, in fact, that pirates stole large amounts of lace exports from ships sailing to the US colonies. Sleeve-length began to change as people now viewed longer sleeves to be obstructive and impractical.

Color Use
Bright and vivid colors were extremely popular and boldly combined with one another in outfits. Charles II was nicknamed the “Merrie Monarch,” and the color palette of the Restoration highly reflects this. People often preferred lively and vibrant colors over the dark and subdued hues popular with the Puritans when England was a Protectorate. The flood of bold colors during the Restoration was not only a reflection of the latest European fashions, but may have also been Charles’ effort to reaffirm the end of the Puritan period and the return of the Stuart line of rulers.

--Men's Clothing--
What many find intriguing about men’s fashion in this period is that according to today’s standards, men of the Restoration were cross-dressers. They wore heels and hose, valued long-haired wigs, and even applied makeup. Moreover, some argue that men’s fashion during the Restoration was even more extravagant than women’s. They favored cravats, or wide pieces of cloth that tied around the neck. A popular variation was called the steinkirk and was twisted instead of tied. Men began to wear an adaptation of the doublet, the cassock. It featured a slightly flared skirt, a lower waistline that extended to the knees, and shortened sleeves. Doublets opened down the middle and revealed the legs, allowing for breeches to evolve from the tubular form to petticoat breeches, which looked exactly as their name suggests. They were essentially petticoats paired with hose and were ornamented with ribbons and other decorations the higher the class of the wearer. Long trousers were passed over for close, “knicker-type” breeches and hose. Men performed daily work in short loose leather jackets and variations of vests also became popular.

--Women's Clothing--
The female silhouette grew vertically. Among the rich (the most fashionable), the décolletage was bared even more so than before. Necklines plunged and were even off-the-shoulder. A mere scarf or chemise poking out from under the neckline was the only thing to prevent any wardrobe malfunctions. It was considered sexy for women’s dress to appear disheveled, a hint at wanton behavior. This may have been the result of two aspects. Firstly, this was perhaps a rebellious response to the rigid, conservative Puritan styles of the period before. Secondly, this could have also been because of the fact that mistresses became some of the most powerful women at this time. In fact, Charles II himself had several mistresses and publicly acknowledged several of his illegitimate children largely because his wife, Catherine of Braganza, was barren. Sleeves rose so that the lower arms were almost always shown, and bodices were lowered and came to a point both in front and in back. In court dress, women pulled back the over-gown and gathered the trailing fabric in the back in a bustle.


The periwig became essential to men’s attire, especially after Louis XIV began experiencing premature baldness. When periwigs became so popular, men began to simply carry their hats tucked under their arm as a sort of accessory instead of actually wearing it. Periwigs came in natural hair colors, not the white that many people today are so accustomed to seeing. Periwigs were worn draping the sides of the face until the wide neck-bow came into style in about 1690, pushing the locks back behind the shoulders. Facial hair was no longer preferred, and many paintings of the time show men with clean-shaven faces. Cavalier hats fell to ones with higher crowns and narrower brims, which then fell to hats with lower crowns and wider brims that were cocked up on one or two sides. Later, all three sides were cocked up, giving way to the tricorner hat that was introduced in the 1690s. It became the most popular type of men’s headwear in the region and even in the colonies.

Use of the fontage, a wired and tiered lace headdress¸ became widespread as the female silhouette became more vertical. Over time, fontages would include 2 or even 3 tiers. The nosegay was replaced with bundles of ribbons, as was the period’s obsession at the time. The theme for women’s hair was “careful negligence”; and although women could have long hair, they arranged it so that it did not pass the area just below the shoulders. The popular hairstyle was to have small, tight curls parted down the center and gathered away from the face.

The Restoration is famous as a period when men wore heels. Paintings of Louis XIV, the trendsetter of Europe during the time, often show him wearing the high-heeled shoes that became popular among men in England when Charles II returned. Shoes at this time were almost always black, square-toed, and initially had high tongues and a red heel. Women’s shoes were similar to men’s shoes save for the higher heels and additional adornment. Styles evolved from high tongues and ribbon latchets to shorter tongues and a single square or round buckle to secure the shoe on the foot. Women’s shoes were often concealed from sight beneath their dresses, but shoes were adorned nonetheless with lace, ribbons, embroidery, and many other types of materials.

For women, the long necklaces popular during in the previous period were now passed up for pearl chokers. Gloves were no longer popular for men to wear and were now used only to signify that one was a soldier. Women, on the other hand, kept to using elbow-length gloves. Muffs became increasingly popular with both sexes. The only difference seems to be their sizes. Women’s were small enough that they could easily slide up the wrist, whereas men left their muffs to hang from their necks or belts when not in use. Ornamented walking sticks were popular among men. Initially during the petticoat breeches period, both tall and short walking sticks were used, but tall sticks fell out of style and only short canes were popular. On another note, the walking stick was to men as the folding fan was to women. These fans were often made with wispy ostrich feathers.

Barton, Lucy. Historic Costume for the Stage. Boston: Walter H. Baker Company, 1963.
Braun & Schneider. “The History of Costume.” 4 September 2007. 23 October 2008.
Marginnis, Tara, Ph.D. “17th Century Fashion Links Page.” The Costumer’s Manifesto. 2008. 23 October 2008.