Fashions of Rich Women During the Revolutionary War

Fashionable 18th century women wore hats instead of bonnets.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The war wasn't the only revolutionary thing in colonial America: wealthy women revolutionized their wardrobes with the latest fashions from England and France, too. Patterned gloves, wide-brimmed hats and swishy skirts ruled the day -- and they're easy to adopt if you're feeling bold.

Swinging Gowns

Women's gowns were left open several inches at the front. The reason? They left room to showcase a petticoat worn under the gown. Women could mix and match their gowns and petticoats to create new looks, as most women only had a handful of wardrobe options. Though ladies today might find it uncomfortable, women of means then wore whale bone stays to flatten their chests and give their upper bodies an upside-down cone shape: small at the waist and wide under the arms. They covered their shoulders with kerchiefs tucked into their tops. Though this was a modest move, it also added a handsome dash of color and -- for women who wanted a fancy look -- lace.

European Styles

Colonial women frequently mimicked European styles, and a lucky few could even afford to have items imported from Europe. English-style gowns of the 1770s often had more than one cut piece on top sewn to the skirt, while French gowns -- called "sack" gowns -- had loose pleats that ran from the shoulders straight down to the hem. As a political statement, many women favored French fashion while the American Revolution raged against British rule.

Expensive Fabrics

Wealthy women amped up the volume of their gowns with hoop skirts and side bustles, making them wide at the hips and even wider at the hem. Their dresses were also longer than those of the poor, since lengthy full, lengthy skirts required more fabric -- and every bit of fabric cost money. Wealthy women could also afford more than the basic fabric choices of linen, cotton and wool: they were also able to use expensive velvet, satin and imported silk.

Stylish Accessories

When women went out, they donned fingerless gloves -- called mitts -- to keep their forearms warm and un-sunburned. Wealthy women preferred a fancy flourish of floral embroidery. While both commoners and the rich sometimes wore a lace cord snugly around their necks, upper class women sometimes wore jewel necklaces. Another must-have accessory was a hat. Unlike the basic mob caps -- those puffy bonnets associated with the pilgrims -- these hats were style statements above all else. With flat, shallow tops and wide brims, women wore them like overturned plates on the very tops of their heads, perhaps with a flower, feather or other adornment.

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