Knee Breeches

IKnee breeches, or knee-length leg coverings, were worn by men and boys alike throughout the eighteenth century. Knee breeches were worn pulled up over the hips and buttoned in the front without need for a belt or other brace at the waist. Later the center button was replaced with a front panel that buttoned up either side. Braces, or suspenders, were also added at the end of the century; buttoned to the inside of the waistband, braces secured the knee breeches with straps over the shoulders.

At the beginning of the century, knee breeches were fastened just below the knee with ribbons and buttons, and the stockings were pulled up over them. After 1735 knee breeches featured ornamental buckles and buttons at the knee and from that time on were worn on top of the stockings to display these buckles or decorative buttons. As the century continued, knee breeches changed from rather ill-fitting baggy breeches to formfitting garments. The most expensive breeches were made of satin, while those made for common people were of thick cotton or wool cloth. Breeches at the beginning and middle of the century were made of richly patterned fabric and had decorative embroidery. By the end of the century, knee breeches became much less adorned, but the quality of the fit and fabric remained very high. Although pantaloons, or ankle-length pants, began to be worn by some, knee breeches remained the most commonly worn pant for men during the eighteenth century.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

The smallness of a woman's waist became a very important fashion element by midcentury. To accentuate the smallness of the waist, the skirts of gowns were stiffened and padded to increase their size. Panniers were metal and wooden supports used to hold the skirt out away from the legs; they looked like baskets fastened around a woman's waist. Panniers expanded skirts to widths as large as five feet, so large that two women could not walk through a doorway at the same time or sit on a couch together. Women's large skirts during the mid-1700s influenced the widening of furniture at the time. Just when panniers had spread skirts to enormous and cumbersome proportions, fashion trends shifted to prefer slimmer silhouettes and panniers dropped out of fashion. However, skirts would later be billowed out and supported by crinolines in the following century, just as they had been supported by farthingales in the sixteenth century.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.

[£ee also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Farthingales; Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Crinoline]

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