1776 was a time of turmoil for many countries. While the Revolutionary War was raging in the newly- formed United States, France was a leading superpower in Europe and suffering growing pains of its own. From simple colonial folks, to the elaborate fashions of Marie Antoinette and the French aristocracy, this tumultuous time offers plenty of inspiration for costumes.
Colonial women wore elaborate dresses by modern day standards, but compared to the European fashion trendsetters, they dressed quite simply. All women wore corsets in 1776, as well as layers of petticoats. Wealthier women wore wire hoops beneath their skirts. A typical dress for a colonial woman had a fitted bodice with a square neckline that was open but not too low. Sleeves came just below the elbows. Floor-length skirts sometimes had gathered, draped material on the hips. Hair was worn in a simple bun or could be covered by a muslin cap.
Colonial men, like their female counterparts, dressed less flashily than their European contemporaries. Outfits had fewer embellishments, and colonial men and women often wore more modest materials such as wool and cotton, as opposed to sumptuous silks and satins. Colonial men wore knee-length breeches with a white shirt, a sleeveless vest, known as a waistcoat, and a long overcoat. They also wore wigs tied into a ponytail with a ribbon. Some younger men wore darker wigs, but many were powdered white.
Revolutionary War Soldier
Soldiers fighting in the American Revolutionary War dressed in similar fashion to average Colonial men, but decorative and practical aspects were added to the fashions of the day. Soldiers' breeches, shirts and waistcoats were cut like civilian styles and were often all white. A colonial soldier's long overcoat was navy blue, with a white tab collar, white lapels and metal buttons. The overcoats came to mid-thigh. Soldiers often wore ponytail wigs and tri-corner hats. Soldiers representing the British empire dressed the same way, with the exception of red overcoats, giving them the nickname of redcoats.
People looking for a dress up idea beyond colonials can dress as members of the French aristocracy. King Louis XVI of France and his extravagant bride, Marie Antoinette, were in the heyday of their frivolous reign in 1776. Marie and her court were fashion leaders throughout Europe. Women's gowns were made from rich materials, were low-cut and had ribbons and lace hanging from the sleeves. They wore panniers, wire baskets which tied around their waists and made their dresses stick out extremely wide at the hips. They also wore white wigs that were tall updos with tendrils of curls.
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