European history in the seventeenth century was dominated on the one hand by the rise of France as the greatest power in the region, and on the other hand by the great fight for political power that occurred between the monarch and the governing body of Parliament in England. These were the great social issues of the age, and they had a great influence on the way people lived and dressed.
The clothing worn by Europeans during the seventeenth century was influenced by fashion trends—rapid changes in style influenced by trendsetters—as never before. During the course of the century garments went from restrictive to comfortable and back to restrictive again, and excessive ornament was both stripped away and added back to clothing for both men and women.
A baldric was a broad belt that was not worn around the waist. Instead, it was strapped over the shoulder; it extended diagonally across the chest, usually from the right shoulder to the left hip.
Breeches remained the most common form of legwear for men in the seventeenth century. There were important changes to breeches in the seventeenth century that brought them closer to the trousers commonly worn today.
Women wore bustles underneath the backs of their skirts for several centuries beginning in the sixteenth. Bustles consisted of various objects, including cushions, pads, and frames made of wire and wood, that were tied around the waist or directly attached to a woman's skirts.
Neckwear was an important component of dress for both men and women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they devised many ways to decorate the neck. Most popular in the sixteenth century were the ruff, a stiffly frilled collar that encircled the neck, and the whisk, a wide fanned collar around the back of the neck.
The primary garment worn by women of all social classes was the gown, consisting of a close-fitting bodice with attached decorative sleeves and full skirts. Though the basic form of the garment was very similar to gowns worn during the sixteenth century, a variety of changes made seventeenth-century garments quite distinct.
A long coat worn over a shirt and vest, the justaucorps was one of the most common overgarments worn by men during the seventeenth century. It was also an important garment in the history of men's coats, for it marked an important stage in the long transition from the form-fitting doublet of the fifteenth century to the loosely fitting frock coat of the nineteenth century.
Petticoats were full skirts that women wore beneath another skirt beginning in the fifteenth century. There were several reasons for wearing petticoats.
The stomacher was an essential part of women's gowns, from about 1570 to 1770. In its most basic form it was a long V-or U-shaped panel that decorated the front of a woman's bodice, extending from her neckline down to her waist.
The waistcoat has been one of the standard pieces of formal dress in the West since the late sixteenth century, and it has gone through several changes over time. From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, men's waistcoats were long-sleeved garments worn as middle layers of clothing, over a shirt but underneath a topcoat or justaucorps.
Related to the standing collar and the ruff, the whisk was an especially stiff and ornate neck decoration worn during the first decades of the seventeenth century. Like many fashion trends of this period, the whisk originated in Spain, and evolved from the golilla.
A well-groomed head was important for both men and women during the seventeenth century. At the beginning of the century fashionable men wore their natural hair quite long with lovelocks, or extra long strands of hair, dangling over their left shoulder.
In 1680 the fontange became the most fashionable women's hairstyle and remained popular until the early eighteenth century. The style was created by the Duchesse de Fontanges, the mistress of the French king Louis XIV (1638–1715), when the hairstyle she was wearing at the time was ruined while out hunting.
Originating in Paris, France, the hurly-burly, also known as hurluberlu, became a fashionable hairstyle for women during the Baroque period of the seventeenth century, during which time people favored extravagant fashions. The hurly-burly consisted of shoulder length or shorter curls falling in ringlets from a dramatic center part to frame a woman's face.
Lovelocks were a small lock of hair that cascaded from the crown of the head down over the left shoulder. Lovelocks were longer than the rest of the hair and were treated as special features.
Before large wigs became popular for men during the late seventeenth century, low-crowned, large-brimmed, plumed, or feathered, hats were worn. As wigs increased in size, plumes disappeared and the brims of hats were cocked up.
Wigs became a necessity for French courtiers (officers and advisers) in 1643 when sixteen-year-old Louis XIV ascended the throne sporting long curly hair. For all who could not grow their own, long flowing locks were created with wigs.
While the sixteenth century was an age of excess in ornamentation, the seventeenth century is often thought of as an age of elegance, with greater care for the manner of display than for its abundance. Nowhere is this contrast more evident than in the use of jewelry.
The cane emerged as an important fashion accessory for men during the seventeenth century and was every bit as important in a carefully dressed man's wardrobe as gloves and a hat. Although people had carried rough walking sticks or simple canes for centuries, it was during this period that these sticks became carefully crafted items carried by every gentleman.
The cravat, introduced in the mid-seventeenth century, is the ancestor of the modern necktie. A long strip of cloth wrapped loosely around the neck, the cravat was one of several items to replace the stiff ruffs worn around the neck in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
One of the most unique jewelry innovations of the seventeenth century was the earstring. Both men and women wore earrings during this period, and many added an earstring as well.
Perhaps the most important accessory for wealthy women in the seventeenth century was the folding fan. Made of fine materials such as silk or decorated paper, stretched between handles of ivory, carved wood, or even fine gold, and studded with jewels, fans were an item used to display the user's wealth and distinction.
Often considered one of the strangest accessories, masks had both practical and decorative uses among European women. Masks were first worn during the sixteenth century to provide protection from the sun and other elements while women were outside or riding horses, thus preserving the pale complexion that was in fashion.
Heating the castles and great halls of wealthy people in the seventeenth century was not easy, especially in the cooler countries in the north, such as England and Scotland. Stone walls and fireplaces in nearly every room could not keep rooms warm enough when the days grew cold.
While the placing of false beauty marks, or patches, on the face began in ancient Rome around the first century C.E., it became a widespread fad across Europe from the late 1500s through the 1600s. A dark mole that occurs naturally on the face is sometimes called a beauty mark.
People took great care covering their feet during the seventeenth century. Fashionable footwear changed shape during the century, and middle-class and wealthy people eagerly purchased the new shoe styles in order to remain in fashion.
One of the most important fashion trendsetters during the seventeenth century was the cavalier, or military horseman. Along with his confident swagger, his costume came to mark a certain male style during the century.
Height was a central feature of seventeenth-century fashion. People accentuated their height with tall hairstyles, long flowing gowns, long straight jackets, and high-heeled shoes.
During the seventeenth century, ice skating became a popular winter activity. The idea of gliding across ice had intrigued people for thousands of years, and ice skates had evolved from extremely primitive foot coverings into sleekly designed footwear.
When shoes with fastenings replaced slip-on styles at the end of the sixteenth century, shoe decoration started to become important. These new shoe styles featured latchets, or straps, that crossed over the top of the foot near the ankle.